The way enterprises get software developed is undergoing change. Just like consumers, they are shifting quickly to mobile apps from enterprise applications.
Sizeable and complex software systems to support enterprises will always be there and IT people will have to continue to provide patches and updates and customize the systems. However, as enterprises move towards more agility in IT, a shift towards apps which are more customized, modular and simpler is taking place.
For leaders of business and IT alike, this has significant implications. They have to decide how applications will be developed in their digital enterprises, along with who will play what role in application development.
This is influenced by the following:
- Higher expectations of users and consumers – Everywhere, employees and customers are asking for experiences that are consumer grade. They want IT to provide them intelligent, accessible and low-cost apps of the kind they use on their smartphones every day, at their workplace.
- Digitization of enterprises – The differentiation and growth of enterprises is increasingly based on IT apps.
- Maturity of platform providers for apps – Those who offer platform as a service (PaaS) are providing off the shelf service platforms for data and making available instant app family sets and already connected sets of services. For example, Salesforce, Apigee and Tibco provide solutions that lay the foundation for a customized experience for enterprise apps.
- Faster pace of change in IT – There is greater pressure on IT to offer a quicker way for development and deployment of apps significant for digital strategies. This is because of the greater push to quickly deploy new technologies.
How apps can help enterprises become agile
There has been substantial change in the way apps are created. Anyone who has a smartphone can notice the difference.
In the case of consumer apps, developers are looking to build simpler and smaller apps as successful, if possible, as an Evernote or an Angry Birds. Developers of enterprise apps are now adopting the same approach. In the fast-changing markets of today, businesses can make personal interactions richer, improve the experiences of customers and collaborate and innovate better, if they can develop and launch new apps quickly.
It is not difficult to locate the change drivers. Business leaders have been looking for software that is more agile than the legacy systems they have depended on for many years. They have been asking IT to provide the intelligent, accessible and low cost apps they use daily on their mobile devices.
In response, IT is developing software architectures and platforms that segregate the apps that users use from the services at the back end. In this way, both the business side and the IT side score a win – the business has platforms that allow greater focus on customized software that makes quick iterations possible to customize solutions for rapidly changing market conditions, whereas IT is able to lay strong foundations for systems with a lot of complexity.
There is another significant consequence of the move towards enterprise apps – technology organizations and business functions are partnering with each other for jointly owning the agile apps. From networks to data centers, the back-end services are still under IT, but there is blurring of boundaries in an increasing number of organizations as business plays a more active role in many front-end app aspects. These are not unconventional activities and are on with the agreement of IT. Many IT leaders collaborate with the business side and encourage and enable them to assume such roles.
The significant questions have as much to do with technology as with resources now. For example:
- How does the business side acquire the mindset and necessary skills for development, with the help of IT?
- How do IT leaders balance the development of more robust technology for a more agile enterprise and business enablement?
Such questions are likely to remain high on the priority list of CIOs in the coming few years.
The move towards app libraries
Apps can be more self-sufficient in the world of consumer apps. For instance, a consumer may use one app to capture a song he hears playing somewhere. However, he doesn’t require the same app to manage his playlist as he has another one for that. On the other hand, more complex problems have to be solved in the world of enterprise. Quite often, several apps that run complicated business processes are involved. The processes may involve thousands of employees, besides many countries and time zones.
To solve these complex enterprise-related problems, then, you might require more than one app, howsoever nimble it might be. So, you have to think in terms of the app connecting with other apps. The solution lies in libraries of apps that are agile and simple individually and can be linked together to solve the most complex of problems. The separation of back-end services from front-end apps is not the only thing required to achieve this successfully. You need software platforms to drive new development libraries.
The shift towards enterprise app stores is clear evidence of the move.
- According to Gartner, 25% of all enterprises are expected to have app stores to manage apps (for mobile devices and PCs) sanctioned at a corporate level by 2017.
- According to Accenture, 54% of IT groups with high performance have an app store for enterprise mobile apps.
For example, a leading China-based airline developed its own app store in 2012 to promote adoption of mobile apps. It expected to drive growth and improve operational efficiency and productivity, in this manner, among employees who use mobile devices for work. The airline uses mobile apps in areas such as office automation, employee feedback and aircraft maintenance. It also offers iPads for in-cabin services.
The real potential of enterprise apps is in the way these are connected and combined to build a customized system that can handle larger tasks for business. To a certain extent, the app libraries are based on service-oriented architecture, an older technology that allowed quick iteration of user experiences and business processes through reorganization and reuse of small functionality pieces and offered ways to link them. These pieces are apps in the current context.
Middleware as the software platform
The use of nimble, small apps is apparent from the way app stores are proliferating. However, the architecture of IT systems for this new world of apps is also significant. It is based on separation of the apps from their supporting back-end systems.
Enterprises and vendors of software are already architecting their systems to make this separation possible. They are moving towards using middleware as the software platform, so that data services can be presented in a way that will make it simpler to find modular apps for particular business functions. These modular apps can then combine to form systems for the implementation of complex activities for business. These systems offer greater flexibility and a framework for the creation of on-demand, customized solutions more quickly.
Tibco Software and Mashery are among the companies that are offering platforms in this data services space. The platforms offer an integrated environment for development to quickly build and integrate business apps and modular services.
Others are offering tools for API management to help enterprises build new products with developers and partners and expand their reach through mobile apps.
PaaS providers offer off the shelf data service platforms and instant app family sets, along with service sets that are connected already.
There is no such thing as a single platform for every business requirement, however.
Opening up IT processes, tools and systems to users to drive impact
There is no reason to believe that large enterprise software such as CRM or ERP is going to become obsolete soon. At the same time, IT is likely to continually undergo change. IT will support business apps and also help business assume a role more active in front-end apps.
As technology increasingly drives business strategies, IT has to open up processes, tools and systems to let business users drive initiatives ranging from tools for analysis of new pricing model pilots to analysis of consumer sentiment through social media. This allows enterprises to shift from a pattern where IT had to handle a backlog of requests from business to where IT drives business strategies and empowers innovation and experimentation.
The first phase covers enabling the business. Business leaders will understand that they can speed up business imperatives when they extend these services to business partners.
For example, Facebook is taking the help of a community of developers, who are not Facebook employees, for app innovation. Tech companies are not the only ones taking such an approach. General Motors has provided the public with access to its OnStar APIs. It is now ready to harness the emerging market for ride sharing through its partnership with Turo, which is based on an app developed innovatively on top of its APIs. Through this, GM could possible disrupt the taxi as well as car rental market, both of which are businesses outside manufacturing of automobiles.
Making apps more intelligent
Apps continue to become more intelligent and to evolve as business drives more and more of them. Such apps can sense and respond better to their surroundings, along with the history and context of users. For instance, a mobile app lets users detect health problems such as liver and kidney issues that might affect them potentially. The users perform a test using a chemical strip and take a picture of the strip, based on which they receive the results.
Users who are far-sighted are also keen on increasing the usefulness of their apps and because of that the push for embedding analytics in business apps is growing. Users can be their own data scientists and answer many of their own questions, if the apps are rich in analytics. They can take intelligent action faster when they can derive intelligent insights from the data they have. This frees up the data scientists of the organization to look at strategic questions of a higher level.
The competencies enterprises require to support apps
Business and IT executives will have to examine the organization structures and skills required to support apps as the involvement of enterprises with apps increases. IT will have to understand better the strategic imperatives of business driven by technology and business will have to know technology and the opportunities it provides better.
Multidisciplinary teams will gain in importance as the strategies for business and technology become inseparable. To promote the adoption of new apps, skills related to user experience will be essential. As the data gathered through the apps spreads in the organization, data scientists and other such limited resources will have to be developed through recruitment, selection and training.
However, it will not only be the technical skills that will be required. For apps, the business processes are changeable, unlike packaged software solutions where it is more difficult to change the processes. This lets you go beyond technology innovation and you can innovate the underlying processes. The roles of program manager and orchestrator of business processes is also emphasized.
The expectations for maintenance are also different for apps. Agility is related to iteration. The development cycle ends with deployment in the traditional world of software. On the other hand, deployment marks the first iteration in the world of apps. Apps are expected to continue to evolve.
Turning point for business and IT
Businesses are likely to engage more with their own front-end apps in the coming few years. As enterprises see it as the best option for digital business, custom development is likely to be resurgent.
Business and IT leaders are likely to collaborate more among themselves for the facilitation of new app development.
For IT, in particular, this should be a turning point as they come to terms with the evolving environment of enterprise apps. They have to understand the benefits from the business side assuming greater roles with respect to agile apps.
Business and IT have to together establish the boundaries of the new roles as IT focuses more and more on the development of back-end systems and as business and IT collaborate on the front end. These roles should help create enterprises that are truly digital.
As stakeholders such as employees and customers move increasingly towards the use of mobile devices and, thereby, mobile apps, it makes sense for enterprises to adopt mobile apps instead of enterprise-wide software. The apps provide the added advantage of making enterprises more agile.
Has your organization begun to replace enterprise software with mobile apps? Share your experiences and opinions in the comments section below.