The irresistible rise of the corporate app
Contrasting approaches by Antenna and Cryoserver
Old habits die hard
Antenna is 14 years old and when it started 80 to 90 per cent of the market was held by BlackBerry, with Windows accounting for some of the rest. Now that has flipped in favour of iPhone and Android.
Windows doesn’t yet have the same penetration, and Antenna’s marketing and strategy officer Jim Somers believes Windows demand is waiting on the tablet.
The need to support multiple platforms means a number of different environments must be supported, from HTML through to native. Antenna has a wide range of options and wrappers but sees that many mobile developers do not want a new tool. They want to develop and iterate fast using tools they are familiar with.
So like Cryoserver, Antenna exposes APIs to use in whatever development system the enterprise favours. These provide security and authentication without the developer having to recode for integration with enterprise applications, including Oracle, Peoplesoft (part of Oracle), SAP, Microsoft and IBM.
The company has 50 adaptors, mash-ups of enterprise and web services – mapping or push services.
Because the mobile world is much richer than just IBM and SAP – which cover a huge percentage of what you might want to do – service discovery is an issue on mobile.
Two-thirds of the time Antenna is dealing directly with the enterprise, but sometimes it acts as an external developer looking to package an app. A typical example of this is Interloc Solutions, a consultancy which uses IBM’s asset management Maximo for a wide number of clients, including Amtrak.
An app has a significant advantage over mobile web as it does not rely on connectivity and can do more local processing. Jobs such as field service and time recording are well suited for the apps approach, but a large database with records that need to be accessed might be better online. Applications such as stock control, providing real-time data on numbers of units held, certainly need to be done online.
Financial institutions have an obligation under the Financial Conduct Authority (formerly the FSA) to record calls. This often rules out mobile, although some companies such as Golden Orb Security Systems can meet the requirements by providing a SIP stream for the audio of a call.
It is common for app developers to forget that devices are telephones and one thing you can do with a mobile app is link it into telephony. A lawyer might use an app for time recording and have the app look at who has been called and the length of the call for billing purposes. Of course that requires the telephony to be exposed to the developer, which rules out the iPhone.
Another issue with using the iPhone in corporate environments is that Apple expects you to use iTunes as the only app store. You can push apps directly to employees of the same company but you can’t create, host and manage your own corporate environment for iPhone or iPad.
Lost in transportation
Security is a major driver of the corporate app market. Given that employees are wandering around with access to the corporate network, and that the mobile phone overtook the umbrella as the most frequently lost item on the London Underground more than 15 years ago, you need to be able to remotely delete apps, data and access.
This can be done with a system that is well set up, but for many organisations it is far better not to have the data on the device in the first place, nor on someone else’s servers, let alone something as nebulous as the cloud.
The kind of organisations that have a single corporate web page saying “call us for access” want everything on their own servers, in their own computer rooms. A well-managed suite of apps is the best route to providing access as they can offer end-to-end encryption and pull in other forms of authentication such as location.
Sometimes this is necessary for national security, sometimes it is cultural. Whatever the reason for having apps – user demand or fashion – it can be styled to work well in the enterprise environment.
Of course corporate applications are nothing new. In 1980 I worked for a small software house which wrote an app, sorry, program, on the Commodore PET to track staff uniforms for British Home Stores. I used to keep a pale blue acrylic BHS V-neck in the back of my MK III Cortina in case I was called to go on site.
That’s a long way from iPhone apps and about as unfashionable as you can get. ®