Welcome to the latest edition of Inside Looking Out. I had the opportunity earlier this week to have a chat with Lionel Carrasco, CEO of Leapfactor. Mobile applications have been on my mind a lot recently, so having the chance to speak to Lionel came at a very opportune time. I’m sure you’ll agree, after having read this transcript, that Lionel has some pretty strong opinions and insights on the matter.
The Enterprise Mobility Foundation: Hi Lionel. It’s good to speak with you again. Let’s jump to it. There’s no question that mobile apps are all the rage. Where do you see the greatest opportunities for the workplace to take advantage of mobile apps?
Lionel Carrasco: The opportunity goes beyond mobile workforces. In the B2E scenario, the idea is to outgrow the old limitation of corporate-paid Blackberries and rugged devices and let employees use any device in their pockets, from the C-level down to blue collar workers. The opportunity transcends the boundaries of employees and includes business partners and suppliers as well as customers.
I have three apps on my phone that I use to review our pipeline, approve discounts and investments, and receive alerts about new deals or hot support tickets. I also have a couple of apps that enable me as an SAP partner, like the EcoHub, and I have a couple dozen apps that let me interact with Starbucks, Bank of America, Nike, and Disney as a consumer. So what am I? A consumer or corporate mobile user?
EMF: OK, so on the flip side Lionel, what are the greatest risks/challenges?
LC: Businesses will interact with employees, business partners, and customers through micro apps, with each app focused on a single purpose. These apps will grow in numbers like weeds and their usage will far outgrow the typical couple hundred users of the old mobile enterprise. Furthermore, the apps will run on users’ preferred devices, not on IT-approved ones. The introduction of the iPhone has presented many new challenges to the IT organization. No existing enterprise mobility platform was ready to face this new paradigm shift. How do you handle security and compliance on devices not controlled by IT?
How do you deal with the scalability and cost issues of seasonal apps that may demand hundreds of thousands of users for a few weeks and then go down to a few? How do you provide a consumer-like app end-user experience and still be compliant with corporate IT mandates? How to you handle costs? How do you expose enterprise transactions and content without opening a security hole? How do you develop a “cool” enterprise-class app instead of another complex and boring app?
EMF: Is it about the apps “per se” or about mobilizing tasks? Does this speak to the need for enterprise mash-ups?
LC: The apps are the vehicle to enable task and content driven functions that people can use in their daily lives as part of their roles and activities. No one needs Facebook, banking, movies and weather all in the same app. Similarly, we should not produce complex enterprise apps to encapsulate a dozen use cases.
To do enterprise mobility with consumer like-apps, we need to design an app for a single purpose—like “check inventory”—that can be used by the warehouse manager as well as a sales guy. And yes, somehow the enterprise services used to expose the business content within CRM, ERP and SCM systems should become something like published APIs that developers can use to more easily create apps and empower business line managers.
EMF: So clearly, data integration will become a challenge. How do you think organizations will have to handle this?
LC: The main problem with systems integration is that every software vendor wants IT to buy, adopt and embrace middleware. Most of the enterprises have evolved over the last decade to become Internet friendly and have adopted SOA to embrace web services. Enterprises are already empowered to expose services that could serve micro apps; they can produce XML using existing integration technology. The trick is to design the services so as to serve mobile scenarios without the mobile app getting taxed with unnecessary complexity. Enterprises should leverage existing services infrastructure created to support other Internet initiatives and repurpose the code to empower mobile developers who should focus only on user experience.
EMF: Where do app stores fit into this equation?
LC: If the idea is to provide apps to thousands of employees and business partners or even millions of customers, the app stores should be used as the primary application provisioning channels. The app stores infrastructure and services are great for reducing the costs of provisioning and app maintenance.
End users are used to app stores; they know the process and know exactly what to expect. The key is to provide the same user experience and instant reward after downloading an enterprise mobile app.
Beyond provisioning, app stores are wonderful window displays loaded with items produced by content providers and ratings and reviews by content consumers. App stores also provide billing features and we expect their evolution to include more and more capabilities over time so as to attract more content publishers.
EMF: Would you say then organizations need their own dedicated enterprise app stores?
LC: If the plan is to deploy apps to employees you can still use the public app stores, but some IT departments may continue to use controlled environments to deploy apps. Personally, I don’t believe there is a need to perpetuate intranets for people to download apps.
Some vendors are talking about some sort of advanced Enterprise Private App Stores that would offer applications, device management, etc. Apps are harmless without the user authentication and logon procedures that must be part of the app deployment process anyway. Therefore, I don’t see the rational to use intranets anymore.
More important, lets not forget that the idea is to maximize penetration and adoption through convenience and by providing addictive user interfaces. I don’t think using closed stores will help us to achieve our goals. The key is to build secure and reliable apps that can be deployed on public app stores.
EMF: Let’s switch a bit to the cloud. How will the cloud impact our use of mobile applications?
LC: Cloud computing is an inevitable part of the consumerization of the enterprise. Mobile enterprise is no longer limited to 100 users on the receiving docks or 3,000 sales guys updating the pipeline. The number of apps designed for mobile devices will grow rapidly, and the only way to scale and still be able to have security and manageable operational costs will be to leverage the cloud; not to mention the performance aspects derived from the latency of the communications.
In the 90s, most IT teams decided to host their website internally for “security” reasons. Today, IT organizations don’t host their corporate websites and e-commerce platforms on-premise. Hosting in the cloud is more secure and more cost-effective. In the same way that you don’t provide your own courier using your own trucks and drivers to get a package across town, or the U.S., or the world, there is no reason to own the digital content and transaction distribution mechanisms for mobile users.
EMF: So one last question Lionel. What ONE piece of advice would you give companies as they look to mobilize applications?
LC: Focus on single-purpose apps – task-driven micro-apps – that would help people to do one thing very well. Make sure you provide convenience and a rewarding user experience so that users will adopt and embrace your apps. Focus on mobilizing tasks (transactions or content driven) that will help make people’s lives and work easier. Make sure you create value for the user while also creating value for the enterprise. Make sure you expose enterprise web services that developers and system integrators can leverage to build apps responding to business line mangers’ needs and ideas. We need to create enterprise mash-ups to leverage the huge investments done on SAP and Oracle systems.
Thanks so much Lionel for taking the time to speak with me today. If interested, you can connect with Lionel via here. Do you know anyone who should be a guest here on Inside Looking Out? Drop us a line.