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Looking back over the past decade or more in the mobile world is something I always love to do.  Mostly because it reminds me how far we’ve come. I was at the Mobility Bootcamp at CTIA recently, and I love the way Philippe Winthrop put it – “We are at the end of the beginning of mobility”. When it comes to mobile apps I think this is absolutely true. Mobile applications in businesses have been around for a long time.  Over the past ten years they have most frequently been for sales forces or mobile ‘frontline’ field workers. With the advent of mobility for everyone, the opportunities for the broader workforce to enjoy the benefits of mobility has grown significantly. So now its time to look at the next steps in getting started: which apps to deploy and the architectures to get it done. If you missed the first two parts in this series please catch up by reading Why are so many companies launching mobile applications? and So you want mobile apps… now what?

In the “A Guide to Successfully Deploying Enterprise Mobile Applications” whitepaper written for SAP by Chris Marsh of Yankee Group, there is a great chart that looks at apps that enterprise already have deployed, and the apps that companies plan to deploy in the future. (See Exhibit 4 in the whitepaper, which uses data from Yankee Group’s 2011 US Enterprise Mobility: IT Decision-Maker Survey, Q1-Q2, and 2011 European Enterprise Mobility: IT Decision-Maker Survey, Q2)

There are a few interesting things to notice in this chart. First, is that historically mobility was about extending access to existing applications – notice how almost everyone has email and many have access to corporate databases and intranets. What we are starting to see in the future is that smart devices (and especially tablets) are really transforming how things are done. They aren’t necessarily just replacing laptops or paper-based processes – today mobility is bringing about brand new ways to do business. 

So now that we know we want to build mobile apps, it is important to figure out which apps to mobilize first.  Of course, it will be different for every company and will be determined by how you want mobility to contribute to your own strategic or tactical goals.

In the whitepaper, Chris Marsh outlines a framework to help prioritize the focus for companies when making investments in mobility solutions. The entire framework is included here for your consideration.

  • How will you measure success? A successful application will be one that provides measurable benefits. These will vary but could manifest in measurable productivity gains, staff engagement, new customer business or rationalized infrastructure. Applications that can tie back to measurable KPIs should be prioritized.
  • What integration, if any, needs to occur with back-end IT systems? In addition to sales force and field force automation applications, there is growing interest in business intelligence applications that give information workers access to real-time data and operational applications addressing, for example, stock, order and supply chain management. The latter typically require deeper integration into back-end IT systems that will be a key determinant of the platform being used and the type of applications being deployed on that platform.
  • How many users are being targeted? Clearly the scale of the implementation is a key factor determining how an application is deployed and the cost of deploying and supporting it. The degree to which this is an acceptable cost inevitably depends on the anticipated strategic benefits of the implementation.
  • Are the targeted business processes B2B, B2E, E2E or B2C? Identifying which processes have a business-to-business (B2B), business-to-employee (B2E), employee-to-employee (E2E) or business-to-consumer (B2C) orientation lays the foundation for more specific considerations on user roles and application types.
  • Is the process transactional, informational or collaborative? In tandem with identifying the target audience, it is important to establish the exact use case in the contact zone between these end-users. For example, a B2E mobile app might need to fulfill one or all of the following: relay information to employees, transact a particular process such as an expense form approval, or provide access to collaborative tools such as wikis and portals.
  • How mobile are the user roles identified for deployments? The right combination of device and application features and, crucially, the policy management governing the application solution will be strongly determined by the degree to which the worker being targeted is mobile. While applications can have transactional, informational and collaborative capabilities, the extent to which the end-user is mobile will determine his or her mix in the final solution.

Once you’ve thought through these questions, you probably can begin to narrow down some uses cases that may make a good starting point. With a first well-defined use case, the fun part really begins - and its time to decide what kind of app to build.  Of course, this new topic introduces yet another level of complexity since there are many mobile application types (nothings easy, is it?) Again, in the whitepaper, Chris Marsh outlines four main models of application development. Each one may or may not address every use case. All four models are briefly introduced here and are compared in detail in the whitepaper. 

  • Purely customized development and deployment: These downloadable apps are customized for specific business objectives, but they lack the agility and pace of standardized development and deployment.
  • Prebuilt and off-the-shelf: These downloadable apps provide quick deployment and task-oriented applications but lack the close and customized alignment with business processes.
  • Modifiable templates: As enterprises look to more closely align mobile apps with specific business processes, there has been a change in direction among vendors. Increasingly platforms are pursuing a middle-road solution attempting to offer downloadable apps with a combination of flexibility, customization and speed in design and deployment.
  • Web-based/HTML5: Rather than being downloaded onto the device or via an application store as a piece of software, Web-based apps are more akin to a Web site designed specifically for a mobile device.

It is important to note that one size doesn’t fit all. You should not attempt to choose one single model for all of your applications – in fact if you try this approach I can assure you that you will most certainly fail.  This is because every use case and every user has unique requirements for mobility. I encourage you to read the full whitepaper comparing the pros and cons of each model for your own needs.  I think Chris makes a great observation that is very important to consider. In the whitepaper he stated “The optimal solution for the CIO is to have a platform that provides as much of the flexibility to facilitate all of these ways of deploying applications as possible.” In other words, by relying on a platform you don’t need to choose – you can have the best of all worlds.

I’ve shared a lot of great detail from the whitepaper in this article, and I’ll continue to cover more this week and next.  If you haven’t signed up yet, please register now for this webinar with Chris Marsh on November 1st.  

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