Mobility: custom or off-the-shelf business applications?

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Two articles on enterprise applications coming from the same publisher,, caught our attention recently. They’re interesting because they appeared less than a week apart and were in fact contradictory:

Mobility for business: complex business applications are slow to gain acceptance

In the first article based on a Forrester study, it says “the use of specific business applications is still limited and trails far behind the adoption of email or calendaring functions.”…


We want “ready-for-mobile”

The study, which solicited more than 600 US and European policy makers, is very interesting:

  • 89% of companies have deployed a mobile email solution
  • 74% of companies have deployed a calendar and shared agenda solution
  • 21% of companies have deployed a mobile sales force solution
  • 19% of companies have a CRM application
  • 19% of companies have deployed field service apps
  • 9% of companies have deployed a logistics application
  • 8% of companies have deployed a supply chain management application

Note the large gap between the so called “standard” applications (more than 75%) and the business applications (less than 20%… I know, I’ve rounded both numbers…). Forrester attributed the divergence to a combination of factors:  “…Within the next 5 years, the limitations related to the capacity of the mobile network bandwidth, device memory, weight, battery life, or data entry will gradually disappear, allowing business applications to run on any device…”; this is surprising coming from a serious firm like Forrester. It completely glosses over the major factors such as problems related to the development costs of custom business applications and more importantly, the cost of deployment of such applications.

Need I remind you that even when your staff is operating under a single OS, not all will have the same device or even the same version of the OS.  Additionally, the costs of deploying multiple versions for the different devices and the continual updates that follow the evolution of the OS are considerable and constitute a major obstacle. This we can easily understand and it is the real obstacle to business applications adoption!!!

Forrester recognizes, however: “… and to conclude: business applications providers including Concur, Infor, Kenexa, Kronos, Lawson, Oracle,, SAP, and Workday are fully aware of the opportunity out there for providing packages for buyers of mobile business applications…”

Add to that, the increasingly mobile business context is one where a lot of employees now use their own mobile, frequently Smartphones, and there you have a major impediment in terms of deploying business applications. It also presents an opportunity to not be neglected, namely, that all these employees who have bought their own PDAs and thus there are substantial cost savings when it comes to equipment purchasing for your business.

Mobility, the power’s in your hands…

Mobility is everywhere today and most importantly, it’s already made a home in your business where it offers opportunities…

IP Convergence: the success of smartphones favours the emergence of enterprise applications in business.

Thus, enterprise applications enter into business processes, but by sneaking through the back door, via employees and their more powerful and flexible Smartphones, all for the greater benefit of the companies themselves because often, management is slow to see the inherent benefits of Smartphones.  Fortunately for these companies, they have employees, who are not only of a different generation but early-adopters, who just can’t live without their Smartphones! Are we now witnessing the same pattern as the advent of the PC into the enterprise in 1981?

Now, as to whether it’s better to develop a custom  app or purchase an off-the-shelf application?

So: custom or off-the-shelf business applications?

A top executive of one of the leading mobile operators told me recently that only 5% of Quebec businesses have invested in developing a custom app, which suggests that the costs involved are significant.

Yet I know a software developer who has developed highly-advanced mobile applications on BlackBerry for the Sales Force of a large company that allows, among other things, for real-time OTA data synchronization for representatives, but also and above all, access to Business Intelligence and data capture in real-time on the road. And despite the significant development costs, the customer is extremely satisfied because this enterprise app aligns perfectly within his business reality and process, leaving no doubt in his eyes regarding the ROI… in short, it’s not a simple equation.

It would pay to have  all the necessary development tools to seamlessly develop a multiplatform  business application suite. But that… for the moment, demands the proper analysis of available solutions before jumping to conclusions.

IT system architectures have evolved in recent years and have had an impact on choosing one technology solution. Any company can now develop / deploy applications around a Database and different architecture types.

Architecture: Client/Server à Smart Client à Smart Web Client (Cloud/ Mobile)

I think one should plan Mobile Strategy, including the deployment of business applications, around Business Development Strategy. If your business processes allow you to seriously consider turning to Web-based / Cloud applications. Then you can shift the concerns of performance and scalability in a large part on to your Smartphone browsers rather than having to adapt your business app capabilities to OS and multiple platform devices!!!

What will tomorrow bring…

We can count on seeing Web-based/Cloud applications like Google Apps, Salesforce, etc. – which businesses will come to appreciate.

But then there’s always the question of the company data, of their Database. Will businesses want to operate in Web Data mode, having their data hosted in the Cloud?

Now that is…

If you look now at automating processes and re-engineering systems within your organization. You should ask the question; Do you know of any part of your application workflow that should NOT be “mobile”?…

Have a great week,

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