Practical Analysis: Smartphones -- Passion To Profit And Productivity

Mobile apps are hard to support, they're a new development discipline, and they have a squishy ROI--but they can't be ignored.
"From my cold dead hands ..." It could be a quote from the late Charlton Heston in his NRA days, or just as likely, from your CEO talking about her smartphone. These handheld devices engender a passion rarely seen among IT users. Accordingly, IT architects are thinking hard about how to get the most out of them.

For executives and field personnel alike, there's a lot to like about smartphones: They're always present, they're always on, and increasingly, they're always reliably connected. So if your organization is using smartphones only for e-mail, it's missing a huge opportunity.

Our report on application mobilization (starting Tuesday, Dec. 1., available at finds that a whopping 99% of organizations deploy e-mail to smartphones either in a widespread (85%) or limited (14%) way. Compare that with the most popular enterprise apps like CRM, at 66%, and sales-force automation, at 52%, and there's clearly some ground to cover.

Smartphone support is something of a microcosm of the challenges IT faces. Bringing sales-force and field-support applications to the smartphone is no doubt good for business, but doing it on tight budgets and staffing is a big challenge. It's a challenge not made easier by the number of platforms IT must support, or the nascent state of device and application management and security. Add in some squishy ROI calculations, and building mobile apps "right" can seem out of reach.

The results of our survey on app mobilization surprised me. Taking into account all of these challenges and the pace of operating system enhancements, I would have guessed that most organizations are building Web-based applications. But our survey reveals that applications are most commonly being developed for the native operating system, followed by Java and mobile middleware platforms. The indication here is that enterprises are viewing native mobile application development as an area of expertise worth cultivating. It's also clear that performance is a driver for native platform development.

The data tells us something else. First, mobile application development is on the minds of enterprise architects. Where normally we see about 45% of responses coming from companies with 500 or fewer employees, for this survey only 35% of responses came from those smaller companies. Second, the skew toward large companies came along with a fairly large number of respondents, and that tells us that this issue is front and center for IT architects.

See our report
(starting Tuesday, Dec. 1.)
Application Mobilization
Informationweek Analytics
And they're in luck--kind of. Perhaps it's the consumer effect, but while management and security applications aren't as strong as we'd like to see, the development environments are. Whether you're leaning toward native, Java, or middleware-driven applications, the tools to build these apps are enterprise-class.

So here's the bottom line: As squishy as the ROI might be, companies are figuring it out. And as hard as it is to support more than one platform, companies are doing it. And as much as mobile app development is a new discipline, companies are mastering it. So ...

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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