Enterprise Mobile Apps

Posted on 10/3/2012 @ 3:41 PM in #Non Techie by | Feedback | 1480 views

This is one of those rare occasions when I get to write about what I’m working on in my consulting life. I’m a very lucky guy, I get to work on some very tough and challenging solutions for clients around the world. In working on such problems, I face the best challenges which help me be a better consultant. A better consultant is a better trainer. There is no substitute for real world experience.

As an example, Winsmarts started working on a product with Din ERP that would bring ERP functionality into SharePoint. Not influenced by marketecture, and the only driver being success at customer, as an architect for this endeavor, I experimented with and decided against technologies such as Silverlight. We subsequently invested heavily in JavaScript when the prevalent browser was still IE6. It wasn’t easy to create an amazing amount of functionality in JavaScript, but over time we enriched the product and today we have a very compelling solution in production at numerous clients.

We did this back in 2009. It is reassuring to see Microsoft make similar investments in SharePoint 2013 today. I can confidently say, not only are we quite ready for a SharePoint 2013 app-based world, we are probably a few years ahead in experience terms on such applications.

Anyway, that is not what this article is about. We have been building a product that will allow us to create mobile applications targeting iOS and Android. The debacle(1, 2, 3,4, 5)   that the release of Windows Phone 8 SDK has been, has delayed our plans in adopting Windows Phone 8, but we will make sure we will support that as well if customer needs arise, Win7x is currently supported. The product is written with the following in mind,

Good user experience and seamless user authentication

Our product is not targeted towards non-serious apps. We deliver compelling business functionality. Think filling a travel expense that OCRs your receipts and matches them up with your credit card, and files your expense report into an ERP workflow. The problem is, these business systems are behind firewalls protected by many layers of authentication. These business systems are also generally a mish-mash of diverse technologies such as Oracle, Java, SharePoint, Windows, and more. And these systems need to be secure. All this for a very good reason since billions of dollars depend on the security of such systems. The problem they cause of course are serious user interface issues when authenticating to such systems. VPN is not the answer, conventional approaches used on the desktop are no answer either – the user experience is too poor. Our product allows a simple sign in to backend systems with very minimal changes to your firewalls, and our product uses approaches acceptable to backend systems vendors and probably your IT department too.

Secure

While user authentication is more challenging on a mobile device, the need for security is even more paramount. Our product uses a combination of OAUTH, and claims based authentication that is able to work over the internet. It is not tied to changing IP addresses, or traffic routing mechanisms – it will therefore work with your existing investments.

Availability and offline experience

Mobile applications should be designed to operate in off and on network scenarios. In doing so, they must offer good user experience and a judicious combination of offline storage and background synchronization. This is another key scenario that our product has solved. We have leveraged technologies such as offline storage, both HTML5 and native app capabilities, along with facilities such as queues and topics in Azure Service Bus to provide a rich offline experience to functionality such as SharePoint and IFS on your mobile devices.

Enterprise Manageability

Writing apps for the enterprise is a whole another ballgame than writing it for the open app store. The open app store app feature set is something you control – you decide what is good for the market. Enterprise apps are dictated by a much smaller set of individuals. A smaller set of individuals that are perhaps much more important. This means they are picky about what they want, and every customer has different needs. Different needs concerning,

  • UI
  • Workflow
  • Security Model
  • Distribution and Deployment Model
  • etc

Also, time to implement a change request is important. The fact that Apple rejected your app has real contractual implications translating to real money. Some scenarios are out of our control, but this is another key scenario that our product has solved and can provide excellent guidance on.

Consistent user experience

In companies, you just don’t roll out an app. You have to back it up with a good helpdesk, guidance, and user manuals. User manuals? Ugh! Whoever reads those! In this world of BYOD (bring your own device), consultants and even employees are picky about the device they want. Some like iPhones, some swear by Android devices. A few also want to try Windows Phones. More so, this landscape is changing frequently. But one thing that is not changing is that we live in a multi device mobile world. By multi device, I also mean tablets. As you add the number of devices, you literally have to multiply the dollars you will spend in supporting those diverse devices. Well, in our product, you get a consistent user interface across devices. Sure you can use device specific features, such as notification bubbles in iOS, or live tiles in windows phone. But the overall app experience is consistent, down to the last pixel and the last color. This is an important consideration in reducing the support cost of your apps.

Sounds Exciting, how can I play with this?

We are thrilled to show (off) the fruits of our hard work. There are numerous key business scenarios that we already solve. Some of them are as below,

  • All kinds of approvals/confirmations. (Travels, purchase orders, time sheets, invoices and so on)
  • Register new travel
  • Time registration
  • Work order reporting
  • KPI presentations with micro trends
  • Case Management
  • Ordering reports
  • Document management
  • - and more…

We will be present at the IFS world conference in Gothenburg, Sweden on October 15nth and 16nth. You are welcome to stop and chat about both our mobile offerings and SharePoint offerings. We promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

If in case you miss us at the IFS world conference, you can always reach out to us at info@dinerp.no or contact@winsmarts.com.

Regards,

Sahil Malik

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