Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Era of Mobile Applications

The idea of mobile applications is not new. Back in 2000, when paging and AvantGo were the rage, I was in charge of an enterprise mobile solution based on standards such as WAP, C-HTML and XHTML. It was a flop. The problem back then was that the PDAs were not connected, while the mobile phones had too small of a screen to be of any use. That has since changed and the current smartphones are perfect candidates for mobile business applications.

The applications themselves are changing too. For many years, the killer app for enterprise mobility was e-mail. This is what propelled RIM to their present stronghold on the enterprise smartphone market. And so many mobile applications were based on using e-mail messages for workflow approvals. But these were not really mobile applications but rather mobile extensions of enterprise applications.
The other group of apps was used to provide mobile access to content, usually content originally created for the non-mobile experience. This approach was and still is painfully slow, it consumed a ton of bandwidth which causes outrageous charges for data roaming and it faced challenges related to format incompatibilities such as the current raging battle over Flash support between Apple and Adobe. Again, these were not mobile applications but rather remote access to enterprise applications.

The new era of mobile apps is different. Cryptic e-mail messages with no context and browser based access to enterprise applications does not cut it. Never did. The new mobile applications are focused on productivity which means that they are bandwidth optimized, they are purpose-designed for the mobile OS rather than browser based, and they leverage the ample on-board memory to add the context required to be productive. Finally, they are not just a microscopic version of an application designed for the desktop but rather provide a compelling and practical user experience by redefining the task at hand into discrete steps that can be easily completed on a mobile screen.

Take a mobile invoice processing application as an example. The old way to do this was to receive an email request for approval with some basic information formatted for the big screen and thus unusable. It was easier and faster to wait and complete this action back at the office from your desktop. The new kind of application resides on the mobile device; it can download all relevant documents to the device’s memory to provide the full context to ensure that due diligence is possible when processing a required action; and it has a user interface that has been designed for this particular business process. Now that’s what I call mobile productivity!


  1. Lubor - excellent post - thank you for taking the time to write :-)

    ...I just discussed a mobile front-end application to a reference database. Same exact productivity, and in this case knowledge example as yours.

    Agree - it is a new time for mobile applications.

  2. My Son got an iPhone as Christmas gift and I fully agree that these new mobile gadgets are very impressing almost erasing the border between a PC and a phone (as well as day and night since it’s seems that you never take your eyes from these kind of machines). However is this right path to walk?

    James J Finnegan wrote in his book (ECM – Enterprise Compliance Management) about the role of Message. In one of the three categories of messages, the action messages he writes something like; action messages require the execution of a task however these messages tend to be the compensating factor for the lack of translation between the business influences. There messages are clearly symptoms of the opportunities for process optimization and probable automation.

    So, all these messages you have to handle through the Mobile Telephone are they not just symptoms of lack in integration between systems. With more mature BPM-systems, more developed standards integrating systems with each other messages are not needed any more.

    It’s like when you are flying. If I book a travel from point A to B a certain time sitting near the window why should I then later get a message if I would like to check in, and then later also confirmation of my check in. Or when you delete something in a IT-system and you get the question if your are sure and even worse a second question about if you are really sure?

    As Mr Finnegan puts it; “Action Messages and very often consume a considerable amount of time and effort to process”. So why not try to concentrate on how we could use Technology to reduce time and effort?

  3. The biggest problem with applications that are not written for mobiles, is the amount of bandwidth they consume on a GPRS/EDGE network, if you are not on 3G. And also, the cost of the bandwidth! I wish all the sites could magically transform themselves into xml compliant ones.... Or do we need web3.0?? :)