2009: The Year Mobile-Centric Apps Go Mainstream in the Enterprise

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president at Yankee Group, believes 2009 will be the year that mobile-centric applications—software solutions built from the ground up to work on mobile devices and networks—start to become mainstream in the enterprise.

Mobile-centric applications aren't new. Kerravala, who heads Yankee's infrastructure research and consulting group, notes that RIM's BlackBerry e-mail solution is the prototype and still the best exemplar of what he's talking about.

But most companies have not adopted mobile-centric approaches for other application areas to anything like the same degree they have embraced BlackBerry.

"There aren't that many other examples," Kerravala concedes. "But they are out there. And I think in 2009, we'll see more."

Companies such as Dexterra Inc., with its workforce and supply chain management solutions, and Antenna Software with its Antenna Mobility Platform and a handful of horizontal and vertical mobile applications built on it, have been beating this drum for a few years.

"They have basically done for ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications what RIM did for e-mail," Kerravala says of Dexterra and Antenna.

DiVitas Networks, which offers a mobile unified communications solution, is another good example of a true mobile-centric application, he says.

The applications they provide are different from single-vendor mobile solutions from traditional software providers in a number of ways. Many of the latter are built by simplistically porting desktop applications to the palmtop.

ERP vendor Siebel's mobile solution (now integrated with Oracle) was a good example, says Dexterra vice president of product marketing Benjamin Wesson. "They tried to cram the entire Siebel application onto a PDA form factor. And that almost never works."

Kerravala agrees. "The experience will be so bad that nobody will use [the application]. There's nothing stopping anyone putting Web-based Exchange or Outlook on a mobile device, for example, but people don't do it because the experience is pretty poor."

So what do mobile-centric developers do differently?

"When you think about mobile applications, you need to think about the application itself, the device and the network it runs on," Kerravala says. "All three of those have to be tuned with the mobile [work] environment in mind. With traditional desktop applications, you really only think about the application itself."

RIM, he adds, goes to "the nth degree, making tweaks specific to [each] mobile operator."

A lot of it is paring the application to essentials and paying a lot of attention to user experience. RIM's mastery of user interface and the mobile experience—the ability of BlackBerry to download and display attachments long before other mobile e-mail solutions could do it is an example—account for much of its success.

Of course, RIM had the decided advantage of building the devices as well as the software, but it is possible for third parties to develop effective mobile-centric applications for multiple devices.

Both Antenna and Dexterra develop applications or provide tools for enterprises to develop customized applications that can be tuned to BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and other PDA and smartphone platforms.

TAGS:

middleware, Blackberry, applications, ERP, field force
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