Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What if the killer app for enterprise mobility and tablets is actually access to multiple apps?

For every new technology, the holy grail is always to find the “killer app.”  That phrase existed long before “app” referred to a little beveled square on your iPad.
The killer app for the PC was arguably two:  word processing and spreadsheets.  (Anyone remember WordStar or Visicalc?)  For the Internet, it was email, later enabled by a notable app of its own: the web browser.
So, what’s the killer app for tablets?
What is the one thing that’s going to make tablets absolutely mandatory going forward?  The question is even more interesting when you add an enterprise perspective.  What is the thing that will make it a necessity for every employee to have (and use) an iPad or a Galaxy Note or a Surface?
In trying to answer this question, I think back to something our CTO, Stephen Vilke, said in a recent webinar about the dos and don’ts for bringing enterprise applications to the iPad.  I’ve been posting the highlights of his “dos & don’ts,” and here’s one that’s directly related to this line of thinking:
DO understand that the next “killer app” for the enterprise to be delivered on a tablet is actually the blend of multiple apps.
Stephen’s comments boiled down to this: if it’s productivity you want to enable, you must provide access to the suite of applications and tools that users are comfortable using and can be productive with.
This means that an organization needs to make a number of their key business applications widely available to the workforce simultaneously via mobile, regardless of which device they bring.  So, in fact, one single app is not the thing that will drive usage, but perhaps it's the ability to do productive work on a whole set of enterprise applications – the same ones they’ve already been using, and new ones that are being created.
As Stephen noted:
The benefits of a consolidated app workspace are clear: they offer an engaging and more user-friendly and productive experience to improve ROI on mobility investments. However, complexity increases, as application variety ranges from ERP through to the many hundreds or thousands of corporate applications required to support business operations – and finding the sweet spot might not be so easy.
There are a number of ways to achieve application mobilization in the enterprise, including custom client apps, multi-platform middleware, HTML5, software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud-based solutions, or through a virtualized/remote desktop.
IT managers need to assess each route for cost, speed, business benefit, and practicality. They’ll need to decide if development is best done in-house or through partnerships with other providers.  Will they want to build custom apps internally, or use an outsourced, hosted solution?  Influencing factors will include the number and type of mobile platforms being supported.  Not to the mention security, performance, and UX issues that we hear about from IT, from application owners, and from users.
But coming back to the “killer app as multiple app access” idea, Gartner thought this concept was interesting enough to come up with a new category for it, something they call “workspace aggregators.”  We’ve blogged about the concept here a couple times over the past few months, and think it’s an interesting way to describe a new approach (one that Framehawk itself is taking).
And, if you think about it, the rise of something new on the hardware side is generally matched by a parallel rise of a killer app on the software side.  If not, the hardware is generally headed for the dustbin of history sooner rather than later.
Tablets have followed a bit of a new trajectory, though.  Tablets have the interesting characteristic of trying to present all the killer apps from all previous computing platforms in this new form factor.  Or at least, that’s the promise.  For productivity apps like email, word processing, and spreadsheets, tablet makers have either tried to put forward their own versions (Apple) or are a bit slow to market with tablet versions of their existing packages (Microsoft).
Real enterprise tablet usage has been hindered by 2 things.  First, tablet providers have struggled a bit to deliver continuity with existing environments and tools as I noted.   And IT has had difficulty finding a safe way to incorporate them into the enterprise environment and still maintain a user experience that won’t make the users rebel.
So, it seems to me that a real tipping point for the official, legitimate adoption of tablets in the enterprise just might be the ability to get to those productivity apps AND intuitive, secure access for new and existing enterprise applications.
Put this all in one workspace for particular sets of employees and you just might have something, well, killer.
For more "confessions of a CTO" (from Framehawk's Stephen Vilke) about the 7 Dos & Don'ts for Bringing Enterprise Applications to the iPad, you can download our white paper.

This post also appears on the Framehawk blog.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What you need to know about using tablets as clients for enterprise applications

The flurry of new mobile devices continues.  Consumers (who look a lot like your employees) love them.  And they naturally want to use them in their (er, your) enterprise IT environment.  And that’s where the problems start.
It seems like it would be simple to introduce tablets and other mobile devices into the enterprise.  But here’s the worst-kept secret in IT today: it’s not.
And this is a huge problem.  Tablets, which should be a boon to productivity and flexibility for employees, are instead causing IT headaches.
The new mobile realities for application architecture, or: what’s changed thanks to tablets
As we here at Framehawk have been focusing our efforts to help enterprises make tablets productive with enterprise applications, the first thing we see companies struggling with are their long-standing application architecture assumptions.  The tablet is a different animal and many of IT’s assumptions about how clients work with their enterprise apps are no longer valid.
Here’s a quick list of what’s changed in moving from only traditional PCs to a list of application clients that includes tablets.  I’m calling this a list of the “new mobile realities”:
The networks are now varied and unreliable.  Existing applications expect a high-quality, consistent corporate LAN to communicate between clients and servers.  When you use an iPad, you replace that LAN with WiFi or an unreliable mobile network.  Add in the complexities of latency from large geographic distances and network security concerns, and the network becomes a major source of uncertainty.
Client devices now have very constrained – or completely unknown – computing capabilities. iPads, Android tablets, Microsoft Surface, and other mobile devices all have processing and memory constraints connected to size, weight, and battery life trade-offs.  This means that relying on the edge device to take on any of the processing load for applications will put a severe drag on the performance of those applications on that device.  In a BYOD environment, you also have no idea which device will actually be the client at any given time, since by definition you are leaving the choice up to the employee.
The new user interaction model – touch – is drastically different.  Enterprise applications in use today were built to receive input from a mouse and keyboard. The touch and gesture interface of tablets, however, is a very different interaction approach, and the difference is going to have to be accounted for when trying to work with existing applications via a tablet.  In addition, tablet users have an expectation that their interaction on the device will be very simple, specific, and easy – a situation that, putting it nicely, may be at odds with the way an existing enterprise application is designed.
The new client device usage model is quite varied.  With the introduction of tablets as a client in the enterprise application environment, applications need to support a variety of different usage models.  They must be able to handle the short-duration, quick-interaction style usage from tablets at multiple times throughout the day.  They must also still be able to handle the long-lasting, consistent-connection usage from the traditional desktop and laptop PC clients.  And, in some cases, they also need to be able to handle the very dynamic, get-in/get-out usage pattern of smartphone users.  Because employees aren’t (generally) giving up their PCs, enterprise applications must support all of these different patterns at different times from the same user.  IT has to be ready for all possibilities.  The business processes must support all these possibilities as well – no business process silos allowed.
Cloud computing means new deployment options.  At any given time, an application’s servers might be in an organization’s data center, in a hosted virtual private cloud, or in a public cloud – the answer depends upon cost, load, time of day, security, or other business requirements.  Or, the enterprise may be using Software as a Service (SaaS) applications provided by a third party. All of these scenarios add complexity in attempting to provide access to those applications via tablets – and even more so when accessing multiple applications in an enterprise’s portfolio.
Security for mobile devices has many more moving parts – and some different assumptions.  By allowing new devices not owned by IT access to applications from outside the corporate network, the bad guys could have more attack options.  IT’s traditional approach to dealing with unknown or untrusted devices is to say no or lock everything down.  This approach with tablets or other mobile devices results in either unacceptable user experience trade-offs (such as multiple, repeated log-ins and challenges) or draconian legal requirements to control devices that they do not own (such as requiring agreement to remote wipe and the like), putting personal information and assets at risk to somehow meet the enterprise requirements.  And, some of the approaches that IT has used in other situations (like VPN) open up more security holes themselves.
What can IT do about these new mobile realities to accommodate tablets?
So what do you do about this?  There are a number of existing approaches to application mobilization.  But these New Mobile Realities I’ve been talking about are the very things that give the existing approaches fits.  Whether you use VDI, HTML5, or develop some native apps, there are some unavoidable and painful trade-offs.
Of course, here at Framehawk, we look at this as a huge opportunity in need of a solution (we have a white paper you can download that tells a bit more about how we handle a lot of this).
But regardless of what you think of our solution, step 1 for an enterprise is to figure out where the moving parts are and begin to consider solutions that address (or at least understand) the issues.  Hopefully, this list starts you in the right direction.  Stay tuned for a follow-on blog about new ways to think about a solution.

This post also appears on the Framehawk blog.