The great mobile app challenge

The demand for enterprise mobile apps has far outstripped most companies' ability to deploy even the most needed apps to the workforce.

mobile enterprise apps

Enterprises face a real mobile app dilemma. They want their users mobilized, but are having a huge problem keeping up with the demand for the apps needed to satisfy their smartphone and tablets users. I have spoken with many enterprises, and the backlog of queued and/or user desired mobile apps is staggering. I estimate that no more than 15%-20% of proposed mobile apps actually get created and deployed, and in some companies the number is far less. There is no question that this has a negative impact on an organization’s need to maximize worker productivity.

This problem is a direct result of the difficulty in creating mobile apps. I see three major hurdles that most enterprises face. First, most companies are not adequately staffed with , and using more traditional desktop developers doesn’t work very well as mobile app development usually requires a specialized skill set.

Second, even if companies want to develop more mobile apps, most currently face a general lack of IT resources due to the reductions that have taken place over the past few years. Most IT organization resources go to maintaining existing production systems rather than creating new ones.

Finally, and this is no small issue, the time to deployment of production mobile apps cannot take 12-18 months -- the typical amount of time it takes to deploy apps in the desktop world. This is inadequate for a mobile-oriented world. Apps must be completed in a matter of days or weeks to create true value for line of business needs.

There are several tools available that provide desktop and web “conversion” to mobile apps. But what’s really needed is a way to enable the line of business units to create any needed apps quickly and without (or at least with minimal) IT resources.

Most knowledge workers have been creating their own documents, presentations and spreadsheets for many years. Indeed, most companies would probably cease to function if we had to go back to the old days where admins were the only ones that had desktop publishing tools and individuals had to write things out on paper and present them to the admin pool for creation. But this is the situation in most companies today when it comes to identifying and creating mobile apps, just substitute programmers for admins.

Microsoft (among others) is trying to change that process, the same way it did when it provided Office to end users and brought desktop publishing to the masses. Its first step is with its PowerApps product. Although certainly not perfect, it is bringing us a step closer to the day when individual users and line of business can create mobile apps as needed, when needed, with an ability to modify them at will (or start from scratch on a new one). Patterned after the very familiar Office interface, with an ability to create reusable app templates and workflows, PowerApps goes a long way to “democratizing” the creation of mobile apps.

However, PowerApps is currently very Microsoft-centric. It requires a Windows device to use the tool and the back end uses Azure and Sharepoint. Microsoft does promise a full browser-based system in the near future built on Azure. The good news is it does support Android and iOS, and not just Windows mobile.

Of course Microsoft is not alone in this quest. Companies like SkyGiraffe have a very similar approach to Microsoft’s. And Kony has a creation tool (Visualizer) that attempts to dramatically speed up the process of mobile app development by end users rather than tools for its traditional app developer market. Even IBM is getting into the game  of end user mobile app tools as part of their BlueMix and MobileFirst strategy. And there are others as well (too many to list here).

But the key is that all try to take the development process to the knowledge worker at the line of business -- the one who knows what is needed to get the job done and to get the app completed and deployed in days or weeks. Simply throwing it over the wall to a development team in IT no longer cuts it when agile companies need to be able to adapt in mobile time!

So what’s the bottom line? Unless you have an app that needs to be consumer focused (e.g., banking, retail), this is a much better approach for enterprise needs than custom app development. Although not perfect, apps created by these tools can be perfectly usable and enhance worker productivity. And they can be deployed in a matter of hours or days, rather than the months needed for a typical IT coding project.

By raising the productivity of workers through targeted mobile apps, the potential ROI to the organization can be huge.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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