The sluggish pace of technological change inside large companies is forever surprising and endlessly appalling to me and nowhere is this more apparent than in big business’ approach to mobile app development.
Despite the fact that the iPhone was first released in 2007, and virtually every employee today carries a smartphone, many companies have only scratched the service of mobile app development. Big businesses with big bucks still often crudely force enterprise applications into a mobile package with little thought. Fewer still have developed imaginative custom apps that take advantage of the device, or designed a coherent mobile strategy for the organization.
In fact, IDC reports that most companies have created fewer than three mobile apps — a pretty pathetic record. The firm’s 2014 Mobile Enterprise Software Survey found what they called, “shockingly low adoption of custom mobile applications.” They reported that 60% of large company respondents indicated they had developed three or fewer apps with 40 percent reporting two or fewer (which presumably could mean some hadn’t created any).
However, mobile development is more complicated than you would imagine. There is a dizzying array of constantly changing technologies to deal with says Sravish Sridhar, founder and CEO at Kinvey, a mobile development service.
He believes the principal impediment to progress here is the inherent fragmentation in mobile compounded by the incredible pace at which mobile changes. “Operating systems, devices, SDKs, mobile development languages and so on, they all iterate much much faster on mobile than on the web,” says Sridhar. And he adds that most companies have technology infrastructure inherently built for the web, compounding the problem.
These technological hurdles are further complicated by political struggles inside organizations regarding who’s in charge of mobile app development. Cimarron Buser, SVP of global business development at Apperian, a provider of enterprise mobile services such as security and enterprise app stores, believes companies have to tap into the strength of each part of the organization to build a successful mobile strategy.
“The smarter companies realize that building an efficient, cross-functional team with lines of business, IT, security and users can lead to success and ensure that everyone’s concerns are addressed,” Buser explained.
But Sridhar sees companies struggling with a range of problems as they try to develop mobile apps. For starters, he believes enterprise IT departments all too often operate without a formal mobile strategy. Further, he thinks that organizations have suffered from creating development silos inside lines of business. Finally, he believes that most enterprises lack sufficient budgets, resources and skills to innovate in mobile.
R Ray Wang, principal at Constellation Research agrees, saying there is a huge mobile skills gap in many organizations where they lack sufficient knowledge around integration, design and native device capabilities, forcing companies to seek outside help, at least initially, to overcome these limitations. Sridhar says the key to resolving all of these issues is to develop a coherent mobile strategy for the entire organization with executive leadership pushing it along.
In spite of this dire picture, IDC predicts that the number of custom apps should double during 2015. Considering the majority reported creating just three in their 2014 survey, it’s not exactly stellar especially when you consider how long we’ve had smartphones. But it’s a step forward, and it shows that enterprises are beginning to understand the importance of mobile apps for the future of the organization.
As Buser told me, it’s about building success, and as companies see positive outcomes, it should feed on itself. “As time has gone on, the early adopters have been building and deploying apps and seeing success, and this has created pressure on their cohorts to get moving.”