Recently I read an article by Larry O’Brien in SDtimes (Strategies for Mobile Development, February 2012) and he talks about three different types of mobile apps: mobile web, cross-platform and native. Mobile web is essentially an HTML5-based web application that can run on any device using the mobile browser. Cross-platform apps are apps that use languages and/or tools that can also be used to create apps for other platforms, such as MonoTouch and Mono for Android™, or Corona. Native applications are those that are developed using the tools provided by the mobile device platform manufacturers (Apple, Google), such as Xcode/Objective-C/Cocoa for iOS® devices, or the Android SDK. Typically, a native application is able to leverage the full capabilities of the smart device. There is also a fourth type of mobile app, known as hybrid applications, in which an HTML5 app is put into a native application container, a “wrapper” approach of sorts.
In summary, Mr. O’Brien states, “the wisest strategy for the majority of enterprises is to make their first mobile projects web-based.” He bases his conclusion on several important factors including risk, speed to deployment (web applications and UI capabilities are well established), and the ease of maintenance. I completely agree with his points but offer one more; no enterprise organization can afford to take a “wait and see” approach in the native mobile app arena.
Mobility in the Enterprise: The User Experience Revolution
The risk of doing nothing is far greater than that of undertaking any reasonable approach to managing mobile applications for the enterprise. The user experience revolution within the enterprise began 5 years ago with the release of the first iPhone. Armed with the power of a smart device and intimate knowledge of its capabilities, users now have far greater expectations of their IT departments; they now desire that same level of usability and overall experience from their enterprise applications. Enterprise IT managers were already struggling with the user experience associated with their enterprise applications falling far short of expectations, and now any Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) UI re-design from even just a year ago is now all but obsolete. At a minimum, a roadmap is needed that shows how the enterprise will catch up to the current times and UX standards currently being driven in large part by smart devices and mobile apps. To do nothing will cause enterprise business customers to lose faith in their IT department’s ability to deliver a reasonable experience over time.
A mobile web application provides an effective stepping-stone for enterprise organizations to streamline support, training, and maintenance over a multi-platform smart device user population. Over time, one can expect the enterprise to gravitate towards one mobile device platform or another based on mobile device market changes and enterprise computing needs. No matter what the future holds customers can be ready by having shaped and influenced those mobile best practices for the enterprise. This early bird approach to mobile solutions in the enterprise creates a rare opportunity to achieve a significant ROI on a relatively small investment, or even a significant competitive advantage for companies that are best prepared.
Simultaneous Development: Mobile Web and Native Applications Within the Suite
From a technology perspective, we are committed to supporting the mobile web app for the Enterprise Cloud Connect™ Suite, while also providing native applications for iOS and Android for the same components. We have recently completed native mobile applications for SAP® HCM functionality such as personal data, address change, time entry, leave of absence, as well as corresponding approval/manager self-service functionality. Many of our customers and prospects have RIM devices deployed within their organizations, and we will address those requirements initially through our HTML5 mobile web application version due for release in July. Due to our RESTful (REpresentational State Transfer) service architecture, the web service development and UI design can be applied to multiple mobile device platforms, thereby realizing economies of scale for each developer hour applied, and gaining larger marginal returns for our R&D investment. This gives us the agility to support a mobile-web application simultaneous to rolling out native applications with a fixed number of resources. We pass this savings on to our customers in the form of lower license or subscription costs and vastly accelerated deployment times. Good times lie ahead.