Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
6/11/2014
09:06 AM
Andi Mann
Andi Mann
Commentary
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'Mobile App Sprawl' Is Here. Is 'App Stall' Next?

We've seen cloud and virtual machine "sprawl" and "stall," and now history is repeating itself with mobile apps. Here's how to take control of "app sprawl."

I was interested to see McKinsey refer to the phenomenon of "cloud stall" in its new report, "The enterprise IT infrastructure agenda for 2014." At CA Technologies, we've been helping customers to address "cloud stall" since early 2011, so I will not debate McKinsey's 2014 predictions per se. Rather, I'm interested in applying the stall concept to another vital area of enterprise IT: mobile apps.

For those who came in late, the first iteration of this concept was "VM sprawl" -- the unmanaged proliferation of virtual machines for every new use case. In 2010, I discussed the concept of "VM stall" in an article on CIO.com, defining it as: "The tendency for virtualization deployments to stall once the 'low-hanging fruit' has been converted (typically around 20-30 percent of servers)."

Cloud sprawl and stall are each based on a similar premise -- first came the proliferation of cloud services adopted by business units; then adoption slowed as IT and business units dealt with new issues caused by the initial sprawl and tried to figure out the harder cloud use cases (e.g., hybrid, legacy modernization).

[DevOps is a horrible term but a necessary IT culture change. Read DevOps: A Culture Shift, Not A Technology.]

History is repeating itself with mobile apps. If we're starting to see "app sprawl," will "app stall" follow, as it did with virtualization and the cloud?

Mobile app development is indeed hot. While data shows 62% of organizations do not have a company-wide mobility strategy, apps are still in demand in the enterprise:

  • Marketing wants an app for content marketing to connect with customers and drive leads
  • Sales wants an app with digital brochures, sales materials, contracts, and CRM integration
  • Operations wants an app for customer self-service for purchases and after-sales support
  • Regional departments want an app to show off local flair and connect with local customers
  • Branch offices want an app that will interface with head office systems on new devices
  • Manufacturing wants an app to manage inventory and production from the factory floor
  • The C-suite wants an app for C-level reporting on business performance

A quick review of the various app stores shows how widespread this phenomenon really is. My very first search on the iTunes App Store showed app proliferation for JP Morgan Chase:

Similarly, my search on the Google Play Store for Sears shows it also has a proliferation of official apps:

This is not even considering apps developed independently by third parties. A quick search in the Google Play Store for Bank of America, for example, turns up more than 70 different apps, most not developed by BofA:

There are also different apps for different operating systems and device types, plus all the off-the-shelf consumer and enterprise applications adopted directly by BYOD users.

These apps may be both necessary and good. Even rogue tech adoption is not always a bad thing. However, like virtualization and cloud proliferation before it, app sprawl creates new problems. With apps multiplying uncontrollably, you risk damage to your brand as different apps present too many unauthorized or "rogue" experiences to your customers.

You also risk: inconsistent customer interactions as applications have overlapping functionality; intellectual property dilution as your brands and other IP are essentially hijacked; service desk overload caused by too many apps and not enough support staff; staff dissatisfaction when supposedly "corporate" apps are focused only on a small part of the business; and higher costs to develop, manage, and secure parallel mobile app efforts.

Unfettered access to external apps brings more management demand, security gaps, malware penetration, and confidential data leakage. Third-party app development that goes unchecked could also

Andi Mann is VP of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies. He has more than 20 years of global experience within IT departments, with software vendors, and as an industry analyst. Mann has presented worldwide on virtualization, cloud, automation, and IT management. He is ... View Full Bio
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FastGeert
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FastGeert,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2014 | 3:30:17 PM
One app strategy -- Rogerthat OneApp
Hi Andy,

Thank you very much for your blogpost. We have forseen what you write already three years ago. When we came out with our first product (Rogerthat, a generic customer service app in which businesses can add their own customer service application), nobody believed what we were arguying. Moreover they were only interested to have their name and logo in the AppStore, functionality was not that important. They just wanted to announce they had an app, as if that is important.

Currently we are doing inbound sales, just because people understand that the current app model DOES NOT WORK.

More info on what we do: http://www.rogerthat.net

You'll see that we do exactly what you say :)

Kind regards,

Geert
andimann
IW Pick
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andimann,
User Rank: Moderator
6/12/2014 | 12:57:06 PM
Re: Span of control
Shane, thanks for the post. That is a great example, there was a lot of opportunity in the Netflix API. That is a great use case. Perfect chance to engage crowdsourcing for development in a popular service. Pity that they stopped allowing new developers access to their API (see http://developer.netflix.com/blog/read/Changes_to_the_Public_API_Program). I am not sure if they ever really explained it past the PR doblespeak on their blog, but my best guess is that proliferation was creating a problem for them, and diluting the experience for their customers.

So even this great example of how an open API can drive great customer engagement, is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of app sprawl.
ThomasD243
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ThomasD243,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2014 | 1:14:08 AM
Without app, Business?
   what is the rubhish thought, that mobile app marketing business without apps, for the information, there is not any way to establish a good business without app, and really, and sure that this is age of technology and every one has been using mini devices and mobile for growing their business using apps. Apps p;rovide us a single touch information but latest information, udated info about the besiness. 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ethernetpedia/id875589096?mt=8

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.skylite.ethernetpedia
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 7:22:09 PM
Re: Fewer apps, each with more functions?
I like your answer - rarely is there one answer that fits all situations. What matters is often not the choice you make but understanding why you're making it and then following through on your strategy, making it work for you.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 5:37:24 PM
Needed: a new guard at the gates
I wouldn't be surprised if someday mobile app scanners sit alongside firewalls at the perimeter -- at the API entrance gate -- and check for disreputable, suspicious, malicious or merely socailly unacceptable mobile applications that are trying to crash the party inside.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 4:55:58 PM
Re: Span of control
A good example of a useful external app is "My Netflix Q." Because I don't do Netflix streaming I can't access my DVD queue using the official Netflix app. So I use My Netflix Q. It's a mediocre app but it makes good use of Netflix APIs and gets the job done. But as Andi mentions rogue apps much worse than My Netflix Q could spiral out of control and hurt the Netflix brand if Netflix doesn't keep an eye on app sprawl.
andimann
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andimann,
User Rank: Moderator
6/11/2014 | 3:16:31 PM
Re: Fewer apps, each with more functions?
David, thanks for the comment. I have been thinking about this, and I am not yet convinced either way.

Like you say, a big monolithic app can bring with it the worst of the clunky old desktop paradigm - slow to update, more complex, heavy on resources, etc. But with Mobile DevOps techniques for application delivery, and attention to the important aspects of user experience, there are certainly ways to deliver it with a more agile approach.

On the other hand, lightweight and purpose-specific apps do risk all the problems with proliferation.

What to do? I think both ar actually viable approaches - the key is to make these choices intentionally, understanding the tradeoffs. I do think multiple lightweight apps can work, but it must be part of a bigger strategic approach to avoid many (if not all) of the risks of proliferation.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 3:03:45 PM
Fewer apps, each with more functions?
So is the answer to have fewer apps with more functions per app - or even one app that represents all the ways a consumer can interact with your company? The trick there is it stops looking like an app and starts looking like a bad old PC-style application or a bloated web portal. Isn't app proliferation a natural consequence of the app style of development, prizing simple, focused, often single-function mobile software? The desire to fulfill that consumer preference runs headlong into our corporate drive to interact in many different ways.
andimann
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andimann,
User Rank: Moderator
6/11/2014 | 2:44:38 PM
Re: Mobile app strategy
Thanks for the comment Laurianne, I think you are right.

A CDO is not neccesary to manage this issue, However, just by having a CDO shows that an organization has already been thinking about this, and has someone whose job it is to address it.

That does not mean other orgs are not thinking about it though. I also know many businesses with a 'digital-forward' CIO like Karaboutis who works well with a similarly digital-forward CMO and other Executive Leaders. This is, in my opinion, an ideal structure.

But it is going to vary by organization, and by the individuals in leadership roles. Some have different focus and expertise, and will not be able to get to this strategic approach without a CDO; but many will have CIOs, CMOs, and other ELT members who can take this on without adding another silo.
andimann
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andimann,
User Rank: Moderator
6/11/2014 | 2:36:44 PM
Re: Span of control
@Lorna, thanks for the comment.

Yes, the point is not always to shut down rogue apps. External developers can defintiely add value to your business, especially if they are 'fan' apps or provided added functionality.

Many businesses are starting to publish their own APIs, for exactly this purpose. For example, the multiple (better) API-connected client apps were a big part of Twitter's initial success (it even ended up buying one of them, Tweetdeck). New York City enabled a hackathon using published APIs that ended with multiple new apps that provided new information sources to assist users of the NYC mass transit.

But it is important to make sure these apps are a positive user experience, non-malicious, brand-compliant, etc. Businesses may even reach out to the creators to help them achieve this (e.g. with source files, API documentation, corporate imagery, UI guidelines).

Is it better to have good apps in the fold as part of a broader strategy than try to shut them down? On a case-by-case basis, as you say, I think so.
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