Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Enterprise Mobility – Not Just a Technical Challenge

Quit worrying about the technology, it's your people and processes that need to change

With the increasing focus and provision of tools to aid the move towards mobile-first enterprise applications it is easy to think that the challenge to mobilise the workforce is becoming easier. In actual fact the emergence of Mobile Application Platforms and increasing available development environments is starting to expose another hurdle with enabling the remote worker.

The challenge has moved from being one of a technical nature to a people and processes problem. Many large companies have IT teams that have grown in to large complex organisations built on a history of updated process, procedures and progressive hiring. They are ill-equipped to deal with the radical game-changing requirements demanded by the mobile-first generation of products.

Time to Market

Many industry observers are commentating on the challenges of go-to-market mobile solutions that are still taking 12+ months to reach their target clients. Mobile device manufactures are rolling out updated hardware faster than this. The software-based solutions need to be there almost immediately. Gone are the days where projects required a 3-month requirements and analysis stage. These days users outline their desires to a combined design and development team, a few quick sprints later a Proof of Concept (PoC) app is ready for review and test. The production release is simply this PoC app plus a little re-factoring and some thorough testing.

Disposable apps

Simple apps such as those providing basic form-based information capture can be developed and deployed in a matter of hours. It is becoming increasing popular to develop apps that are only useful for a matter of days. Just consider the efficiency benefits over a paper-based solution when using a tablet device to perform a one-time data capture operation that automatically populates a backend inventory system. There is simply no need for extensive requirements gathering, solution design and comprehensive testing. In many case there is no need for an IT team, users can drag-and-drop to create their own apps.

OpEx vs CapEx funding

The shift from large complex, multi-functional business support systems to smaller, targeted point solutions also challenges the traditional view of project funding. There is simply no time to introduce a lengthy ROI-based review to justify spending on a mobile solution. In many cases thus would literally take longer than the deployment phase. Mobile app development needs to be treated as a service to the business and allocated funding from the OpEx budget.
Small customer-facing, multi-skilled development teams

Many large IT organisations are structured with departments aligned with disciplines. This no longer works, business analysts don’t have time to spend weeks producing comprehensive requirements documentation. It is simpler, quicker and more efficient for end users to work directly with app designers and developers. Mobile-first development teams need to be multi-skilled and comfortable with exposure to the end clients. This is not a ‘normal’ experience for many IT specialists.

Testing, support and maintenance

Clearly it is paramount that mobile-first solutions work correctly and can be supported and maintained. This doesn't mean someone needs to closely follow the development team tracking their every move. It means ensuring a thorough and appropriate test regime. The exact level of testing will depend on the application, it’s importance, it’s longevity and the impact on business operations if something goes wrong (risk-based testing).

Structured coding, the use of standard libraries and common platforms all contribute to helping support future modifications. A well built software application with suitable documentation should be understood by all development teams. The standardisation of code for app development, particularly the use of HTML5, has further increased the community of developers able to adopt and modify code build elsewhere. This all removes the legacy opinion that software solutions need additional technical writers to document all aspects.
Adapting to the changing environment

Before embarking on the route towards Mobile-First solutions, businesses need to review if their current infrastructure, process and even people are correct aligned to meet the new challenges. As Darwin observed many years ago, the organisations that will survive this mobile revolution are the ones that can adapt to the change.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

5 steps to to your very own Mobile Solutions team

Mobile-First enterprise solutions are the growing trend for organisations looking to maximise return from existing resource. Many CIOs are carefully polishing their strategic plans to deliver efficiencies to their business by providing small targeted mobile solutions from an every growing library of apps.

But it isn't as simple as creating a new team from the existing IT division and redistributing job titles.  Mobile solutions development is different and isn't for everyone. Here is a simple guide to the most important factors to consider when setting up your team.

1. Recruitment

Pick team members that have the ability and passion to thrive in a fast-moving, agile and customer-facing environment. There is no time for detailed documentation with many mobile projects, ambiguity is the norm, as is the ability to interpret often vague user stories and translate in to creative solutions. Developers need to work hand-in-hand with clients, there is no room for a large team of business and system analysts. In the new agile programming world there is often no project manager, development teams are self-managing. This is not a comfortable environment for an engineer steeped in the traditions of legacy IT support and development.

2. Funding

Mobile apps can often be identified, scoped, coded and delivered in a matter of days. Even complex apps can be deployed with only a couple of months of development. There is no time to accommodate a detailed ROI-style review of the cost benefits of funding such projects. The admin will strangle the team and prevent benefits from being delivered in a timely manner. The Mobile Solutions team needs to be funded as part of an OpEx budget. The team needs to be trusted by the business and have the flexibility to pick projects that deliver the most business benefits the quickest, without involving budget committees and threatening fast response times.

3. Focus on real customer needs

Mobile-first teams are developing solutions that target specific customer needs. They must focus on what clients want and need, not just what IT can offer. Old-style legacy systems often drive the processes and functions used in the business. Here is a chance to change things and provide solutions that much better match what the business needs. Mobile devices come with a plethora of new tools, coloured hi-res displays, cameras, GPS capture and touch screen manipulation. The best solutions will use these to enhance the user experience. Be wary of falling in to the trap of limiting functionality because the ‘backend cannot support it’, look for creative ways to deliver the user benefits beyond these legacy restrictions.

4. Multiple device support

Mobile devices are ubiquitous. There is an enormous range of devices available in the market, both commercial and consumer devices. They are also upgraded and replaced at an ever increasing rate. Be careful of standardising on any one device.  This is especially true if taking advantage of cheaper consumer devices, though often more powerful and feature-rich, they can become obsolete in a very short time. There is no point deploying a complex mobile solution that only works on a specific high-end consumer device if the manufacturer plans to replace and withdraw support after only a short period. Consider safe-guarding solutions by using hybrid programming techniques and code that enables easier porting to different devices.

5. Cloud-based platforms

If this is your first foray in to developing a portfolio of mobile solutions then chances are details will be scarce with regard the likely take-up and use of potential apps in your organisation. Estimating the demand and subsequent load on IT infrastructure will be challenging and could derail initial rollouts. Avoid some of this uncertainty by looking to utilise cloud-based platforms that are easily re-configured to managing fluctuating loads. Many of these have been developed with a mobile-first strategy in mind, typically they incorporate up-to-date technologies and they continue the OpEx funding model already adopted by the development team (making it easier for the business to pay only for the service it uses).

Finally, there is a lot of hype around using mobile solutions for driving enterprise efficiencies. Don't be put off. Not least because a lot of what you are hearing is true!

Good luck.