A Primer for Mobilizing Enterprise Applications: Is There a Killer App?

Where do Enterprise Applications and Mobile Devices meet? How about in the middle. At a software application and licensing conference 5 years ago I was asked to present a “how to mobilize an enterprise application”. The context of the talk included the proverbial “what is the next Spectrum Email killer mobile app beyond email”. My answer was not short. I had 45 minutes to fill and did my best to make it entertaining. Since we were still on 2nd generation data networks for mobile, and network persistence was an issue, I spent most of the talk describing mobile middleware as the important link between developing enterprise application access for mobile access devices. Addressing the necessary architecture for OLTP vs. OLAP-based applications was the focus. Yep, all enterprise stuff.

Today, I say there are no killer apps in the enterprise. Yet if you are an ISV or independent developer and want to focus on a mobile enterprise applications business, than there is what I call “killer criteria”. Here are a few primers to help you get started.

Market Reach

First consideration is the size of your market and the intended market reach for your application. If you are mobilizing an insurance claims adjuster app your market will be limited to that vertical or industry. Not a bad choice if you think about some of the recent natural disasters and the need to quickly mobilize a team to respond. Such an application could be a nice kick-off, but unless you think horizontal you just limited your market. For example, let’s say you just focus on a component of a claims adjuster app, like a content manager. Your content manager is also a workflow collaboration manager, designed to integrate multi-media messages with key business processes. Now you just moved the market needle to a broader set of customers.

Solution Reach

Remember not all enterprise workers need mobile. Email is the obvious application that appeals to every worker. As some vendors segment the email market from “information snackers” to “content producers” the net result is email presents a broad solution for virtually the entire enterprise workforce. Beyond email messaging and social media are their applications that appeal to a majority of the enterprise workforce? I don’t have the answer. If I did I wouldn’t tell you till I built it. Yet, some believe it exists. Until then you must consider the specific reach of your application. Hint, Hint. I spend a lot of time looking at BPM and CRM solutions. Within these very large application categories I believe there are broad mobile solution nuggets waiting to be mined.

Expected Benefits

The implication is that by mobilizing an enterprise application you are achieving a measurable business benefit. The question then becomes, to what extent is your benefit. Is it a “game changing” capability that provides sustainable competitive advantage. Or perhaps a “process transformation” that improves business efficiency and customer satisfaction. Like the claims adjuster app. Maybe it’s a minor but incremental benefit. The point is the greater the economic benefit, the more success you will have licensing and deploying this application.

Degree of Process/People Change

The plus of developing an application with broad market and solution reach will more than likely encounter an adoption curve. Many mobile applications will change the way we conduct business from sales to fulfillment. This change will also impact our organizations and people. Here’s a great example. A good friend of mine owns a custom window blinds software business. A few years ago he created a manufacturing module that connected to an ERP system. It also included a Content/Catalogue Manager. He licenses this application with an out-of-the-box mobile tablet PC device, laser measure and portable printer. I’m sure an iPad version will be coming soon. Before his application, a rep would go out to a residential or commercial customer site and take custom measurements. Then go back to their office, work with a sales support person or quotation analysts to draft a contract proposal and fax or mail that to the customer. But before that, they’d also contact the window blind for lead times, product availability and pricing. This entire process took at least 3 days before a customer ever received a contract proposal or quote.

Today the entire process takes about an hour while on site with the customer. The laser measure takes accurate custom measurements in a fraction of the time. The measurements combined with an electronic catalogue of parts produce a customer quote and contract in minutes. The catalogue inventory is constantly updated with the manufacturer through a middleware layer that integrates with the ERP system. Once a customer agrees to the contract and provides payment, an order is electronically processed. Production can begin by the time the rep leaves the site for the next customer or prospect call. The upside is obvious. A mobile application that provides an almost instant ROI. The downside is that it will require significant changes in how people and processes work. From sales, order management to production. This is a long-term benefit. But in the short-term the process and people changes required to implement this solution will slow the adoption of the application.

Technology Invasiveness

A final criteria that often accompanies the process and people change is the overall technology itself. The more technology invasive your solution is the more disruptive it becomes and the slower the adoption. The good news today is enterprise development environments are cross-platform. This means seamless development and integration with mobile enterprise platforms and devices. Whether you are using a browser-based client or a virtual client, mobile applications for the enterprise are similar in programing and deployment as the web clients we have grown accustomed to for the past decade.

I’m not trying to oversimply what it takes to mobilize any enterprise application. There are other major considerations (click here for the pricing primer). By definition, enterprise applications are complex and in the end, your mobile version may be completely custom and not quite the killer application of your dreams. That I believe can only be found in the same cave with Osama Bin Laden. And the chances of finding him are about as likely as Google’s vision of freeing the wireless spectrum for all.

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