Mobilize applications using a mobility platform

In our consulting business, we are often faced with the same questions: how can mobile applications be integrated and managed in an existing application landscape? How do we achieve maximum reuse of existing application logic using homogeneous architecture? The answer to these questions is often: with a mobility platform.

Problems many customers face

Most companies now understand that enterprise mobility will be one of the major drivers of innovation in the next years. After some initial and often hesitant experiments bringing selected business applications to smartphones and tablets, companies now see the opportunities in making core processes and applications available on mobile devices. This mobilization results in greater flexibility and efficiency in the implementation of the companies business processes.

At the same time companies face the problem of integrating mobile application into their existing application landscape. Over the years, systems and applications were developed creating a large application landscape, representing a significant investment. This previous development did not consider offering service interfaces for mobile applications, at best it was designed as a service oriented architecture. But for the usage with mobile applications, these interfaces will not work out well. Consider just one example of a CRM app for tablets: a company wants to provide their field staff with the latest customer data from their CRM system, push the resulting contracts to a custom mainframe application and create appointments in Exchange server, all from a single tablet application.

If you were to build this scenario  in a mobile app, this app would need access to all three systems. These systems should offer a public interface and the app needs to take care of all the issues such as authentication, transactions,  security, etc. After creating several apps, you will have various interfaces to your core systems combined with an unknown number of users and not to forget a risk of security breaches at all levels on the long-term.

Mobile scenario without mobility platform

Mobility Platform

One possible solution for this scenario is the introduction of a central mobility platform. It works as a middleware between the mobile devices, their applications and the back-end enterprise systems. Instead of the previously numerous channels between the apps and the systems, the mobility platform bundles all connectivity between the clients and the backends into a dedicated channel.  Our previous example will look something like this:

Mobile scenario using a mobility platform

The advantages of this solution are clear:

  • The mobility platform offers a uniform and mobile-optimized interface to the mobile devices and applications. Mobile-optimized means that the connection does not rely on heavy-weight formats such as SOAP, but can use lightweight formats like Json. This is particularly important when facing bad mobile network connections thus improving the overall performance of the mobile application.
  • As the mobility platform is located within the corporate network, it can communicate via a secured and trusted interface with the back-end systems. Thus, the existing back-end systems only need to be extended to a minimum to implement the exposed interfaces in a chosen format (e.g. SOAP, RFC).

In addition to the integration aspect, a modern mobility platform also supports the development of mobile applications. With extensive development environments and tools, mobile applications can be created for various operating systems and platforms and managed and deployed via an Enterprise App Store. Even the management of the private and corporate mobile devices is supported by some mobility platforms as part of their mobile device management.

Mobility platform overviewGet started

Due to the complexity and the required effort to introduce a mobility platform, a rough minimum of three mobile apps or three connected back-end systems should be in the scope of your enterprise mobility strategy. Even choosing the right mobility platform out the dozens of available suppliers is a tough task and will take time and ressources. Then, however, the mobility platform offers significant value and should be an integral part of the mobility strategy of any company.

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  1. Steven Wexelstein

    A good article and I both agree and like the approach. Having a proxy API in the middle will allow the organisation to control the data coming in and going out to the devices while shielding the mobile guys from the intricacies of specific system integration details.

    There are already a few companies in this area, such as with a generic solution but I’m not convinced these will work long term. Every customer is different and they always have slightly different requirements, different software, different versions of existing systems, different training requirements etc. I do believe there is now a need for good system integrators who not only have good knowledge of legacy systems but also have an understanding of what is now available and achievable with new services. With new API’s popping up all the time this is a big area. Many companies who offer these services exist in the ‚old way‘ of thinking and can restrict the potential of any project.

    There are other issues regarding the way the projects are managed. We’ve just completed an IFS system integration where we used an API in a similar architecture that you have documented. This worked well in insulating the device developers from the IFS system however we ran into problems because it was being managed from a ’system‘ point of view and not from the perspective of the user. The requirements seem to be dictated around what data was available and not what the users were actually trying to achieve. User centred design approaches are difficult for traditional businesses but thats a different blog post altogether.

    Have a read of this too

    Great Article.

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