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Did you build your Mobile Application Platform yet?
Developing mobile applications has long been an art rather than a systematic, industrialized process. Gartner once defined the “rule of 3” to characterize the challenges you face in mobile application development and integration: the appropriate software tools should support integration with at least 3 types of different backend systems, at least 3 different target mobile operating systems and you should have at least 3 applications to develop – then the usage of a suitable mobile application development platform was recommended.
This approach of using “Multichannel Access Gateways”, “Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms”, or “Mobile Consumer Application Platforms” has been advertised for more than 4 years now, but organizations have apparently struggled to really implement his approach to the full extent. For many organizations I recently talked to, “Mobility” still is a moving target, and a mere technological problem at that. Technologies change quickly and investments in most of these tools and methodologies can become quite high for the average IT department, especially in organizations where mobile solutions are not (yet) part of the overall architecture framework. As long as IT departments treat “Mobility” as an art rather then making the methodologies, tools and skills part of their standard IT landscape, the TCO of mobile solutions will probably be higher then you would expect and the agility to provide better services to end customers will much likely not reach the level it should.
Why do mobility initiatives often stop at the technological and the tool level? The selection of “the best” mobile application development / integration platform to implement within an enterprise is en vogue today, but it is just not enough, and to my mind also an impossible task to complete as there is no single one software platform which does it all. It is much more important to have a mobile strategy defined first, to define the appropriate use cases, to segment the users, and to create a mobile reference architecture underpinned with the necessary support processes and KPIs to achieve and measure success. Then the selection of the right combination of tools is just an easy step.
But something seems to be moving. IT departments now face a critical mass of mobile solutions developed somewhere within the company, and need to integrate the wild growing variety of BYOD initiatives started some year ago. SAP recently announced the intention to acquire the mobility expert “Syclo” – all of us still remember the similar announcement by SAP to integrate Sybase with its mobility portfolio around SUP and Afaria. Other companies do integrate “native” support for mobile solutions into their software products (take Oracle, as an example). In addition to that, options for mobility- enabled, cloud based development and test platforms become available, allowing an easy entry into mobile application development, testing and lifecycle management.
Apparently, the market opportunity is just too attractive to ignore, and integrated support for mobility or readily accessible Cloud- based offerings will further raise the awareness in IT departments to recognize mobility methodology, skills and tools as essential elements for further driving industrialization and rationalization in IT. It is just not enough to leave the field to few technology “gurus” within the company. Just as the capability to speak at least one foreign language is mandatory in today’s business life, mobility skills are becoming an essential facet of every IT expert’s skill profile, and mobility requirements have to be covered in all process areas.
I think that this is the right time for companies to start their initiative to create an own governance framework, a reference architectures, and to plan a roadmap towards incorporating mobility capabilities systematically into the different parts of IT – the business will like it.
 Magic Quadrant for MobileEnterprise Application Platforms, 20 April 2011, Michael J. King, William Clark, Gartner Research Note G00211688