EoT: More than meets the API

The enterprise use of "things" will be empowered by APIs that enable a variety of device platforms and types to interactive productively with back-end systems

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Many organizations are in the early stages of looking at the Internet of Things and trying to figure out how it might help them improve their businesses. Further, they wonder if the upcoming avalanche of wearables, smartwatches, 3D heads-up displays, etc., will trigger a massive BYOD thrust they are ill equipped to deal with. But what exactly should companies be worried about when they look at deployments of Enterprise of Things (EoT) devices?

As with the broader mobility market before it, enterprises will be driven by users to focus on devices first and not the apps first. But with so many different device types, platforms and interface methods, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create a viable “any mobile device” app strategy. Yet we all understand that without relevant business apps powering them, the devices will essentially be relegated to “toy” status as far as the business is concerned. And that is a troubling state of affairs, given both the large potential to enhance business with proper EoT use, and the negative cost implications if they are not utilized effectively

Because the whole device market is still in major flux, and new devices will be coming out in massive numbers and flavors over the next three to five years, it's imperative that organizations focus on the types of apps needed to empower them. Many companies have decided that mobile app development is just too hard to do, even for the current-generation mobile devices, because there are so many different platforms, and they are delaying deployments or deploying only in a limited way. With the expected increase in all forms of mobile devices driven by EoT over the next three to five years, this is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Organizations have focused on next-generation mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAP) solutions, generally defined as mobile back end as a service (MBaaS). These were designed to provide functions that separate the front-end design (UI) from the back-end system integration efforts by providing a uniform middleware platform to connect to the apps running on the devices in a standardized way, and a methodology to develop back-end APIs for connecting to corporate systems (e.g., CRM, ERP). First-generation MEAPs (e.g., SAP, IBM) have been around for a decade, but their use has been limited by the difficulty in deploying both the MEAP and apps running on them, as well as their proprietary nature and high cost. Further, the promise of near universal device support never really materialized.

What started out as a way to improve the functioning of mobile devices through MBaaS has now emerged as an important step in achieving next-generation (EoT) capabilities critical to making it possible for organizations to enable the use of “things.” Newer-generation MBaaS platforms have placed greater emphasis on the needs to integrate openly with a large number of disparate back-end systems so prevalent in enterprises. This API centricity, both at the back end and front end, is what will ultimately reduce the complexity necessary to productively engage with EoT devices.

While there are many mobile development solutions available (e.g., Kony, AppCelerator, Xamarin), it’s only recently that some have been adding MBaaS components to their offerings. This is a good first step, but the majority of enterprises would be better served by implementing a non-proprietary MBaaS solution based on open back-end services that also couple easily to any front-end UI tools.

The most important part of an MBaaS solution is how well it handles the myriad of APIs necessary to connect. API management solutions exist (e.g., Mashery, Apigee), but these are focused on managing rather than creating necessary APIs. Vendors such as FeedHenry (Red Hat), and Kinvey are providing tools to both manage and build the needed back-end services on top of the MBaaS to easily create APIs. Companies like AnyPresence take it one step further to create a separable platform for API creation including front-end management/development and back-end features that are independently deployable and less likely to end up with lock-in.

It is critical that enterprises deploy next-generation EoT-ready systems that offer a nonproprietary solution stack to the complete mobile transaction no matter the device or back end. While not yet fully there yet, the market is rapidly moving in this direction, and this is where enterprises should be focused when evaluating potential vendor solutions.

As we rapidly approach a world of EoT, it is imperative that companies focus on how the various “things” get connected to corporate systems for data acquisition and analysis, and ultimately for data display and activities. EoT should be seen as driven by business enablement needs and not solely by end-user pressure. If you can't make EoT connect to back-end systems that run your business, why are you doing anything at all?

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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