Mobile Communications

Alex Horovitz (Global) - It's the Data, Stupid

In a world where a 5% increase in output and productivity is significant enough to separate winners from losers, how will the savvy enterprise harness the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) revolution? Make no mistake; there has been a rapid personal acquisition of consumer mobile devices which are now showing up in the enterprise. This battle against traditional IT has been fought on two fronts by an unlikely set of allies. The technologically conservative C-suite and the technology-hungry front-line workers have banded together against the change-adverse Fortune 1000 IT departments.

Traditionally, BYOD has not been a priority for IT, as they had previously solved their employee to corporate data access problems. Further, they only cared about doing so in the physical localities they chose to support. After all, this was the role of company intranets and other remote access strategies that tended to be read-only in nature. Now, IT has awoken to a "new" headache that is not so easily solved. We are in a time where companies must now extend corporate data access to the world of mobility. More and more, these devices are being chosen by employees, not their employers.

iPhones and iPads are currently enjoying exponential adoption rates. Where is the expertise going to come from to connect the repositories of corporate information to a gorgeous user interface? One that will provide interactive answers for those that need them at the touch of a screen.

Driven by the popularity of Apple's iOS platform, mobile developers have been unleashed en masse. A simple analysis of this situation might suggest that for a reasonable sum of money and effort, talented developers could be employed to address the needs of the IT department. Unfortunately, with iOS there are two things IT departments must confront as they strive to gain competitive advantages and honor the demands of their data consumers.

First, Apple is not making it easy to write applications that access the back end data stores of the enterprise. Second, roughly 55% of the currently active apps in Apple's AppStore fall into some form of entertainment category. And the third part of this puzzle is that the iOS talent out there today knows a lot about gaming and attractive user interfaces, but precious little about creating fault-tolerant, reliable, data-driven, zero-latency enterprise applications. Allowing BYOD can provide a competitive business advantage of increased output and efficiency from each user, but only if they have access to the data they need to do their jobs.

Does this mean companies should throw up their hands up and capitulate? No, they shouldn't. Empowering frontline workers, executives, and in some cases, clients, with real-time interactive data holds immense potential value. By granting employees the right to choose the device that makes them happiest, they will drive the economic engines of their companies with much greater efficiency and productivity.

Successful software developers are tying together iOS mobile solutions and enterprise data, leveraging their work experience in building out the web 2.0 revolution of the late 90's. They utilize the J2EE platform to inform their thinking, a platform with features designed to expedite the process of developing distributed applications. Unfortunately for most enterprise IT projects, the number of development teams who combine a deep understanding of Objective-C and iOS as well as the distributed data implementation patterns of J2EE is painfully small.

My colleague Kevin Kim is fond of decrying the younger generation of software engineers: "They can't allocate memory and they can't hold their liquor." Despite our youth-obsessed technology culture, there is still good news for experienced developers (so act now!). Building applications that must interoperate with the big back end systems of large companies and small personal devices that have power and data access limitations, necessitates the rare breed of enterprise folks who have intimate iOS knowledge.

IT departments can take solace in the fact that there are those few folks who have been down this road before. They have relevant experience gained in the early days of client-server, and they have designed solutions to overcome memory and data access limitations. Like SmallTalk, networking, the Macintosh user interface, and other innovations in computation, the preferred architectural pattern for solving these problems was born at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the late 1970s.

It was at PARC that Trygve Reenskaug invented the model-view-controller (MVC) design pattern in 1979. It remains one of the most useful and popular design patterns for solving these types of software development problems. The roots of Apple's iOS are an MVC implementation. Unfortunately, Apple's preferred data management scenarios limit data stores to the devices.

Developers with OpenStep experience have set out to liberate the flow of data to and from the devices and enterprise back ends. The ability to use their Java and Objective-C experience in the MVC patterns allows them to deliver solutions that increase productivity and output.

That same experience quickly achieves a return on investment in the design and implementation of large J2EE solutions that can interoperate with iOS devices in a manner that end users find valuable. Less experienced iOS engineering brethren can create more beautiful user interfaces with neat gamification of the issues being addressed by the software. Those with the right backgrounds are able to deliver the data that powers these elegant interfaces in a way that neither Apple supports nor the Objective-C-only engineers truly understand.

It's a matter of having the right team and tools in place to get the data into the right hands, because there is great economic value in vending data just in time, just for that user. At the end of the day, it's still about the data, stupid.

By Alex Horovitz, co-founder, AppOrchard



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