Mobile Apps In The Enterprise: 7 Essentials For The New Ecosystem

Guest author Sanjay Poonen is head of SAP's mobile division.

Mobile devices have become the world's steady companions that we take anywhere and use everywhere. A recent forecast by McKinsey & Company estimates that by 2014, 1.7 billion mobile devices will be accessing the Internet - and a steady diet of online content. Widespread smartphone and tablet adoption is giving birth to a new ecosystem of mobile apps. Apple with its iTunes App Store is currently the gold-standard of the mobile experience, and it enables distribution to millions of users. In early 2013, Apple announced that users had downloaded an astounding 40 billion apps from its App Store, with almost half of that total logged in the last year.

The rollout of smart mobile apps yields numerous benefits not only to consumers but also for the enterprise. Mobile apps for business must offer the expected, Apple-easy download experience, but the enterprise requires quite a bit more for apps to be successful and risk-free. Many companies are struggling to manage the proliferation of mobile apps and connect to business content.

Here are seven critical areas for enterprises to address as apps multiply through the mobile enterprise ecosystem.

1. Not Point Products: Using An Enterprise Mobility Platform

The basic foundation of the mobile enterprise begins with deployment of the devices - employee and corporate-owned — along with a portfolio of productivity apps. The goal is simple: The user downloads an app and starts using it. All onboarding, app registration and bootstrapping is done by the enterprise mobility platform — the server strings, logon information or certificates are pushed to the user’s device automatically.

2. Configuration: Based On Roles And Responsibility

Deployment and configuration policies have to go hand-in-hand. Ultimately, enterprise workers want to be able to use any device and any app, accessing content without any roadblocks. Ideally, if an employee has an iPhone or Android phone provided to them, they will immediately have the secured content and correct business apps configured based on their roles and responsibilities (finance, HR, sales, etc.).

3. Deployment: Cloud vs. On Premise

Enterprises have a choice of where they get content and apps. They can come from the cloud, be stored on premise, or in some hybrid combination. This piece of the mobile equation doesn’t have a correct answer, but IT has to remain keenly aware where each component of mobile content resides and (most importantly) who has authorized access.

4. Beyond MDM: Managing Devices, Apps, Content And Things

IT must maintain control over how mobile devices access corporate information: At the very least, IT has to be able to turn off the device, content or app if the mobile hardware is lost or stolen. A key component of that is creating lockable configuration and security policies. Mobile Device Management (MDM) software helps IT centrally manage, secure and deploy mobile data, applications and devices, including tablets and phones. The journey continues beyond MDM to Mobile App Mgmt (MAM), Mobile Content Mgmt (MCM) and eventually takes you on the journey to securing not just devices but every machine in the Internet of Things.

5. Security: At Every Stage In The Lifecycle

A Symantec study calculated that the average annual cost of mobile breaches for an enterprise business was $429,000. Security has to be part of the fabric of mobile throughout the enterprise. It must be integrated into the initial mobile strategy - and into each subsequent stage in the mobile lifecycle. It must be nimble and designed for the post-PC era of mobile computing.

6. Interoperability: Take A Cross-Platform Approach

In a mobile enterprise, all devices, apps and cloud services need to recognize each other and be able to share content. As we deal with a combination of HTML-based mobile-Web apps and device-native apps, three key factors contribute to interoperability.

First is cross-platform support. Most enterprises will have to cater to Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows and BlackBerry.

The second factor is backend connectivity: While all mobile users will run Tripit, for example, against the same hosted backend, your enterprise apps needs to run against your company’s backend systems. For example, a customer relationship management (CRM) app needs to access your customers in your CRM system. A Leave Request app has to run against your own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Third, enterprise apps must adhere to your company's information technology security standards. Employees will access your corporate data from the open Internet, and you need to safeguard your business data.

7. Mobile Apps: Buy And/Or Develop Your Own

Mobility starts with the app creator, which could be an individual developer, a customer who wants to develop an app, a partner or an internal development team. Many larger organizations will benefit by designing their own apps for mobile-enabled business processes. These mobile solutions can tap into different applications and workflow tools using dashboards to monitor everything from sales to the health of the entire business in real time.

Some apps may be developed and used internally to solve a specific task in the company. Others maybe standardized to be sold via the various app stores, both platform specific outlets such as the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone App Store or BlackBerry World.