by Robin Wirz (Guest Author), Computerworld, 9. Nov 2012 (original article in German)

Due to their strategic importance, mobile apps are increasing in number and becoming both more complex and more powerful. This evolution confronts enterprise IT with new and familiar challenges.

App_Management_Development_Computerworld_Web

The rapidly growing number of applications, platforms and devices makes life difficult for corporate IT departments. The scope and complexity of apps are also increasing. Smartphone applications have evolved enormously since the launch of the iPhone. The first generation mainly consisted of simple games and practical aids – for the general public and mostly without a backend – but now apps have become key tools for the business processes of many companies, including marketing and sales, process optimization, and expanding the products and services portfolio. This leads to more stringent requirements, which increasingly put traditional IT topics, such as security, availability, integration and updating, back into the limelight. The difference is that today, mobile-specific circumstances must also be taken into account.

Many companies have by now recognized the strategic potential of mobile applications and are developing comprehensive and powerful apps that make entire business sectors mobile. This includes an increasing number of company-internal apps, for example for sales and service teams or for mobile intranets. As a result, mobile applications are getting closer and closer to the core business and must be integrated ever deeper into the IT landscape, and they also contain more and more sensitive or mission-critical data. Along with more stringent security requirements, increasing complexity incurs a corresponding increase in effort and expense, for example through personalization, to ensure that the user interface is simple and intuitive – a characteristic feature and success factor of mobile apps.

Just maintaining an overview and effective control of all the apps – often developed in diverse locations – in all their configurations and versions is a demanding task in its own right.

Old acquaintances with new challenges

The rapid evolution and growing maturity of mobile applications are putting traditional IT topics, which were less significant in the first “fun and games” phase, back into the limelight: availability, security, access control, deployment, updating and version control are some of the familiar challenges. However, mastering these challenges requires new approaches in order to address the mobile-specific circumstances.

For example, availability is no longer limited to systems and servers, but must also deal with very limited bandwidth and operability in offline mode. Access control, typically by means of a password query from a server, must also be equipped to handle missing network connections. A detailed concept is needed for general data handling: which data is taken directly from the server, which data is stored in the mobile device, and which data should be buffered in the cloud. Monitoring and performance control, similar to a website analysis, must be able to capture user behavior data even in offline mode and subsequently send it to the server for consolidation.

Deployment is a key factor due to the diversity of app stores. All of these vendor-dominated sales channels have their own processes and guidelines, which severely limit the options for app distribution and updating. Placing multiple applications in the different stores and maintaining them there can easily result in considerable effort and expense – just consider all the uploads, descriptions and review processes necessary for each application update.

This means that app providers cannot force updates directly onto the mobile devices. This also makes it impossible for most providers to effectively control their apps and to quickly correct any problems that may arise.

Although apps that are fully company internal may be distributed via a company app store, which simplifies a few things, this requires a suitable infrastructure to ensure secure deployment and management. It should also be noted that managing an app portfolio over internal and external app stores is not particularly easy.

In need for specialized solutions

The obvious approach is to solve known challenges with known means and systems. However, practical experience shows that this is rarely a good approach with mobile applications. The structures developed in an attempt to meet typical mobile challenges with non-mobile methods, such as via the backend, are too cumbersome and elaborate. They increase complexity and costs while degrading performance and the user experience.

This means that specialized solutions are necessary. Mobile device management (MDM) systems can monitor and simplify the use of mobile devices within the company and access to applications, among other things. However, they focus on managing the mobile devices instead of the apps themselves, so they address only a small part of app management. Furthermore, they reach their limits when applications need to be made accessible to external user groups, such as partners, customers or communities.

The only real solution is to use an app management system, which enables the efficient development and management of multiple apps over various platforms and app stores. These specialized systems tackle the previously mentioned challenges: they simplify app development and provide a suitable infrastructure for processing and synchronizing data for mobile use. Efficient deployment to the various user groups and comprehensive use monitoring and analysis are also possible. With dynamic updating and version control, they mediate the updating problem in the app stores. Finally, they can master many security issues and create many new options for app design.

App management systems therefore provide a suitable platform for efficient app development and enterprise-wide app management in a central location. Since the diversity of apps, platforms and devices, as well as the general expectations and complexity, will continue to rise, IT managers are well advised to address these topics now and to invest in suitable systems, in order to be well equipped for the mobile future.

Source of original article:
www.computerworld.ch (in German)

More Terria News