Mobile apps are pushing companies to rethink the way they design and roll-out their internal applications, says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings.
Enterprise systems design and development has been turned on its head, thanks to the rise in mobile applications. Instead of being just another external client, mobile apps are pushing companies to rethink the way they design and roll-out their internal applications, says Richard Firth, serial entrepreneur and CEO of MIP Holdings. He says he sees a huge shift in how companies are approaching their systems development because of pressure from apps.
“Customers today want apps for browsing products and services from you, buying them or communicating with your organisation,” says Firth. “So that means having a strategy for implementation. Most companies today are building their own apps because that allows them more control over how an app integrates with their own internal systems. But apps are not just additional clients that connect to the core systems: they are having a disproportionate influence on how the core systems themselves are designed and implemented.”
Firth sees a number of disruptive influences from mobile apps.
“Firstly, there is the question of scalability and availability. Users are used to always-on, highly available services from social media apps and high traffic Web destinations. An organisation looking at a mobile application needs to make sure that incoming requests are serviced properly at the edge, and then ensure the back-end can cope with the volume of requests. And this all has to work from the get-go, otherwise customers will simply go elsewhere. So the public-facing resources must be able to cope and the internal architecture must be able to accommodate it as well.”
The other problem is that this new world is highly dynamic.
“Most organisations already plan for, and cope with, high-usage periods like the end of a month or quarter,” he says. “Now they need to be able to cope with arbitrary high traffic from mobile users as well as scaling back when things get quiet. It’s all very dynamic and imposes requirements on line of business applications that they simply weren’t written for. Many companies are looking to pre-empt this wave by exposing internal functions as an API that internal and external developers can use. But designing a good, usable API is hard, especially if it’s a layer over an application with a very specific function.”
As a result, companies are simplifying their internal applications as much as possible, moving from traditional enterprise development to simpler and more dynamic applications that can scale up and down as required. “For example, we used to design two screens for each function, one for internal employees or users and one for external customers,” says Firth. “This will now be blended into one easy-to-use screen. This reduces development time, reduces training internal and external users, increases agility and reduces issues of business logic differing in each environment, therefore improving quality.”
But this also puts pressure on internal development teams, he adds. “Management wants to know whether developing mobile apps is the best use of their time, and how exactly they should be preparing for new systems development. Then there is the question of skills. The new approach favours simplicity, dynamic scalability and Web-based architectures with on-demand back-ends. The world of apps is going to change everything we know about enterprise development,” Firth concludes.