Mobile-first vs Mobile-Only: Additional Thoughts on Mobile Enterprise Applications

In a previous post I discussed how the adoption of mobile devices by customers, employees and partners, as well as the desire of these constituencies for a mobile-like experience even in their desktop devices, is leading to the emergence of mobile as the next enterprise software platform and causing enterprises to accelerate their mobile application strategies.  As a result, CEOs and even corporate board are making mobile applications a priority.  For the most part thus far these strategies involve mobilizing existing applications and embracing a mobile-first approach for the new applications they are licensing or developing internally.  But internally developed enterprise applications, legacy and new, present corporations with an interesting and complex challenge during this period when IT investments remain constrained causing corporations to ask whether they should adopt a mobile-first or a mobile-only approach.

Customers, employees and partners are expecting mobile enterprise applications that match their mobile consumer experiences.  Moreover, as the portion of the enterprise workforce that is becoming mobile is increasing, the applications used must match the employee work norms.  As IT departments are quickly finding out, adopting a mobile-first strategy, particularly for their internally developed applications, can be particularly tricky and expensive because in the process they need to:

  1. Determine whether and how to divide the application’s functionality between the mobile and desktop versions.  For new applications this is an easier task than for legacy applications that will need to be mobilized.
  2. Upgrade their legacy desktop and server-side applications along with their application management infrastructure.  Before developing and deploying a mobile application that tightly integrates and interacts with one or more legacy applications, the enterprise may need to first upgrade these legacy applications.  Such upgrades can be particularly costly as they may also involve upgrading underlying third-party infrastructure software and hardware.
  3. Provide a user experience that matches expectations that are being driven by the consumer internet.  This means that the developer must determine whether to re-create a mobile version of a multi-function enterprise application, or to break the original application into several single-function ones.  In addition, the user interface of the resulting application(s) must match the user expectations, which are now very high.  With older applications it may simply not be possible to create an acceptable, modern mobile user experience.
  4. Develop and manage APIs that allow a legacy application to interact with mobile front-ends and other mobile applications.  In many instances one may only be able to mobile front-end to a legacy application, typically using HTML5.  In other cases, it may be possible to develop a full-blown mobile application that incorporates a portion of the legacy application’s functionality.  These alternatives mean that it may be necessary to expose and manage different sets of APIs for each application.
  5. Address the multitude of security issues associated with mobile devices and the operating systems they use.  In many instances, IT organizations don’t yet trust the security provided by third-party mobile applications.  Forrester Research reports that more than half of the enterprises in North America and Europe are implementing mobile application strategies so that they don’t find themselves with hundreds of security leaks because employees bring their own devices.
  6. Deploy a mobile application management infrastructure.  In most cases, the existing application management infrastructures are inadequate for managing mobile applications as well.

For these reasons, IT organizations are considering mobile-only versions of applications as a means to better respond to customer, employee and partner needs for mobile applications while better capitalizing on their application development budgets.

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