Enterprise Mobile Mashups: Access Any System from Any Device at Any Time

The proliferation of mobile devices and the applications they have spawned present enterprise IT with enormous opportunities – and a difficult challenge. Business users have embraced smartphone and tablet use, which represents potentially significant productivity gains for their employers. Yet, companies are still struggling to find ways to facilitate information access for mobile users. How can IT help mobile end users tap into data housed in legacy systems? How can IT be sure that information presents well regardless of the user’s preferred device or operating system? Both questions can be answered with one response: mobile mashups.

Before we examine what the mobile mashup is and why enterprise IT must adopt it, it’s important to look at how mobile trends are affecting the business environment. As the consumerization of IT continues to spread within the enterprise, the ability to access business applications via mobile devices will become increasingly more important to accommodate today’s mobile workforce. In the consumer market, the typical iPhone user has about 50 apps downloaded to his phone. Similarly, Androids average 35 apps per user.

Enterprise mobility refers to the business use of mobile devices, which is rapidly catching up to interest in consumer apps thanks to new breakthrough capabilities in mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs). A recent Gartner report claims that at least 50 percent of enterprise email users will rely on a browser, tablet or mobile client instead of a desktop by 2016, due mainly to the increasing comfort of using a mobile device and a browser for enterprise applications.

Gartner has also suggested that as much as 50 percent of the workforce will use mobile devices for business by the end of 2013. This reality presents new challenges for IT departments as employees rely on desktop computers less and less. PCs will not become completely obsolete, but businesses will need to consider arming employees with useful, versatile apps. This includes integrating existing systems and creating mobile business apps that can be used seamlessly throughout the enterprise.

So how can businesses keep pace with this consumerization trend and make it easy for employees to access key information on the go? The solution is enterprise mobile mashups. A mashup pulls raw data from multiple back-office systems and other sources and combines that data to create discrete capabilities with usable information for the mobile business user. Integration to back-end enterprise resource management (ERP), e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) systems is essential in making a mobile application meaningful and efficient in high-pressure and fast-paced environments.

The idea of mashups is not new; it can be found in many online applications. One example is a CRM system that pulls in current weather data for your customers’ locations and displays it in frames within their current windows. This same concept, when applied to mobile devices, is what allows business leaders and their employees to use smartphones to access key information from multiple systems and interact with that information from any device, in any location and at any time. This is achieved using a mobile enterprise application platform with the strong integration capabilities required to support the iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry mobile platforms as well as the hundreds of back-end systems in use at companies around the globe.

For consumer-facing business applications, the user experience, app design, interactivity, social dimension and appeal of the content are all becoming more relevant. Just like consumer apps, the business apps employees use to interact with your company via smartphones should offer highly sophisticated experiences. This starts with building apps with the native look and feel associated with users’ preferred devices. Gamification, which is the process of adding gaming principles to company interactions to create an overall satisfying consumer experience, should also be considered. True success will come from your company’s ability to create an experience that goes beyond simple forms and submit buttons.

In addition, the attention span of a mobile device user versus a desktop PC user drops significantly from two to three minutes to about one minute. Since mobile users are paying attention for a shorter period of time, this need for swift, accurate data streaming paired with the ability to easily act on that information is key. This can apply to actions ranging from providing an approval, submitting an order, updating a location or various other tasks. Successful enterprise mobile mashups pull information from enterprise systems, display information in mobile apps, take action from the mobile device and update the back-end systems via cross-platform, cross-device mobile enterprise application platforms, ensuring core app logic can be used on any smartphone.

Three guidelines for a mobile mashup

For any IT leader embarking on a mobile mashup project, there are three key tips to keep in mind:

Plan for shorter mobile attention spans. Mobile users are typically in a hurry and on the go. While business processes performed from a desktop may incorporate numerous screens and detailed workflows, the mobile user will insist on the ability to work in short bursts of interaction with only the key steps involved. Finding the right balance between careful and quick is essential to a properly designed mobile mashup.
Mashups should display essential data first and integrate only the most relevant information from other systems. The power to integrate any piece of data from any application can be intoxicating. Although the mashup of information may be essential to usability, trying for a “mashdown” of every bit of available data into the mobile device is a mistake. Design mobile mashup apps to utilize and display the information that the user truly needs and wants to see
Mashups should reflect the native look and feel of the mobile users’ devices. An application that runs on an iPhone will gain wide user acceptance only if it has the look and feel of an iPhone, a BlackBerry app should look like a BlackBerry app, and the interaction of an Android app should feel like other Android apps.

The pressure on IT departments to create, deploy and maintain mobile business apps will only intensify as smartphones and tablets saturate the consumer market.

The only way to cope with such pressure is to ensure that old methods are not applied to new problems.

A true development solution must be cross-platform and deliver device-specific functionality.

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