Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Enterprise Architects and a tip for Entrepreneurs on mobile strategy

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is wetting his toes in the mobile app development space, following the time honored startup tradition by hiring a few developers proficient in mobile technologies to dream up the next killer application. The hope is: build it and they will come. Dreams of mobile entrepreneurs are buoyed by stores like “Mobile app growth exploding, and shows no signs of letting up
The conversation reminded me of the NYT article on mobile application boom from a few months ago (“Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living”) One could spend time pondering the odds of entrepreneurs beating others in the mobile gold rush, or if we are already at the tail end of one, but that's not the point here.
To seasoned industry watchers, Enterprise Architects, and those in the “buy” side of technology, there is a parallel to the mobile-world crystal-ball-gazing: the dot-com-boom and bust from over a decade ago. We are probably encountering a parallel with a torrent of news and “activity” in the space, ranging from partnerships – Microsoft (MSFT) and Nokia - to stories of market darlings imploding and struggling to survive with a fierce battle for #3 spot  (Interestingly, just this week, Blackberry board announced it is up for sale!). And if one were to draw a few lessons from the “history
1.    A few persistent – and lucky – entrepreneurs will not only survive and thrive but lead us to game changing innovations well after the bust: Amazon, Priceline, ebay are just a few examples
2.    Capturing hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, and page hits was the currency of dot.com. Parallel to this in mobile space is the quest for cool-app with hundreds of thousands of downloads from an app store
3.    Innovation in the space continues much after the bust - Facebook, twitter, istagram all came much after the dot.com bust
4.    Corporate IT catches up with entrepreneurs. Though much of the tools techniques and technologies of web-enablement are now mainstream, architecting and developing scalable corporate E-commerce portals and integrating web applications with back-end systems continue to be the holy grail of software development. (my earlier blog on the topic). The parallel between eCommerce/dot.com era, circa 2000/2001, and the dynamics of mobile ecosystem is obvious. Corporate IT is getting over the novelty of mobile hype cycle and BYOD. However, most IS shops are just starting on the long journey of mobile enabling corporate applications. 
What does it mean to Enterprise Architects? Taking a Gartner’s PACE model view, organizations without a strong mobile strategy may be considering platforms to support mobility to be a System of Innovation (SOI), at least initially. After pilot and initial rollout, these may move to being yet another System of Differentiation (SOD) and eventually when the usage matures, System of Record (SOR). The implication is on several fronts including guiding investment, need for piloting and lining up architecturally significant use cases for mobility.
My response to my entrepreneur friend? follow the money. Vendors are already converging on platforms with three letter acronyms MDM, MDS, MADP etc etc. Mobile platforms are also converging around iOS, Android, Windows mobile and/or BlackBerry 10... and so is the application ecosystem. Which leads us to the opportunity: mobile enablement of corporate applications using standardized techniques. Entrepreneurs may be able to use the learnings and skills from mobile app development ventures and turn and "sell" those skills to corporate IS departments looking to mobile enable their application ecosystem.  
Larger SI vendors are already positioning practices around “mobile enablement,” while niche players showcase their agility and skills in the space. The opportunity is for System Integrators, large and small that can help seamless transition of corporate applications to mobile devices running on multiple platforms on “any” form factor.
Bottomline: Rewards from working with corporate IT may not be as instantaneous as developing the next-killer-app-netting-million-downloads but will certainly be lucrative, especially for those who can carve a niche in this dynamic space.