The irresistible rise of the corporate app
Contrasting approaches by Antenna and Cryoserver
The rise of the corporate app is due to both fashion and user demand.
Once upon a time there were programs. Today they are called apps. The big difference is that apps are fashionable, and fashion drives a lot of what even sane IT types do. So much so that even the Windows Phone has settings in the control panel for “company apps”.
Robin Bingeman of Cryoserver, a London-based email archiving vendor, has seen that trend. You wouldn’t have thought that getting apps onto phones was a priority for a company that builds super-secure mail backup for large enterprises. But it’s all about the users’ demands.
“Bring your own device [BYOD] is here to stay,” says Bingeman.
He points out that people are accustomed to using apps in their personal lives and expect to have the same functionality at work.
The use of computing has moved 180 degrees. Time was when you would have far more computing power at work; now people might have 100Mb broadband at home and 10Mb at work, and their home computers and consoles are far more powerful than the company laptops.
The app is important for Cryoserver because of the way people use its service. It is something enterprises in some industries must have for compliance. They need to show audit trails, with emails held in an unalterable way.
Users see no direct benefit in this, so the software must also provide user benefits in the form of much better sorting and searching than you find in traditional mail clients. Mobile mail clients in particular usually limit categorisation to the number, size or age of the messages they hold.
Search and rescue
Combining BYOD with Cryoserver’s “lightning fast search” can make each employee more efficient, according to Bingeman. With the Cryoserver mobile app a user on the move can find any email sent or received.
According to a May 2013 survey of 2,000 UK office workers, commissioned by Huddle, the startup alternative to Sharepoint, more than 90 per cent of people use their personal devices to store work documents. There is no point in trying to prevent them: far better to let them do so in a controlled way.
The ability to do this is particularly valuable for investigating rogue behaviour. There is a process of audit trails, rather than the HR department just asking the IT department to trawl through emails.
Users designated as data guardians are sent the audit trail so that they can watch the watchers, and the investigation cannot go ahead without a reason given for the audit. This helps with compliance and also to reassure groups such as trades unions that employees are not being needlessly spied upon.
Senior managers can see if there is evidence of insider trading, or other misdeeds, from their phones
And as calamity may strike at 4pm on the Friday before a bank holiday it is best if senior managers can see if there is evidence of insider trading, or other misdeeds, from their phones.
Cryoserver offers this through its mobile app and provides APIs for partners to integrate the storage with third-party apps.
For Cryoserver the route to market is a mobile AppStore, allowing Apple to do the distribution. Of course the app is no use to anyone without the server-side accounts and the revenue model is through that. But it is a much lighter touch for the company than curating its own apps store.
The curation approach
The curation approach is favoured by the New Jersey company Antenna, which has more than 300 enterprise customers looking at building and managing mobile applications.
Managing can take the form of the enterprise running its own apps store, but more commonly Antenna handles this as a service.
Antenna divides the applications into employee-facing and customer-facing ones. It is seeing a lot of activity in financial services, with mobile banking being business-to-consumer.
By contrast, sales applications are commonly used for business-to-employee, with sales managers using CRM to a back end of SQL or Salesforce.
Other strong areas are manufacturing, field service, healthcare and life sciences. Antenna’s 2013 survey of enterprises shows that 37 per cent of companies in the UK and US are looking to launch apps stores. Most have only a few apps and sometimes app developments happens in silos.
Like Cryoserver, Antenna sees the advent of BYOD as hugely significant. The type of device in question is connected to the age of the two companies.
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. ®