As enterprise requirements for mobility continuously evolves due to the ever changing business landscape and requirements of their stakeholders, one of the biggest challenge to mobile application development is re-purposing of existing data in the new context. Enterprises have large amounts of data across a number of applications, including CRM, ERP and other home grown legacy systems and when it comes to integrating mobile application with enterprise backend, then the question arises in terms of how and what approach to take.
Most enterprises take into consideration the number of data integration points together with the number of mobile applications and operating systems when they look at such deployments. They then arrive at the most optimal approach whether to go for a Point-to-Point integration,, Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) or a hybrid appraoch. The objective of this article is to describe and compare these approaches to then provide recommendations taking into consideration how most successful enterprises have implemented this.
Point-to-Point: A mobile application integration technology where individual mobile clients are directly integrated with backed data sources. This is a typical old solution and works well for a small deployment or if the number of connection points are less.
Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP): An application middleware designed especially to deploy and manage entire lifecyle of mobile solution. While most of the MEAP also have mobile application development capabilities, in this paper we will only discuss the integration capabilities brought by MEAPs.
The typical Point-to-Point approach has a native mobile application operating system wise, supported by middleware/server, each holding individual resources like data and business rules for various Enterprise applications use cases.
Since these applications are native, the user stands to benefit from a rich user experience and better performance due to fewer systems in between client and data server. However as the number of mobile applications increase, the performance gradually begins to get impacted. To introduce any changes in the application will require developer intervention and the need to keep building based on specific business requirements with limited potential of re-usability. Sometimes, this requires third party adaptors to integrate with the external system depending upon the kind of integration sought.
Using MEAP, enterprises can deploy, secure, operate and manage mobile applications using a single scalable platform. The MEAP allows enterprises to quickly build and deploy mobile applications across a range of device platforms given that most have comprehensive integration capabilities to back end corporate systems. However, enterprises need to carefully consider the complete investment that such MEAP entails not only from a license standpoint, but also the following and make a careful decision as it could have a long-term impact on their Enterprise Mobile strategy:
- Implementation costs and available skill sets of partners who develop applications using the platform
- Comparison between various MEAP’s and which one is the best considering the specific needs of the enterprise.
- On-going support of such applications and the costs thereon
Point to Point vs MEAP – Comparison
The following table provides a quick comparison between both approaches:
|Customization scope||Native and can be 100% customized being grounds up development for respective mobile operating system||Can be customized but many a time MEAP has their own IDE and the feature and functionality may be limited depending upon the product|
|TCO||Initial cost depends on customization needs of business users. Also cost is directly proportional to the number of mobile operating systems and some times with the device form factor||Initial investment for a MEAP is high and post that administration and support cost is less. Generally license is based and proportional to number of devices and users. The cost gets optimized as more and more applications are deployed on this platform|
|Performance||Initially good as less nodes between and client and data base but inversely proportional to number of mobile applications hosted||Optimized and highly scalable|
|ERP connectors||Integration is usually a separate project in this approach||Popular ERP connectors are generally pre-integrated|
|Security||Security is built individually as part of development||Data is centrally located and easy to secure. With device management, security features like remote lock, wipe etc . are relatively easily added|
|Coding||Native coding||Sometime manual programing and coding is required. This largely depends on the product.|
|Change and Release Management||Each application is like an independent project. To manage the complete cycle including application, device, security etc. a separate tool is required. The number of vendors to be managed significantly increases in this approach requiring a lot of process orientation around vendor management||Easy to manage as MEAP acts like a single tool for deployment, application, device and security related needs.|
|New backend or traditional portals||Custom coding||Not available out of the box|
Which Approach to take?
Before Enterprises take a decision on this, it is important to ensure that such decisions are closely tied to their overall mid to long term Enterprise Mobile strategy. In general, if an enterprise requires multiple mobile applications across multiple device operating systems over a short period of time, the MEAP approach could be a more favorable approach. There are various MEAP vendors and picking the right MEAP is as critical as the approach itself and needs careful consideration. The other alternative is to start small and do custom development of applications if use cases are limited. Hybrid is another approach where Enterprises can start development on specific vertical use case but keeping horizontal requirement intact, and over a period of time establishing platform capabilities based on best practice guidelines, tools and codes that can be reused across applications. The pros and cons of each approach needs careful evaluation before the ultimate decision, as it does have long term implications on not only meeting your enterprise mobility goals but also on your overall costs.
Avaali Solutions (www.avaali.com) is a company that focuses in the Enterprise Information Management (EIM) and Enterprise Mobility space.
In EIM, Avaali focuses on supporting enterprise customers manage the lifecycle and generate value from un-structured content (contracts, documents, emails, vendor invoices, HR data etc). Avaali has partnered with various Best of Breed vendors in this space including Silver partnership and SAP Competence Partnership with OpenText, SAP reseller partner and Canto Silver Certified partner (world’s leading provider of Digital Asset Management). Avaali’s consulting and implementation skillets on OpenText is perhaps one of the largest– they’re equipped with consultants who come with strong global implementation experience in SAP OpenText solutions.
Avaali also has offerings for shared services (SSC) where they provide advisory services and implementation services to help set up and scale SSC for enterprises. A company profile can be found here. The offerings for shared services can be found here.
In their Enterprise Mobility practice they provide advisory services, enterprise mobile application development and managed services. More about Avaali’s mobility practice can be found here.