A technology and organizational model for getting companies mobilized fast.(Hint it involves “Line of Business” and IT working together in a way that leverages off each group’s comparative advantages and strengths.)
At Alpha we are in touch with thousands of corporations every month and we are always looking for and observing patterns and best practices by which companies can get themselves mobilized fast so that they can benefit from the very real business gains that mobile technologies can bring to an organization. Knowing these best practices not only gives us something to share with you, but enables us to make improvements to Alpha Anywhere, our rapid mobile application development platform.
In this article we are going to lay out one approach to mobile app development that we are seeing that is increasingly being followed with great success.
Let’s start out with the problems that are associated with building mobile business apps.Building enterprise mobile apps is a very challenging development problem because of factors like:
- Need to integrate with disparate corporate data from multiple existing systems
- Need to support robust offline operation with intelligent conflict resolution
- Need to factor in security requirements on both the front end and the backend
- Need to run across multiple brands of devices with a modern mobile user experience
- Need to responsively adapt to different screen sizes and orientation
- Need to take full advantage of the media capabilities that the camera & microphone affords
- Need to optimize for data entry with a soft keyboard that keeps “jumping up” and then disappearing
If you are part of an operating business unit, by this stage you have probably imagined various ways in which mobile can make your unit either more efficient or more profitable or both.
A common next step to get your unit “mobilized” would be to go to IT and ask them to build the app to meet your requirements. At this point IT will listen and will often come back with words like. “Sure, we can do it but you are going to have to wait months or even years because what you are asking for is going to require a lot of scare resources.” Now in fairness to IT, they typically are made up of a finite group of very smart and well-meaning people, but invariably they are also tasked with keeping existing operations running smoothly and they are also being pummeled with similar requests/demands from other business units or business functions. Another complicating factor is that they do not have the domain expertise that you have!
So what is the solution if you want to get the job done now?There are of course multiple solutions such as outsource the entire project or add bodies to IT. These solutions can and do work but have downsides that have been well documented in many other places.
The approach that we alluded to at the beginning of this article, which is working for many organizations, is the following.
A) Select a “low code” rapid mobile development and deployment platform (RMAD) that is designed to deal effectively with the challenges laid out above. Alpha Anywhere is an example of such a RMAD.
A good “low code” RMAD platform should allow the vast majority of work to be done by power users or analysts in your business unit – because after all, your people understand what the business requirements of the app are, because they “live it” every day.
With such a RMAD platform you should be able to get at least 90% or 95% down the path to completion without writing any code because the platform should have a vast array of tools under the covers for automatically dealing with requirements like, mapping, reporting, charting, responsive design, error detection, scheduling, security, data connectivity etc and it should understand and take care of these tasks that need to happen on the back end (server) and the front end (client side). The net result is that you should be able to get most of the app (in some cases all of the app) working quickly and easily. In addition the platform should have “injection points” in the system where code for the remaining 5 or 10% of the application can be inserted.
(It is important to recognize that for most real work apps there will always be some part or parts that is unique to a business that the RMAD platform must provide the headroom or programmability in order to be a truly useful reliable platform. There is nothing worse than a platform that takes you close to the finish line but then does not have the openness or flexibility to complete the task.)
B) The role of IT in this model is to provide the following services which play to their traditional strengths, concerns and charter:
- IT give the app access to the corporate data in a way that they are comfortable with – it could be direct access to the underlying SQL databases, through Odata or through web services.
- IT will review the security of the app
- IT will provide the code that is needed to be inserted into the app to complete the remaining 5 or 10% of the app