Enterprise Mobile Apps: Location and Accessibility

Pick your favorite mobile carrier and check their coverage map. While over time cellular coverage provided by Verizon, Sprint, ATT, and others, has improved, there are still significant gaps where cellular or WiFi coverage is spotty or non-existent. Why should this concern you or your IT department’s mobile Enterprise strategy?

The answer is simple: accessibility.

As discussed in previous entries, the audience and their location for your app’s usage may dictate how to prioritize software development. Perhaps more importantly though, is how accessible does your app need to be to function properly?

Generally, there are two common approaches for mobile business apps: real-time and store-and-forward.

Real-time

As the name implies, this type of mobile app is fully interactive and demands a “live” connection either directly to an Enterprise environment or to an Internet connection that, in-turn, links to an Enterprise environment. Apps that feature look-ups or inquiries require live accessibility all the time.

Store-and-forward

As the name suggests, store-and-forward mobile app are generally self-contained to capture unique information on-demand and/or to interact with a downloaded data file for “real-enough” validation. Perhaps the best illustration for this type of environment would be mobile route accounting sales apps that may have downloaded customer files or vehicle inventory files that allows the user to perform sales transaction tasks with a number of remote clients throughout the day. Then, at the end of the day, all captured information is uploaded into an Enterprise environment for final processing of all financial transactions and to update and/or relieve Enterprise inventory quantities on-hand.

Accessibility Matters

So, how and why does accessibility really matter to your mobile Enterprise application development strategy?

Suppose your IT department decides that your company’s mobile apps should all be created on only one common development platform. And, suppose your IT department determines that a cloud-based real-time development strategy offers the best development flexibility.

If your company discovers that a mobile app might conceivably be used in geographic areas lacking in robust cellular connectivity – which will interfere with the app being able to function properly in real-time, then your entire app development strategy may be flawed from the start. And, the last thing your IT department will want to do is support two different mobile development platform strategies.

Examine where your mobile audience works and lives, and then factor-in the role of accessibility in your Enterprise mobility development strategy. In this case, the old real estate axiom applies: location, location, location matters.

Two Ways To Prioritize Mobile Software Development Needs

Okay, your company has strategies in place for MDM and MAM. Now what? How do you prioritize your mobile software development projects?

The best way to start a prioritization process is to examine two critical issues: (1) audience impact and (2) economic impact to your business. Let’s examine each in turn:

The broader the intended audience, the more likely the application will be immediately successful. A good place to start is with your internal audience – your employees! For example, if your HR department has determined that every employee needs to have sexual harassment training, then the app becomes a mandatory requirement. Everyone within the company needs this training regardless of job description. Next, stop and ask these delivery questions: is the best choice for this specific app development to be geared for individual training or for classroom training; can it best viewed via a mobile device, desktop, or large monitor projection; should the style be interactive or lecture; and, finally, do you have remote users that can’t be easily reached or is everyone in your office location? The answers will help point you in the right direction for your company.

Economic impact implies that the use of an app may result in some type of financial gain. If, for example, you discover that purchase order requisitions are not being approved in a time manner because of executive travels and there is a back log of orders, then there is a definite issue that potentially impacts your bottom line. It may make sense to build a mobile app for traveling executives who can approve orders from anywhere. This app may be geared for on a chosen few within the company, but the financial impact may be very serious for the financial health of everyone at your company.

Before You Start Any Mobile Software Development Project, You Must Do This First

Before your IT department or independent software developer starts cranking out Enterprise Mobile software code, there are two foundation core steps that first must be addressed.

You’ve probably already seen their core name acronyms elsewhere: MDM (mobile device management) and MAM (mobile application management). Simply put, MDM will be your rules on which mobile devices will be managed, controlled, and supported. MAM will be your rules on how the applications loaded on supported mobile devices will be managed, controlled, and supported. Your company should  discuss and agree in detail on what these two core steps will be – prior to any code being created or mobile software distributed.

There are too many Internet articles providing in-depth details and advice for both MDM and MAM to repeat their recommendations here.  A recent deep-dive and comprehensive article I recommend is by Galen Gruman, downloadable from InfoWorld:

http://www.infoworld.com/d/mobile-technology/infoworlds-guide-successful-byod-and-mobile-it-strategy-179111

Your intellectual property, in the form of Enterprise app content, has to be protected. This content is just as valuable as any other intellectual property your company creates or owns; but, it is at greater risk and perhaps the most vulnerable property category your company will ever create. That is because, by definition, mobile “property” can’t be easily locked down, tracked, traced, or deleted without a significant degree of upfront planning.

The proliferation of BYOD, in an age of a very mobile workforce, means that control of Enterprise apps loaded on personal devices will immediately be at jeopardy when trusted employees become former employees.  BYOD means the devices and all of their loaded software departs the premise when the former employee does.

As Galen points out in his deep dive article, common sense guidelines and employee usage policies may offer practical solutions; but, if the nature and use of specific apps is company sensitive – for executive use only, for example, nothing may protect your company interests better than company-issued devices that must be returned by departing employees. Ownership always remains with your company in this regard.

Your MAM and MDM rules should address as many business usage scenario specifics as one can imagine. And, don’t write any code until you can provide a basic framework for where and how your mobile apps are to be deployed, managed, updated, or revoked!