Re-imagining mobile applications

Mobile applications may be the hottest thing around right now but organisations need to have a good think before incorporating mobility and ‘apps’ into their operations.

Strong interest in mobile technologies and the plethora of ‘apps’ available on smart phones is driving intense interest and demand for mobile applications. Some of this demand is being driven by ‘fashion’ because having an iPad/Pod or Android application is the thing to do.

Once you separate the ‘glam’ from the genuine need for mobile applications you can easily see real need for applications and functionality delivered at the point, place, and time of need. However, my recent experience working with CIO’s and IT application developers indicates that few have a strategy, skills or practices in place to meet this demand. At best, the IT organisation has a few mobile developers who build out these solutions and there is a clear need for more.

Here are a few things that are becoming important at incorporating mobility and ‘apps’ into your operations. They are expressed in terms of how ‘apps’ require a different approach to ‘applications’, which is the dominant metaphor and way of thinking in IT.

• Mobile applications are experience based more than functionality based. They exist in the ‘moment’ and context when they are used more than their position in the process. In traditional applications, the context is pre-determined by assumptions regarding the business process, the role/job, and location – your office.  In a mobile app, all of this comes after the task as you cannot assume nor control where people will be when they need the functionality.

• Mobility is not a technology platform like the web, client/server, or mainframe. Creating value at the platform level often comes from porting applications from one to the other. Simply porting web applications to the mobile device represents a particularly weak set of value – that is likely to elicit the comment ‘Is that all you can do?”

• Mobility is not about pushing corporate systems out to the edge. That model is so m-Commerce, 1990’s and early 2000’s. The success of the various ‘app stores' shows that while it may be technically possible to deliver your enterprise resource planning (ERP) on a smart phone, that is not what people want.

• Mobility is not about ‘management’ of transactions and tasks.  When IT responds to a request for ‘providing dynamic price’ as a project called “Dynamic Price Management (DPM)” that’s a sign that it’s time to get IT focused on the task not the process. The management moniker is associated with administrative systems, the ones that IT has already built and would benefit little from being made mobile. Look at the apps on your phone – I venture that none of them have the word ‘management’ in their description, and with good reason.

Mobile solutions present a special challenge to CIOs and IT organisations as they extensively leverage public substructure and corporate infrastructure but represent something different from traditional applications.

They are called ‘apps’ for a reason. They are similar to applications, but they are different in key ways – beyond just being smaller. These differences are something that IT should embrace as adopting new ways of thinking will help them re-imagine IT and not lose out on the opportunity to demonstrate their technical and business expertise.

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs.