Bringing more enterprise data to the mobile tier has been a thorny problem for many years now. A logjam remains between developers and their ability to productively deliver enterprise applications and data to mobile devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, and smartphones like the Apple iPhone.
To develop applications that reach even a small number of major handset environments means big-time custom plumbing, from the various data sources, to the mixture of networks, to the choices on integration, to the various security needs, to the many user interfaces and mobile client operating systems. Managing all these variables requires a high degree of skill across many different skill sets. There are not many developers that fit this bill in your average enterprise.
But new and innovative ways are emerging to extract and make enterprise data ready to be accessed and consumed by mobile device users. Kapow Technologies, for example, is focusing on the Web browser on the mobile device to allow data to be much more efficiently delivered via mobile networks beyond the limited range of traditional enterprise applications.
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To gain an in-depth look at how more enterprises and their data can be packaged and delivered effectively to more users, I recently spoke to JP Finnell, CEO of Mobility Partners, a wireless mobility consulting firm; Stefan Andreasen, founder and chief technology officer at Kapow Technologies, and Ron Yu, head of marketing at Kapow.
Here are some excerpts:
JP Finnell: Unlike conventional applications, mobile applications have a huge number of choices to juggle. There are choices about input and output, touchscreen versus QWERTY. … You also have the choice of the device platform. That’s also quite different from your traditional choice of development options.
Ron Yu: What we see within the enterprise is that the IT organization is really buried in the complexity of legacy systems. First and foremost, how do they get real-time access to information that’s locked in 20- or 30-year-old systems?
On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of data that’s locked in homegrown applications through Internet portals and applications that have been adopted and developed through the years, either by the IT organization itself or through mergers and acquisitions. When you’re trying to integrate all these heterogeneous data sources and applications, it’s almost impossible to conceive how you would develop a mobile application.
What we see is the line-of-business knowledge worker putting a lot of pressure on IT. IT tries to respond to this, but dealing with the old traditional methods of technical requirements, business cases and things like that, just doesn’t lend itself to quick, agile, iterative, perpetual-beta types of mobile application development.
The reason we’re having this discussion today is because Kapow customers have actually brought us into this market. Because of how we have innovatively solved these real-time, heterogeneous, unstructured data challenges, customers have come up with their own ideas of how they can develop mobile apps in real time.
Stefan Andreasen: Why is the need for mobile application growing? It all started with the Internet and the easy access to applications through the Web browser. Then, we got laptops and we can actually access this application when we are on the road. The problem is the form factor of the laptop, opening it up at the airport, and getting on the Net is quite cumbersome.
So, to improve agility for mobile workers, they’re better off taking their mobile out of their pocket and seeing it right there. That’s what’s creating the need. The data that people want to look at is really what they’re already looking at on their laptop. They just want to move it to a new medium that’s more agile, handier, and they can get access to wherever they are, rather than only in the airport or in the lobby of the hotel.
Finnell: [The traditional mobile application development methods are] incomplete. The approaches of these large platform vendors — and I am strategic partner in several of them — aren’t strong, when it comes to agility, prototyping, and being able to accommodate this real-time iterative application development approach. That’s really where Kapow shines.
Andreasen: If you want a mobile application, if you want agility, you want it in the world of applications that you’re already working with. If you’re already opening your laptop and working with data, we give you that exact same experience on the mobile phone. … It’s about taking what you’re already doing and doing it in a more agile and mobile way. That’s what’s very appealing. Business workers get their data and their applications their way on the mobile phone, and basically, it’s making them more effective in what they’re already doing.
What’s unique with Kapow is that you can go then to the developers and say, “Hey, look at this. This is what I want on my mobile app — on my mobile phone.” And, they can get the data from the world of the browser, turn it into standard application programming interfaces (APIs), and get it through any mobile devices.
Handsets today are getting more and more browser enabled. So, of course, if you have a browser-enabled phone, it’s very easy to do this. You can write just in XHTML as you’ve mentioned. But, a lot of companies already have like a mobile infrastructure platform. Because our product turns the applications into standard APIs, standard feeds, it works with any mobile platform and can work in the devices that they support. You basically get the best of both worlds.
We recently had a webinar, and we asked what are the biggest challenges that people have. The number one challenge that came out of it was standard access to data, and that’s exactly the problem we solve. We allow you to very, very quickly — almost as quickly as it would take to browse an application once — turn an application to standard API. Then, you can take it from there to your mobile phone or your mobile applications.
Yu: We have an integrated development environment (IDE) that basically allows the IT architects to service enable anything with a Web interface, whether it’s a homepage or an application. The power of that really is to bring the knowledge worker or line of business manager together with the IT person to actually develop the business and technical requirements in real-time.
This helps perpetuate the beta development of mobile applications where you don’t have to go through months and months of planning cycles, because we know that in a mobile world, once you’ve gone one or two or three months past, the business has changed.
Finnell: Where are the mobile apps cropping up? Projects don’t get funded unless there is a business case. The best business cases are those where there’s a business process that’s already been defined and that needs to be automated. Typically, those are field-based types of processes that we are seeing. So, I’d say, the field-force automation projects, utilities or direct sales agents, are the areas where I’m seeing the most investment today on a departmental level.
Yu: We see this is as enabling and empowering the IT organization to take control of their destiny today, as opposed to waiting for funding and cumbersome development and planning processes to be able to scope out a project and then to write code.
Gardner: Perhaps we’re not going to see mobile killer apps or killer mobile apps, but killer business processes that need to have a mobile element to them.
Finnell: And there is something that I call “strategy emerging from experience.” The best way to get adoption in your enterprise is to rapidly iterate at the departmental level, gain experience that way, create centralized governance or coordinative governance that captures the lessons from those, and then become more strategic.
What I am seeing in 2009 is a good experience space. Almost every enterprise today has at least one department that’s doing something around mobile. One way to get that to be more strategic is to be more iterative with your approach.
Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Disclosure: Kapow Technologies sponsored this podcast.