2015 missed the mark as 'year of the mobile app' in enterprises


Back in December last year, some pundits (including this writer) were predicting that 2015 would be the year of the enterprise mobile app as companies moved to take advantage of the proliferation of mobile devices with apps designed to improve productivity of mobile workers.

FierceMobileIT decided to look back at the year to see if it was indeed the year of the mobile app. We talked to a number of industry analysts to get their take on the subject. Many felt that mobile app adoption in the enterprise isn't where it should be or where they expected it would be by now.

In answer to the question "Was 2015 the year of the enterprise mobile app," John Jackson, program vice president for mobility research at IDC, responded with a resounding, "Kind of."

John Jackson, vice president for mobility research at IDC

"We have looked at rates of mobilization of business processes and applications across enterprises, and they have in general remained astonishingly low. When you look at large enterprises, they haven't really mobilized more than their calendar, contacts and email," said Jackson.

"The reasons for the low mobilization are clear. Security is the perennial number one issue cited by IT mobility stakeholders as the reason why progress is so halting," he said. In addition, figuring out the backend and how to support multiple operating systems has also slowed down progress, he said. 

Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates

Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst with J. Gold Associates, said that there was an increase in mobile app deployment this year but it is far short of where it should be. "For most companies, they are still struggling with how to develop mobile apps effectively and quickly," Gold said.

Eric Klein, a director of mobile software at VDC Research, also stressed that progress has been slow. "Analysts have been saying that 20XX is going to the year of the mobile app for a couple of years now. We definitely thought there was going to be a faster uptake of enterprise mobile app creation and adoption than there has been. I don't think 2015 was the year, either."

That's not to say that mobile apps in the enterprise moved backward this year. Jackson cited IDC stats that showed the average number of apps mobilized by large U.S. enterprises jumped from 3.6 in 2014 to 5.8 in 2015. The portion of large companies that have deployed more than three apps approached 50 percent this year.

"It looks as though 2015 is the inflection point," Jackson said. "It's not taking off like a rocket, but it looks like 2015 will mark the upward inflection point in terms of enterprise application," he added.

How to clear the road blocks

There was plenty of activity among vendors that offer tools businesses can use to build mobile apps and that instability is a reflection of the struggles businesses face in figuring out how to get a grip on mobile.

Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research

Klein said the slower than expected uptake in mobile apps was evidenced by the disappearance of the mobile enterprise application platform space. Kony was a MEAP vendor that was able to survive and more toward offering a mobile backend as a service and other services, he added.

MEAP vendors "were ahead of the market. They thought the uptake would be sooner…Their software was closed and it turned into an issue of the proprietary nature of the software. Once you decided to invest in a platform, you were locked into creating all of your apps on that platform. That has changed dramatically," Klein said.

Jackson noted that enterprises employ three models to acquire mobile apps: using internal app developers, third parties or prepackaged off-the-shelf apps. About one third of businesses use each method, according to IDC data. VDC's Klein sees a similar split.

Large enterprise app providers, such as Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and IBM, continue to work to mobilize their prepackaged apps. "They have pretty good enterprise applications that they have been making into a better mobile user experience. SAP comes to mind with its Fiori apps," Klein said. "They are picking and choosing which apps work best on mobile devices…That space is one to watch," he added.

It's a RMAD world

Even though no one model has emerged in terms of how businesses develop apps, the analysts said they expect to see growth in services designed to make it easier for non-developers to build mobile apps.

Klein cited rapid mobile application development as a growing area for small third-party vendors, such as Alpha Software, Capriza, Reddo Mobility, StarMobile, PowWow and SkyGiraffe. They offer "click-and-build apps," he said.

"These vendors have proven that they can offer someone with not a great deal of development skills the ability to rapidly create an application, skin it the way you want to skin it, connect it to a backend, if that is required, seamlessly," Klein said. He predicted that many of these small companies would be acquired by larger firms.

Jackson agreed. "These are development resources aimed at the non-coder, the business analyst in line of business that wants to mobilize a form, for example. These are non-code, low-code solutions with backend connectivity," he said.

Gold chimed in. "What is going to change over the next year or two is that we will see some momentum behind technology that can take existing apps and convert them to mobile devices as opposed to having to rewrite them from scratch, which is always hard."

"There are a bunch of these types of companies that are trying to accelerate the deployment of mobile apps in enterprises by making them easier to be deployed," Gold added.

Tony Rizzo, entrepreneur in residence at Blue Hill Researc

Tony Rizzo, entrepreneur in residence at Blue Hill Research, agreed that third-party vendors will help with mobile app development. "There are a lot of tools to make it relatively easy to do, so that developers don't have to learn anything they don't already know and understand," he said.

"It is more of a case of making sure enterprises understand that mobility is a long-term strategy and not a short-term fix. It is not really a question of lack of developers. The developers will be there to deliver the goods," Rizzo said.

2016 and beyond

Jackson said companies that have made the investment in mobility tools are way ahead in terms of the number and nature of the apps they are creating. 

"If you have committed to buying and using mobility tools, you are going to be ahead of the curve," Jackson said.

Companies that have not invested are going to fall further behind. "That's a big problem in terms of productivity and competitiveness," he added.

"You have to be mobile in order not to be perceived as a technology laggard. So companies are looking to mobilize their workforces because the younger workers that are coming in are going to be harder to retain" without a mobile environment, Rizzo observed.

"Everybody knows that if you are able to operate through mobile devices your productivity increases markedly….Because of BYOD, it is incumbent upon enterprises to really take advantage of the fact that those devices exist and can now be used to deliver on enterprise workforce applications," he said.

Klein predicted that next year there will be more large enterprise mobile app deployments that will "signify the value of mobility in the enterprise."

In the area of rugged devices, Klein estimated that there are 15 million to 20 million rugged devices in enterprises, many of which are running on legacy Windows operating systems that are scheduled to be sunsetted.

"There is going to be an OS transition in that space, and the apps that go with them…That is why you will see companies that have very large deployments [of rugged devices] start experimenting with additional applications beyond the core foundational apps," Klein said. Companies that make rugged devices are moving to touch screens and the Android operating system, he added.

VDC Research is predicting year-over-year growth in the enterprise mobile app market of 16 percent to 17 percent next year.

Gold predicted that there is going to be shift from the "traditional model of building client server based apps coding everything from scratch…into one where there are enough 'good enough' automated tools…to build mobile apps for workers." He added that major mobile platform vendors will add these tools to their offerings.

"The notion that you don't develop mobile apps because it is too expensive is the wrong way to look at things. Not developing a mobile app is what is expensive…If you are an employee making $120K a year and you delay an app for a month and don't increase his productivity by 10 percent, that opportunity cost to your company is $1,000….Imagine if it is six months and a thousand employees. So by not deploying the mobile apps that could increase productivity, you lose a lot of money," Gold stressed.

In 2016, Rizzo predicted that enterprises "will begin to make the leap to trying to be more mobile encompassing with their legacy and internal systems so that enterprises are going to see the need to extend those applications out to their mobile workforce. Looking to the workforce to utilize their mobile devices much more and traditional desktops and traditional laptops much less."

Will 2016 finally be "the year of the mobile app" in enterprise? It's possible there won't ever be one particular year with extraordinary progress, just continued moderate growth. But check back a year from now and we'll be able to judge whether 2016 was a continuation of the same – a disappointment or a major turning point.

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