I had an interesting conversation today with someone regarding my thoughts on how HTML5 Is Not (Yet) a Panacea For Mobile Enterprise Applications. The person asked one question that got me thinking. Is there any impact on your mobile enterprise application strategy if you choose to allow personally liable devices to be used in the workplace. It’s actually a great question, because in fact, I see many similarities in this question as how mobile platform support has evolved over the last couple of years.
Let’s take a quick walk down Memory Lane. If you recall just a few short years ago, mobile devices were overwhelmingly purchased and provisioned by the workplace itself. Obviously then, BlackBerry was the king of the smartphone hill with Windows Mobile biting at its heels (and Symbian of course outside of North America). The workplace – specifically the IT department – had it “easy” back then. They supported (typically) one mobile platform. And then of course came along Apple and Google to completely blow that approach out of the water with the wildly popular iOS and Android platforms.
People somehow got the crazy idea that they had the right to choose whichever device they wanted and that the IT department was simply going to have to deal with it. Enter the phase of the consumerization of enterprise mobility. IT departments pushed back…and then the C level execs got shiny iPhones and Android devices for Christmas or birthdays. This of course raised the need for organizations to leverage mobile device management solutions from third party vendors that can support various operating systems. Today, there’s a general consensus that because of the acceptance of the Bring Your Own Device approach, organizations are going to have to support Android, BlackBerry, iOS, webOS (to a certain extent) and Windows Phone.
OK…so what about apps? Now that there’s a strong adoption of not just smartphones but tablets, organizations are thinking a LOT about the kinds of internal applications they can mobilize. That shiny ERP system sure looks ripe for mobilizing doesn’t it? But how do you do it? Do you buy them off the shelf? Custom applications? Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms? Native or HTML5? How are they going to get deployed? Where’s our mobile enterprise app store? That’s a lot of questions to answer.
But here’s an interesting scenario that could emerge. Developing applications is not a trivial task. It can take weeks if not months to develop, test and deploy mobile enterprise applications to your workforce. Someone in the IT department has a bright idea. Let’s build an application for the most popular platform in our workplace, and then we’ll build an HTML5 “equivalent” for all the other operating systems. I’ll argue that this approach basically is saying, we’ll support one platform and for all intents and purposes relegate the others to second class citizens.
Sound familiar? We’ll support one type of device because that makes our lives easier.
We’ve gone through this exercise before. Funny how we fail to remember and learn from history. BYOD taught us that organizations are going to have to embrace and support employee choice. That means that all platforms are treated equally (taking aside the limitations that may exist in any given platform). Why would we not take the same approach for the mobile enterprise applications that will be running on those devices? I’ll argue you’ll have to. Favoritism in terms of platform support does not work in the long run. Even if you have just two platforms…say iOS and Android devices…are you going to build ONE application and then webify for the other? Well, what if your CEO gets a new Christmas or birthday present in the form of a shiny BlackBerry or Windows Phone or webOS device? You’re not going to have those apps ready for that platform? You may want to think that one through again.
The point of all this, is that as we wait for HTML5 to become the Panacea of mobile application development, you’re going to want to consider how you can provide the best mobile experience to all your employees, regardless of the platform they may be using at that time….which means that just like you support all mobile operating systems for your mobile device management strategy (you DO don’t you?), you’re going to have to develop and support all mobile operating systems for your mobile application management strategy.