Do You Need Mobile Middleware?

Major software vendors seem to think you do -- and they might be right. Just don't expect mature platforms.
Sounds good, huh? Well, don't get too carried away. These are early days, and mobile platform vendors still have a lot of ground to cover. Here's a selection of bumps in the road you may encounter on this journey.

You may already own "regular" middleware:
 And that middleware may want to perform those nine services listed above because it's supposed to be good at most of them. The problem here is that most incumbent middleware and enterprise portal platforms are not yet very mobile-aware. So they frequently lack services around things like adaptive experiences and notifications. Some major infrastructure vendors like IBM and Oracle are working to align around single platforms for managing across delivery channels, but progress remains slow.

Incomplete services:
 Of the nine services listed above, no single vendor offers more than six or seven, and perhaps more importantly, most vendors specialize in only a couple areas. Which brings us to...

Weak integration frameworks:
 If you're looking for advanced integration frameworks and pre-packaged connectors, for the most part you'll come away underwhelmed. Many mobile platform solutions are still just beginning to address integration requirements.

High costs:
 Remember, vendors are excited about the revenue streams here. In most cases, you pay according to traffic or transaction volumes. Maybe hosting in a vendor's cloud is cheaper than serving or brokering your mobile experiences on-premise. But maybe not.

Stack lock-in:
 Binding your middleware layer to a specific application development framework should give every enterprise architect pause. Correction: should give any IT leader pause.

Poor reporting:
 Nearly all vendors with middleware services can log application activity. But when it comes to actual reporting on metrics, the spectrum runs from non-existent to achingly bad.

Young vendors with new services:
 As you would with any jumped-up cloud software vendor, you want to investigate how well an enterprise mobile platform provider knows how to operate a 24/7 service, as opposed to just delivering software updates. This includes big-name vendors, who typically came to market by acquiring an ankle-biting competitor.

I could go on (and on, and on) adding to this list, but by now you get the idea. Forewarned is forearmed.

How to Evaluate Mobile Platforms

OK, so you'd like to standardize an enterprise-wide mobile platform. Great, now how do you decide which one?

I firmly believe that you select the right platform or platforms the same way you would choose other important enterprise applications: through rigorous testing of different alternatives by a widely representative set of stakeholders, against a solid set of realistic use cases.

Note however, that most vendors excel at very specific use-cases, so you'll want to think carefully about your business priorities. In Real Story Group's vendor evaluations, we contrast how different platforms "fit" against seven common scenarios such as "Offline Apps" and "Mobile Websites" -- some more B2E-oriented, others more B2C-oriented. Alas, you'll find that vendors tend to focus on B2E use cases or B2C needs, but not both. So in the end, you may need two platforms.

Enterprise mobile platform technology is clearly evolving quickly. But if mobility has become a critical part of your digital workplace or digital marketing strategies going forward, you'll want to investigate these solutions more closely.

Just make sure you don't let your mobile appdev horse tie you to a middleware cart that won't work for you.