Speed up mobile app-dev with back-end as a service

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BaaS offers standard features to drop into your apps, so your developers can spend their time on the most strategic pieces.

Johnson & Johnson, the consumer packaged-goods giant, recently hired Jeff Mathers as director of mobility. He's charged with accelerating the development and deployment of mobile apps for all lines of business at the company.

With a job like that, it's clear he's not going to be building just one or two apps. Instead, he'll be jumping into a new trend among leading-edge companies: Building scores of mobile apps, many designed to be used for short periods -- days or months -- rather than indefinitely.

When mobile app development often takes a minimum of six months, how can companies afford to build apps that are to be used for so little time? Some, like Johnson & Johnson (J&J), are experimenting with offerings known as back-end as a service (BaaS), designed to take care of the humdrum capabilities required for most apps so that internal developers can focus instead on the user interface and experience.

Still, it wasn't quite as easy to use Kinvey as promised. "There were some learning pains with their tools," Mathers says. "And they're a new company so everything maybe doesn't work quite the way they say it does, or you want to do things they haven't thought about."

For instance, creating a data model and committing records to it was "amazingly simple," he says. But while Mathers knows how to build master queries against data collections using SQL, he had to learn a new process for querying using Kinvey collections, he says. That took some time.

Also, Kinvey's tools were built on the assumption that a device is owned and used by one person. That means data generated from the device is tied to the device. But Mathers wanted many people to be able to log into an iPad and generate data attached to their accounts, not the device.

"But we're hearing from enterprises that they want similar things for, say, Salesforce or Active Directory or their SAP instance. There are all sorts of existing enterprise databases or business intelligence tools they'd like to integrate," says Ilya Sukhar, Parse's CEO.

While many businesses will likely have to do some custom work to pull data from those back-end apps into a new mobile app, the modules give them a leg up, he says.

Kinvey, which is building plug-ins to make connections to back-end data, also admits it's not a one-size-fits-all process. "The pushback from enterprises is, 'I have SAP version 5.5 or Oracle 9.7. Do you have the plug-ins?'" says Sravish Sridhar, Kinvey's CEO. "Over time, we will."

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