BYOD and the enterprise: Why multi-device app support is a must

The proliferation of mobile and the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) movement have provided a means for enterprise IT teams to reduce some hardware and service costs.

And while enterprise mobility does create some efficiencies as more employees opt to manage their own devices, the BYOD movement is also increasing the urgency to deliver enterprise-grade, mobile apps that work across all these devices, while tying into corporate systems and processes.

Already, TechPro Research suggests that 74 per cent of organisations now permit employees to bring their own device into work. But these policies impact more than just the workforce who wish to access corporate information through smartphones and tablets. The reality of these decisions, and the subsequent need for new mobile-friendly applications, fall to corporate IT and development teams.

According to research conducted by Mendix, 75 per cent of organisations report having mobile development requirements. Of those, 68 per cent see strong demand for multi-device, multi-channel apps. There are two important points to call out here.

First, while our research confirms the importance of mobile, it also indicates the need for a seamless user experience across channels. Mobile is fast becoming the first choice for many interactions, but there’s a growing need for applications that provide different functionality on different devices depending on various user roles.

For instance, a field sales rep might need order entry capabilities on their tablet while the operations team needs a more robust web interface to process orders in the office. With these requirements in mind, developers will need to consider how mobile apps fit within a larger set of systems and processes in order to ensure optimal usability for employees (and customers and partners too).

Second, there is a growing complexity to mobile development projects, based on multi-device requirements.

Open BYOD policies have led to a flood of requests for apps that work across a host of mobile and tablet devices, all with unique operating systems, form factors, and support for native functions, including camera, contacts, and geolocation. Developers will need to weigh the costs of native app development across each platform and device type versus the efficiencies gained through leveraging web or hybrid app development.

So far, this information is likely not a surprise. Most IT teams recognise the workforce demands for multi-channel, multi-device apps. The issue, however, comes in the ability to meet demand. Despite growing requests for enterprise mobility, projects aren’t being completed fast enough.

I describe this in terms of a growing ‘chasm,’ where IT can’t deliver on mobile application development projects. According to Mendix research, 71 per cent of IT teams are behind, unable to deliver the applications required by their business counterparts.

Consequently, development backlogs continue to grow. To date, 82 per cent of organisations report a project backlog, and of those, 89 per cent were unable to reduce their backlog year over year.

This chasm exists for a variety of reasons, but DZone’s 2014 Guide to Mobile Development highlights one very important component. The survey of more than 1,000 global IT professionals revealed that the biggest pain points for mobile app developers are building native apps for multiple platforms, testing efficiently, and a lack of skilled mobile developers, cited by 50 per cent, 53 per cent, and 40 per cent of respondents respectively.

In essence, the majority of IT teams do not have the tools or personnel required to deliver multiple mobile apps quickly or change/scale them easily over time. And while IT continues to look for a solution to their delivery challenges, the workforce is required to wait.

Unfortunately, the lag in equipping the workforce with fast, easy access to enterprise mobile applications is impacting employee productivity, customer service and competiveness. And these delays will only become more problematic until IT can get a handle on their mobile app delivery initiatives.

According to Gartner, by 2018, more than half of business users will go to a tablet or smartphone first for all online activities. If IT teams continue at their current pace of delivery, it’s unlikely they will ever meet the mobility needs of their enterprise.

The current strain associated with BYOD policies could, in fact, be a great advantage for IT. At the start of this article, I mentioned the reduction in hardware costs and support for services. But to achieve these gains, IT must first offer better access to corporate systems through mobile channels.

Luckily, the advent of modern tools and ‘hybrid’ app development methods are focused on reducing the complexities described in this article.

A hybrid app development approach combines the efficiencies of web development with the benefits of native applications. As such, hybrid app development is becoming the new norm within the enterprise. IT teams can build apps that deliver near-native user experiences across devices, within a fraction of the time required for traditional development.

When it comes to meeting workforce demands, speed of delivery is essential. Businesses today must continually adapt to market changes, leading to continuous iteration within business processes.

In the second part of this series, I will describe the modern development tools that help IT teams meet growing enterprise mobility needs.

We’ve entered a period where speed is critical to success and the complexity of multiple platforms and codebases will only create more barriers. It’s time to look for a new way – a faster path from business need to mobile app.

Johan den Haan is the CTO at Mendix, where he leads the company’s overall technical strategy and research & product development teams. Johan is a renowned blogger on a range of topics, including PaaS, model-driven development, scrum, cloud computing and software engineering.