As users commonly look to their mobile devices for everything from shopping to closing deals with e-signatures, the need for more and more apps has increased exponentially.
There has been a relentless rise in the use of mobile devices for everything from flight check-ins to viewing bank account statements and scanning social media updates. As a result, the pressure is on for enterprises to deliver apps that match or at least come close to what users want to do in their everyday lives.
Today’s consumer expects quality and secure connectivity at the touch of a fingertip—anytime, anywhere, on any device. That expectation has transferred to the enterprise.
But enterprise application development teams and IT departments, which are already under great pressure to deliver software and services to meet the latest business needs, will be hard pressed to respond to the demand for a new generation of mobile apps.
“The demand for high-velocity app deployment will overwhelm infrastructure and operations teams that are not staffed, budgeted or prepared to handle a rapid scale-up of mobile apps,” wrote Michael Facemire, principal analyst and Jeffrey Hammond, vice president, principal analyst, in a recent Forrester report. “In turn, developers will look for options that light up in hours, scale transparently and just work.”
Moreover, driven by both bring-your-own-device trends and enterprise interest in optimizing the productivity of mobile workforces, enterprises are tackling mobile application development more strategically and bringing it in-house, said IDC’s Al Hilwa in his recent report entitled “Negotiating the Mobile Disruption: Approaches for Multiplatform Application Development.”
To get the apps they need, enterprises are taking a variety of approaches. These include acquiring pre-built, customizable apps, using no-code app frameworks to empower “citizen developers;” or implementing native and hybrid app development using HTML5. Another trend is employing developers to use mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs) as well as mobile back end as a service (MBaaS) systems.
In his report, Hilwa said the greatest use of HTML5 technologies in mobile applications will be found in the hybrid app approach. HTML5 will be used for the parts of the application where it is adequately supported by device browser components (WebView), while other technologies will be used for other parts of the application, he said.
“No-code, RAD [Rapid Application Development], 4GL solutions are what we call today model-driven application platforms and they are mostly the domain of business applications,” Hilwa told eWEEK. “Many modern development tools utilize visual techniques or model-driven design approaches and these same tools are increasingly targeting mobile platforms natively or through mobile web.”
Enterprises are looking into many different services and online tools to rapidly deploy and revise mobile applications.
For example, many enterprises are looking to sources like Canvas Solutions. Canvas is a cloud-based software service that enables businesses to replace paper forms with apps on their smartphones and tablets.
Canvas enables users to collect information using mobile devices, share that information and easily integrate with existing backend systems. Canvas also offers a business-only application store with more than 14,000 pre-built, customizable apps that work on all mobile platforms and serve more than 30 vertical markets.
Canvas apps are customizable by users and can incorporate functionality such as GPS, image capture, dispatch, barcode scanning, electronic signatures, push notifications and access to business data such as parts catalogs, price lists and patient records.
Canvas CEO James Quigley told eWEEK his company offers not only offers its catalog of pre-built, customizable apps, but also an easy-to-use mobile app development platform.
No-Code Platforms, Cloud Services Offer Options for Mobile App Dev
“Apps can be pre-built, customized or you can build your own,” Quigley said. “In our world if you can use PowerPoint you can build your own solutions. That was our goal early on and I’d like to think we did a good job with that. The average person can build their first app within 20 minutes with our app builder.”
Engineering and manufacturing concern Demmer Corp. uses Canvas. Kevin Ouellette, quality supervisor at Demmer, estimates the company is saving $1 million annually by moving from paper to mobile apps using Canvas’s cloud-based platform and mobile app builder.
Mobile app development environment provider Exadel‘s Appery.io offers a cloud-based rapid development environment with integrated back-end services and a catalog of API plug-ins that simplify integration with cloud services and enterprise systems.
As part of its solution, Appery.io also features a no-code, RAD environment.
“Our cloud-based mobile platform requires no coding, but it’s unique in that it also supports the needs of professional programmers,” Francisco Kattan, vice president of marketing at Exadel, told eWEEK. “It’s not like codeless tools are replacing coding tools; it’s about empowering a much broader base of developers to innovate. The number of Java, C++ and C# programmers is limited and we can’t keep up with demand.”
Kattan said Exadel expects that 25 percent of all apps that will be developed for the enterprise by 2015 will be built using codeless tools. He also cited a Gartner report that predicts that by 2018 more than half of all apps will be built with codeless tools.
“We have a graphical development environment, but we don’t limit you to the GUI,” he said.
Appery.io recently announced it has reached more than 150,000 developers that are using the platform.
“We researched all the leading mobile app platforms and, chose Appery.io for its intuitive visual development environment, integrated backend services and its catalog of API plug-ins,” said JC Lin, CEO of Zagama, an app development company in Asia that has partnered with Appery.io. “Appery.io’s intuitive visual environment assists customers in overcoming the barriers affiliated with cross-platforms so developers can work on a project remotely and simultaneously.”
Exadel’s Kattan says Appery.io offers a complete mobile app development platform—not just tools but complete backend services in the form of an MBaaS.
“MBaaS environments are essentially cloud-based collections of fine-grained services intended to support mobile developers,” Hilwa told eWEEK. “Mobile developers tend to be front-end focused and love the handholding they get for setting up back-ends which is usually challenging for their skill-sets. The majority of MBaaS companies were born three to four years ago to target consumer environments, but some have recently started targeting enterprises.”
One such company is Kony, which focuses on the enterprise and recently delivered its Kony MobileFabric, which unifies a mobile application development platform, MBaaS, Application Programming Interface (API) management and Platform as-a-Service (PaaS) infrastructures on a single platform.
No-Code Platforms, Cloud Services Offer Options for Mobile App Dev
“When enterprises are thinking about building mobile apps, one of the first things they ask is ‘Do I go with a custom-built app or a pre-packaged app?’ We offer both,” said Amit Aghara, vice president of product management at Kony. “Customers can take advantage of our pre-packaged apps or use our tools to build their own.”
The Kony platform provides faster time to market by removing the complexity of integrating multiple technologies in a typical enterprise mobile development project, with pre-built back-end services for identity, integration, orchestration, messaging and location services. In addition, it provides offline sync capabilities, along with PaaS productivity through elastic provisioning, monitoring and analytics.
The cloud-based platform offers instant elastic provisioning of not just back-end services but also the full app platform environment. MobileFabric also supports the most popular development languages with prebuilt Software Development Kits (SDKs).
Tony Velleca, chief information officer at UST Global, an IT services provider and Kony customer, said UST Global has already begun developing and connecting apps on Kony’s MobileFabric platform.
For its part, another, competing MBaaS player, Kii, enables developers to build, deploy, distribute and monetize their apps on its platform.
Kii offers a suite of scalable back-end cloud services including user management, data management, analytics and mobile advertising. Kii’s support enables developers to persist data for millions of users without writing any server code.
Waqas Makhdum, vice president of marketing at Kii, said the company provides support for mobile app developers from three core areas: classic MBaaS, an optimization and growth environment and a management platform.
“We help you build, deploy, analyze, package, distribute and monetize your mobile apps,” Makhdum said. “Building apps is easy, but getting traction is hard. So we help developers with that.”
Kii offers developers a customizable in-app analytics solution to define their own app metrics to dynamically track in-app user behavior. This enables developers to improve retention and engagement, as well as better maximize conversion and monetization, Makhdum said. Kii also has a social referral module in beta and offers an ad SDK, he said.
Kii has been popular with consumer oriented developers, but has also focused on enterprises and can claim enterprise customers such as LinkedIn, NTT Docomo, Softbank and HTC.
The diversity of the available development tools and the various approaches they take to mobile application development demonstrate the lengths to which enterprises will go to get next generation application running on users smartphones and tablets.
“The interesting thing about the mobile application development landscape is that it is truly a ‘different strokes for different folks’ situation. Generally, business divisions are interested in productivity and time-to-market and love the model-driven approaches. And they are increasingly targeting mobile front-ends and cloud back-ends,” says IDC’s Hilwa.