Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is corporate #mobile App development too expensive?

The other day, a fellow Enterprise Architect was lamenting on how the sticker price of “mobile enabling” applications was giving pause to business stakeholders. The business partners who were queuing up with proposals for mobile enabling applications in the portfolio were assuming this capability would automatically move forward along with regular upgrade and maintenance cycle.

When presented with the cost of enabling applications for smartphones and tablets – ability to download from app store, running natively on multiple devices, form factors, securely connecting and integrating data with the corporate back end – most users were stumped. The argument from business stakeholders is understandable: if Apple store can boast of 1.2 million apps, and there are similar number in the android, Amazon and Microsoft ecosystems why can’t my corporate IS push a few hundred of our applications to myCorp-App store?

Explaining the rational for the high cost of mobile enablement cannot be easily condensed to an elevator pitch. Many of the “older” applications used by corporate users, especially the ones that came before iPhone and iPads – circa 2007+ – had not been designed for the new user experience. There is growing awareness that mobile enabling such applications will come at a cost that is not “cheap” in the corporate IS context. Part of the cost is the user interface redevelopment/refactoring. The other real, but hidden cost is the ‘technology debt’ – the need to upgrade legacy systems before they can be mobile enabled. (Those of us with a few gray hairs from our years in IT will remember preparing similar business cases a decade ago when there was a push to web-enable corporate applications.)

The good news is that we are already at a “trough of disillusionment” (apologies Gartner) when it comes to mobile enabling corporate applications. In a sense, corporate IT is already climbing the “slope of enlightenment,” especially since most new products are already being designed with mobile usability right out of the door. And for new application development, mobile enabling is not an icing on top but an integral part of the design.
Pockets of business stakeholders are also coming to grips with this slope of enlightenment and are willing to pony up the costs, especially when it comes to enabling applications required by mobile workforce – for consultants on the road, sales reps and also applications that enable field workers like UPS drivers, gate agents walking around busy airport checkin areas among others.

In many cases, where cost is a constraint, business users are accepting simpler options, say redesigning websites to be html5 compliant, that would work on “most” devices and form-factors, not necessarily with “all” the bells and whistles of an app from an apple store.

It is a matter of time before corporate IT climbs up the “Plateau of Productivity” when it comes to mobile enablement. But I am sure by then business would already be aspiring to the next cool trigger of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” not necessarily in the usability space

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