It should come as no surprise to discover that in 2015, mobility projects and cloud computing services will eat into IT budgets more than ever before. According to a recent TechTarget survey on IT priorities for 2015, investing in mobility and integrating with cloud-based services was a recurring theme, with 38% of all respondents indicating they would be implementing a new mobility initiative this year, while 41% of respondents see cloud-based services comprising a growing portion of their IT budget.
Of course, the question arises as to where all of this investment in time and resources will be focused. After all, there isn't a Fortune 500 company that hasn't either deployed an Internet-based mobile application or crafted a responsive website using HTML5 that is optimized for handheld devices. And what's more, cloud computing isn't exactly a new concept. So where is all this increased spending going?
"I would say most organizations have applications that are customer facing, but they are just beginning to spend money to create employee-facing applications that improve business process, workflow and employee productivity," said Van Baker, a senior Gartner vice president specializing in the mobile and wireless space. "According to a recent Gartner survey, the average enterprise has built less than 10 mobile applications, so they're really just getting started."
Moving beyond a basic mobile presence
Baker's insights make total sense. Performing an initial deployment of a flagship application that interacts with customers over the public Internet is not likely to be a new and necessary initiative for most organizations. But developing mobile applications that can expose internal systems to staff members when they are out of the office represents fertile ground for increasing productivity and efficiency.
"In the utilities sector, we have a lot of users who are not office people," said Karsten Bugner Torp, technical director with Pernexus Systems. When users are in the field and away from the office, the ability to use their cell phone or tablet to download and view an instrumentation diagram or a repair manual can save hours of time, and troubleshooting can be greatly simplified if a picture of a problem can be quickly emailed to an expert. "You have a lot of features on a mobile device, like geo-location, photos, video and things like that," Torp said, "and customers just expect it to be working today."
But organizations interested in pushing internal applications out to their employees need to realize that any challenge they had delivering customer-based applications will be compounded when it comes to allowing employees to access internal systems on external accessible devices. For the most part, any data or system that an organization has exposed through a customer-facing mobile application was likely already made available through a standard, browser-based Internet application developed in the past.
Many of the challenges in securing customer data and ensuring confidentiality in the transmission of data was dealt with long before the same data was exposed through mobile channels. But internal systems that have historically been accessed through an internal network likely will not be ready for external access. Everything from figuring out how to secure the connection that will be transmitted over a public network, to reconfiguring internal firewalls to allow access through public ports and protocols, will be a challenge. And there's always the challenge of integrating the mobile interface with complex backend systems.
Where cloud and mobile collide
"Integration is always a challenge," said Baker about the effort organizations need to put into connecting an iPhone or Android application running in a handheld device with corporate systems. Although iPhone and Android development was once a coveted skill, it is now the easiest part of mobile application development. Getting the front end to work with a polyglot of different back ends is the real challenge, especially for internal, business applications that might connect to a variety of esoteric systems, be it accounting applications, customer relationship management (CRM) tools or enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms.
Not surprisingly, the other theme that threaded its way through the 2015 TechTarget Trends Survey was the continued investment in cloud-based technology. "Some of the services you're going to want to build into a mobile application, like push notifications or location information, it doesn't make any sense to host those on-premises, and it doesn't make any sense to build them yourself," Baker said. What does make sense is deferring to various cloud-based providers of specialized, distributed services, especially when those services can be managed more reliably and provisioned in a more cost-effective manner than developing them in-house.
Dealing with mobility is no longer as simple and straightforward as figuring out how to brand a new iPhone application and push it out onto smartphones and tablets. The new mobile challenge entails the expansion of an organization's mobile presence beyond simply servicing external customers to the inclusion of employees and staff members who want to increase their productivity by being able to access backend resources on the fly through their cell phones and tablets. Given these new demands on mobile development, along with the challenge of backend integration that will make these types of mobile applications possible, it's no wonder that mobility and cloud-based services will continue to comprise a significant portion of any enterprise's IT budget.