Enterprise Mobility (Part IV): Mobility Platforms

If you are in the middle of selecting and/or researching for mobility platforms, it is very likely that you may come across variety of vendors offering platforms types such as:

  • Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP)
  • Mobile Cosumer Application Platform (MCAP)
  • Mobile Application Development Platform (MADP)
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM)
  • Enterprise Mobility Management Suites (EMMS)

Should an organisation have all these platforms? Or are these platforms just buzzwords? These terms, on one hand represent the evolution of the mobility platforms, while on the other hand to a certain degree, creativity of the analysts who coined and keep coining these terms.

Mobility platforms are evolving from 2 broad sets of enterprise mobility requirements:

1. Platforms for developing and managing mobile applications during run time, and
2. Platforms for managing administration and security of data and devices

At the beginning of their evolution cycle, mobility application platforms, were referred to as MEAP or MCAP and more recently this family is referred to as MADP. Similarly, the mobility admin & securliy platforms which were referred to as MDM earlier, are now referred to as Enterprise Mobility Management Suites by Gartner in their 2014 Magic Quadrant report.

Mobility application platforms typically offer the following:
– Development Environment, which can be used to build cross platform apps
– Run time environment or server-side environment for data routing, transformation and movement / integration / syncing between mobile devices hosting the mobile apps and back-office applications
–   Mobile Apps Administration in terms of user management, version management, etc.

Mobility Admin and Security Platforms offer the following features:
– Mobile Devices Lifecycle Management: Registration, Administration, Retirement
– Device Trackinig
– Data Security & Encryption
– Data back-up
– Remote data wipe-off
– Private App Store
– Remote support

Considering that Mobility application platforms offer much more than development toolkit, one wonders as to why they should be called as Mobile Application Development Platforms.

A lot of platform vendors from both the families of these platforms, are already offering overlapping functionality, particularly, Mobility Application Platforms are fast encroaching into the area of Enterprise Mobility Management suites. I expect these two types of platforms to consolidate into single platform. So, in case you are in the middle of choosing either (and particularly) the application platform or mobility management suites, then make sure to check the product roadmap of these platforms.


Enterprise Mobility, Part III A

Non-functional Requirements

Enterprise Mobile Initiatives, as discussed in the previous post, are complex & challenging endeavors. While it may be a single app, or multiple apps, the easier part of the Enterprise Mobility jig saw puzzle is to address business / functional requirements. These are mostly explicitly stated by business users. The more challenging aspect is addressing non functional requirements. These typically come up over a period of time as the mobile apps start getting used by enterprise users. If these requirements are not addressed quickly, then can even lead to failure of the mobility initiative.

I have listed some of the prominent non functional requirements below, based on my experience. I must confess, however, we learnt some of these requirements the hard way while the mobile apps were in use by the end users. In one case, we had to recall the app, pause the initiative, fix the issue and relaunch. This meant rework, anxiety and project cost escalation. I do not say these requirements would be applicable to the mobility projects that you may be associated with, but certainly, you should pay as much attention to these non functional requirements as much you would to functional requirements.

i. Offline functioning of Mobile Apps

A large number of use cases of Mobile apps are related to sales & distribution/customer service, enabling this staff operating in the field. The consumer that they have to deal with, in the field needs to be served quickly, without hick-ups. Connectivity of mobile devices especially inside buildings is always a challenge, and our early experience showed that sales / customer service staff has to face a lot of customer ire, when the app couldn’t function for lack of connectivity. So, mobility apps may be required to operate in off-line mode.

ii. Data Sync capability between the mobile device and data center servers

Once a mobile app is required to operate in an offline mode, it is inevitable to have business rules and validation logic coded in the mobile app and also app transaction data stored in the mobile device, although temporarily. Typically, the requirement in case of off-line mode apps is to send the data to the back-office apps so that business transactions can be triggered / fulfilled within the promised SLAs. Sync capability can be built either auto (mostly) or manual.

iii. Data Security in case of storage data in the mobile device

Apps supporting off-line mode operation, store data in the mobile device itself. In one of the apps that I was building, the stored data included customer data and along with the signature. The Risk team flagged it as a major risk, and we were required to not only sand box the data folders but also store the data encrypted. So, mobility solution architects are required to assess sensitivity and risks associated with the data managed by the app and establish appropriate level of controls.

iv. Mobile Apps Version & Release Management

Expect, if the mobile initiative / app being implemented is mission critical, the mobile app to undergo a number of enhancements. Such new versions of the mobile app carry not only enhanced functionality but also fixed bugs and so, the occurrences of release of versions can be frequent in the initial phases of the project. Thus enterprise mobility initiatives need to plan for proper version management and version release processes. Download and self installation of the new versions as soon as they are available may be required to be automated and coded in the mobile solution.

v. Remote Support

Most of the mission critical enterprise mobility initiatives are meant to be used by mobile workforce, who operate in the field with minimum support or touch-points with office locations with proper IT support infrastructure. In case, the mobile apps involve complex and long transactions such as new customer acquisition transactions, mobile workforce needs top quality support. Such support either could be local or remote. For remote / centralised training & support desk to be effective, they need to be provided with software tools, which can enable them to either take remote control of the mobile devices or view shared screens.

More non-functional requirements will be covered in the next blog post.

Enterprise Mobility, Part II

Defining Enterprise Mobility Initiative

Many organisations look at their Mobile initiative as a Single App initiative, especially in the initial phase. They tend to equate the initiative as one point application like any other enterprise class system. Mobility project starts as a pilot or POC project with time and budget constraints. As the POC initiative gains momentum and takes the shape of larger enterprise wide initiative, requirements for basic foundation, typically non-functional requirements need to be addressed. Else, the initiative starts imploding giving rise to data issues, scalability issues and so on. So it is essential to address these non-functional requirements right at the inception stage.However, before we discuss these requirements, lets define the criteria for Enterprise Mobility Initiative.

Mobility initiative should be considered of Enterprise class, if it meets any of the following criteria:
1. 3-5 mobility apps are built/required to be built
2. Users group include any of 2 of the following groups: Employee / Customers / Business Partners / Suppliers
3. No. of users exceed 500
4. Mobile Device strategy for employees covers BYOD
5. Integration with back end systems involves more than 2 back end systems

Once the organisational mobility initiative meets, any one of the above criteria complexity in areas listed below increases many folds:
– App support for Multiple Mobile OSs,
– User Experience on multiple devices / OS / form factors,
– User Management,
– Device Management,
– Data Management,
– Integration Management
– System Administration
– Time To Market

And this increased complexity requires a platform based approach to develop and manage run time environments of these mobile applications.

In case of large enterprises, it is only a matter of time, that the initial POC or pilot project takes shape of Enterprise class. Architects responsbible for mobility initiatives in these organisations should either plan for platform based approach right from the beginning or alert organisations of rework.

Lets look at some of the critical non functional requirements, essential in building this platform based approach in the next article.

Enterprise Mobility, Part I


Business organisations have spent their energies on leveraging mobile devices for delivering businesses value for over a decade now. Initial mobile apps were simple SMS based apps running on feature phones. Some organisations even had custom-built POS (Point of Sale or Service Devices) fitted with mobile sim card and running simple new business or payment collections apps. Easy to carry, Mobile devices were and are seen as a very potent device in the hands of customers or mobile employees engaged in sales and customer service activities. Self service apps running on mobile devices can deliver instant gratification to customers and improve productivity of mobile employees. Despite the advantages, enteprise mobile apps did not see as much popularity or serious thought amongst corporate think tanks, as early mobile technology posed challenges in terms support for multiple OSs, user experience and device & data security.

Organisations started thinking seriously about mobile apps after the launch of iPhone in 2007 and particularly in 2009 when Android based smart phones started becoming popular globally. Smart phones allowed organisations to build apps with rich user interface leveraging data connectivity. The corporate mobility initiatives received a real impetus in 2010, when iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab was launched. Tablets overcame the limitation of smaller screens issue that smart phones posed and are light & rugged enough for mobile employees to carry them along with themselves. I implemented one of the early large scale mobility initiatives for an insurance company in India, one of the toughest and challenging assignments of my career.

Most critical success factors (CSFs) for the successful implementation were completely non technical such as CEO sponsorship & support for the project, CEO driven Change Management within the organisation, Big bang implementation approach, An incentive programme for the users, and a Support Center to monitor the application utilisation & provide technical support. However, technical design & architecture and technology selection & implementation approach were perhaps the most critical factors for successful implementation of the project. Some of our technology design and implementation choices were very deliberate, while others were based on our view about the future of mobility.  In the following blog entries I’ll focus on the technical aspect of the enterprise mobility initiatives discussing questions such as:

  • How does one Define Enterprise Mobility Initiative?
  • What should be the approach to implementing Enterprise Mobility Initiative?
  • What critical business/ technology requirements that enterprise mobile apps need to meet?
  • What are various mobility platforms such as MEAP, MCAP, MADP, MDM, EMMS?
  • What are the architecture components of Enterprise Mobility Solutions?
  • What OS should the mobile apps be supported on?
  • What is the right mobile app: Native or Hybrid?

While I pen down my thoughts, it would be interesting to hear your views. Do share your experience. Also do not hesitate to write to me in case you have questions or need clarifications.