Guide to enterprise mobile app development and SOA
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With so many mobile development platforms available, a big quandary is how to integrate existing content management solutions in with these new mobile development technologies. The first step in successfully bringing content management and mobile delivery together is building upon a foundation that recognizes that these two technologies are of equal importance in the eyes of the users enterprises are targeting.
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"There is no mobile without cloud and no cloud without mobile." That's a bold statement from Marc Dubresson, the director of mobile products at Alfresco. He has a point. Although these technologies weren't created entirely in tandem, they do seem to be made for each other. The whole point of mobile is to have a device that effectively acts as a terminal on the go. The device itself has a limited amount of processing power (compared to a desktop). Its primary purpose is to access information and computing power remotely.
At first, just being connected to the web was sufficient access. But now, that's like saying a mobile phone that just lets you talk to people who are far away is enough functionality. In the enterprise world, mobile must also be able to access internal apps, documents and data. The cloud is other piece of the puzzle that makes these things available everywhere, all the time. With the introduction of 3G and 4G devices and the proliferation of Wi-Fi that makes mobile devices ever more useful for actually working away from the office,the enterprise cloud increases in importance. These elements work together to enhance the user's ability to make a significant contribution and engage in meaningful collaboration.
Today's enterprise cloud is a hybrid
Naturally, the cloud for enterprise looks different than the cloud for consumers. Dubresson echoes the question on the minds of big businesses everywhere, "Are we going to trust all our hard earned information to the cloud?" As Alfresco takes data to the mobile device, a public cloud is only one part of the solution. Hybridization with on-premise must also be part of the picture. As the old saying goes, "You want to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out." In the same way, smart enterprises don't want their cloud so open that their data falls out.
Dubresson is quick to point out that Alfresco addresses the concerns of enterprise users with on-premise scalable, tested and efficient solutions as part of a solid and flexible model. The platform serves as a content management and workflow bridge that easily connects to the back end for regulatory compliance and security purposes. Clients decide what balance of on-cloud/on-premise works for their specific business model.
You're only as mobile as your technology
Every new technology brings with it the potential for new ways of leveraging business value. But the initial potential often fails to materialize. That's what is happening right now with mobile for enterprise. Marc indicates that getting at the real solution starts with asking the right questions, "What does mobilizing really mean? It's not just about getting your docs. It's about working." Consider how mobile has changed the way people take and share photos. You don't have to carry a separate camera with you and then download the images to a desktop before cropping them, making other adjustments, sending them to a third party, publishing them online, or even printing them. You can do all this from a smart mobile device.
But when it comes to business productivity, mobile tends to remain out of the loop for certain activities. Alfresco is working to change that. Their first step has been to add Tasks to the functionality of the platform. Users can now originate a workflow internally or on a mobile device. For example, a user can assign a document to a coworker in the field for review. That worker can access not only the document but all the related content needed to perform the task at hand. They can perform the actual work needed and then approve the document and move the workflow down the pipe to the next person in line. There's no bottle neck waiting for someone to get access to a real computer. They can do everything from a tablet on a platform that permits true collaboration. The next wave of improvements in Alfresco's technology will allow businesses to create full custom workflows to add value to their business process.
Do one thing and do it well
Marc says that his firm has a laser-like focus on one aspect of the market. "We're not in the business of developing great apps. We are in the business of enabling customers and partners to develop great apps so they can make the most of mobile for enterprise. Rather than building all the solutions all the companies need, we are enabling them by providing the right platform." He is excited about the possibilities that become apparent when partners and clients start building their own apps on the Alfresco foundation.
That being said, the company does have a number of "showcase" apps available that they hope will inspire innovation. Since these applications are all open source, they can serve as a free starting place for companies that want to begin with entry-level customization. With Alfresco, collaboration doesn't stop at the boundaries of their own enterprise. They're moving out in the open for everyone to work together.
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