These days, it's difficult to avoid interacting with a mobile app, be it at work or at home. Which is why it's surprising to learn that organisations have actually scaled back their total spending on developing mobile applications, according to analyst firm Gartner. The enthusiasm and demand for mobile apps is there but organisations are still scratching their heads on how to do mobile apps right. We take a closer look at this issue.
Mobile app devs put your hands up image from Shutterstock
Gartner surveyed IT and business leaders responsible for mobility across America, Europe and Asia-Pacific about their activities in building internal as well as customer facing mobile apps. Roughly 42 percent of organisations are looking to increase mobile app development spending by 31 per cent but the money only accounts for 10 per cent of the budget allocated to overall app development. Last year mobile apps made up 12 per cent of total app development investments.
It's a peculiar finding, given that a lot of the organisations I've interacted with have indicated they're heavily focused on mobility. Adrian Leow, Gartner principal researcher, agreed that demand for mobile apps in the enterprise is growing but the issue is that organisations struggle to find value in investing in mobile app development, especially for internal use. They also have a penchant for building apps from scratch rather than adopting off-the-shelf solutions to avoid integration issues.
Speaking with Lifehacker Australia, Leow highlighted the disparate nature of app development within enterprises that are not only causing confusion but wasted effort as well:
"Most organisations have been spending the last two years building front-end client apps, making connectors to go from front to back. Different teams work on different apps and they end up with connectors that build on different technologies that aren't reusable. This is causing duplication of effort and there's no economies of scale."
To remediate this problem, Leow said enterprises need to look at mobile app development in layers: the front-end layer, the mobile app integration layer, and the back-end layer. The front, end-user facing end, needs to be decoupled from the backend, separated by an agile API layer that will optimise mobile integration and simplify the process of connecting mobile apps to a variety of data sources.
It's at this middle layer that organisations can adopt technology from other vendors; essentially it’s the middleware layer. This opens up opportunities to make the front-end more accessible to end-users that may not have the ability to code but still want to build their own apps.
From an IT perspective, this layered approach also facilitates experimentation with using different technology stacks, which is something Leow encouraged. Mobility is a fast-moving industry and being able to hedge your bets on a range of technology stacks means you can find out quickly which one fits your company's current mobile app needs.
This is something that Leow has seen among the Australian organisations he has worked with, including big utilities and major banks.
"They're all talking about this because they're all using mobile app development platform vendors and evaluating them in the background. That's how they're scaling up," he said. "They're into mixing and matching; they would have one vendor in the backend but mix and match different front-end tools and are experimenting with open source stacks before committing to proprietary platforms and paying the fees associated with that."
While this all sounds like a lot of effort, Leow noted that it's less about time and money and more about taking a different approach when it comes to mobile apps.
"Organisations can't just think mobile is the same as IT that has existed since mainframe computing," he said. "Mobile competency and requirements are completely different."