When your workplace shifts into a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model, whether willingly or unwillingly, it quickly becomes apparent that full-blown office suites designed for keyboard and mouse access aren't going to be as useful. One solution to that dilemma is to develop single-purpose apps for tablets and mobiles. But how quickly can they be deployed, and will businesses cough up the money needed to build them?
Grain picture from Shutterstock
That theme has been running as an undercurrent throughout the Progress Exchange conference I'm attending in Boston this week. Progress appears to be finding its feet after a messy couple of years that included an activist shareholder revolt and a rapid change of CEO. Having trimmed some of its older and more esoteric product lines, it has now returned to what many would see as its roots: providing development tools to help independent software vendors (ISVs) develop apps for enterprise use. "We have an opportunity to take the great tech of OpenEdge and make it even better with the changing way that people create applications," Progress CTO Karen Tegan Padir said at the conference opening.
In the modern IT climate, that necessarily involves building apps which can draw on cloud resources and which can be deployed on mobile devices. "Managers feel they are spending all sorts of time and energy maintaining desktops when everyone is going around IT with tablets," Padir said. "Business monetisation comes from the use of data, not the use of applications."
Progress' big play here is its Progress Pacific platform-as-a-service offering, which combines most of its existing technologies into a single system designed to make it easier to deploy new apps. There are two potential advantages to the PAAS approach. Firstly, it makes it much easier to deploy hybrid cloud applications, which remain the required approach for many businesses. "PAAS will be the only choice for application development." Padir said. "Hybrid will be around for a very long time."
Secondly, it facilitates rapidly building mobile apps than can run across multiple platforms. The Rollbase web-based app development system which Progress acquired in June has a particularly important role to play here.
The biggest barrier here is one which isn't exclusive to Progress customers: convincing managers to cough up cash for app development. While general business apps such as email don't generally require customisation, organisations that are heavily reliant on customised ERP or CRM solutions won't be able to deliver those on tablets without considerable tinkering.
Research commissioned amongst 300 global managers by Progress underscores the scope of the problem. 44 per cent said the biggest restriction on their app plans was limited development budgets, followed by data complexity (39 per cent), skill shortages (also 39 per cent), device complexity (37 per cent), integration challeges (35 per cent), and time to market issues (33 per cent).
That doesn't mean it's impossible. Australian transport software developer CMS Transport Systems used Rollbase to help build a tight deadline app for a highly specific purpose. "Back in March we had an opportunity with a company that handled private grain storage," general manager Grant Walmsley explained. "We saw a new business opportunity if we could develop an app for this market. The key driver behind the whole application was it had to be deployed by November for harvest time."
To meet that deadline, CMS ended up making use of Rollbase Philippines, a separate company which offers consultancy on app deployment using Rollbase. "CMS really wanted the skills in-house, but because we had that deadline, Rollbase Philippines made more sense," Progress senior solution consultant Susan Houniet explained.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman visited Boston as a guest of Progress.