Developing your organisation's mobile strategy

Having an enterprise mobile strategy – once optional – is now business critical. Companies are building mobile applications with three main objectives:

Enable employee productivity

When employees can access important sales, customers, products, or operations data via mobile business applications, they spend more time working and making decisions on the go, and less time catching up in the office.

Improve customer experience

Mobile customer applications increase brand preference by enabling customers to shop, compare, buy, and access services at any time.

Increase partner collaboration

Mobile applications offer instantaneous communication, making it easy for all stakeholders in the supply chain to stay looped into exactly how, where and when to turn their cog in the machine.

CIOs are charged with enabling mobile initiatives across different lines-of-business in order to remain competitive and innovative. The need for mobile is urgent, but significant IT challenges stand between the CIO and a robust mobile strategy. If a company needs to manage workflows across multiple applications, simply buying applications that support mobile will not be enough.

Mobile IT strategies have to support different business groups, each asking for multiple applications. As each group changes strategies and systems, IT must also be able to update mobile applications, quickly and seamlessly. A line-of-business can’t wait six months to a year for an application to be developed or updated if it is to remain competitive. Enterprises need to run fast on their first mobile initiative, and just as fast on the next hundred.

Success for a mobile IT strategy is very tightly tied to the speed at which mobile applications can be created and most importantly, updated. Companies find that their mobile apps become digital channels and quickly want to invest more in improving the capabilities they offer through mobile. Speedy mobile deployments come from fast front-end development and fast back-end access.

On the front-end, mobile developers and architects are focused on deploying functional mobile applications with easy-to-use interfaces for immersive and responsive experiences – as quickly as possible.

However, speed on the front end is the easy bit compared to what it costs to power the application. Front-end speed doesn’t matter if an application’s intended content is locked away in systems across the enterprise. Custom code and point-to-point integration not only slow application development, they cripple the ability to make changes to applications.

Exposing an enterprise’s assets is risky business, and the greater the number of applications, users, and systems, the greater the risk of assets being compromised. Moreover, systems that aren’t built to handle the volume of data requests that might be expected from mobile applications are prone to failure or downtime, which ultimately results in a bad user experience.

This creates a conflict between the mobile application developer’s need to access data quickly, and the back-end developer’s need to ensure access to enterprise data is well secured, governed, and managed.

The solution is API-led connectivity. In order to support front-end speed while having robust back-end governance, enterprises need to provide mobile developers with self- service access to data across the organisation. APIs help unlock data and assets by providing a layer of abstraction and control between mission-critical back-end systems and the front-end services being exposed to mobile developers.

With APIs sitting between front-end applications and back-end systems, any changes made to the back-end won’t affect connections to mobile applications.

Composable APIs allow developers to quickly create new APIs from existing building blocks, ensuring fast access to everything in the enterprise.

Mobile strategy in action

A Fortune 500 beverage company approached MuleSoft with a backlog of mobile application requests, strong interest in software as a service (SaaS) adoption, and a business strategy for growth through acquisition.

The mobile application requests arose primarily from a need to improve the way distributors interacted with the company, to attract new customers and to keep existing ones (many of which came to the company through acquisition) close.

These requirements had put significant stress on the company’s IT organisation, which needed to improve speed and agility in supporting business initiatives, while still delivering on cost reduction targets – caught as the company was in a maelstrom of changing consumer tastes, economic fluctuations and increased competition.

The IT organisation faced a number of back-end challenges. They were using point-to-point integration and custom code across the ecosystem and directly within the application. There were middleware tools throughout. A complex and brittle web of tightly coupled interdependent systems made making modifications difficult. Any changes required significant investments of time and resources. Numerous legacy integration technologies and the emergence of SaaS and mobile applications exacerbated these problems.

The company launched an API-led connectivity rollout to increase agility in delivering mobile applications rapidly and with high frequency. Eliminating point-to-point integration saved developer time and ensured the platform was scalable. It also enabled reduced spend on outsourced development. They introduced their first mobile application in just three weeks – something that would have taken months previously.

An early success came from the development of a mobile application to automate and digitise wholesale ordering and streamline operations with partners. The company was able to track external assets in the field, enabling them to know inventory stock situations and begin to address them on a timely basis. The next step for the company is to extend its mobile strategy to consumer facing applications. Full visibility and governance of all integrations makes it possible to do so quickly.

The API-led approach provides a layered model that unlocks back-end system data while providing security and control over the data being used. It enables developers to to build great mobile applications without having to understand back-end systems.

Ross Mason is founder of MuleSoft. This is the next of four abridged extracts from Ross Mason’s new book ‘First, Break IT’.