MWC 2013: Addressing the challenges of enterprise apps

Features

     In our preview to Mobile World Congress 2013, we highlighted the fact that enterprises were under-exposed to the best that mobile technology has to offer.

In particular, the emerging enterprise app space is one area that operators could look to explore further, as Ian Schenkel, CEO of enterprise app developer Eurosmartz, revealed.

“We’ll increasingly see enterprise apps take centre stage as technological innovations become increasingly commonplace workplaces globally,” he said.

In Barcelona, Mobile Europe spoke to two leading operators about the challenges of succeeding in the enterprise app space: Remy David, Head of Mobility Business Unit for Orange Business Services and AT&T’s Executive Director for Advanced Mobility Services, M Mobeen Khan.

US-based AT&T has 54,000 customers and a wide range of mobile apps for small business, large enterprises and the government.

Mobeen Khan said, first, “it takes a while for us to convince the CIO of an enterprise to work with us [and let us] be the applications and solutions provider.”

But he added: “Half the time they come back to do more. We have one CIO who has a roadmap with 18 applications they want to build with us. They started with one, but once they saw how quickly it grows, they wanted to do more.”

For AT&T, working with partners is key to their success.

“The innovations in this space really come from smaller companies. To us, a $20 million company is a ‘smaller company’. They're very successful in what they do and very good at it, but when a CIO of a Fortune 500 company is making a decision about buying from a $20 million company, they're a little nervous,” Mobeen Khan continued.

“So what we do is reduce risk for them. We'll bring that smaller company, we'll engage with our technical team to make sure that this product scales, that it's reliable and secure, before we put it on our contract. Once the customer buys, they know that it's gone through a product realisation cycle.

Orange Business Services’ David said that many enterprises “have the desire” to integrate enterprise apps as they recognise the benefits.

However, he added that deployment was a key challenge particularly in understanding which enterprise apps are right for the organisation and their needs.

“The key is to ensure that organisations access the individual needs and applications across the different units of an organisation to identify which apps should be deployed in which areas.

“We also see a challenge at a decision-making level beyond IT with regard to who is responsible for these applications - whether it is HR, business unit or at an executive level.

“Our role has evolved and now includes helping IT establish a constructive dialogue with the key individuals involved in the management of the enterprise apps ecosystem.”

 

Setting up in-house enterprise apps teams 

Both Orange Business Services and AT&T have set up their own in-house teams.

Orange Business Services' portfolio of solutions is released under a new Orange Mobile Enterprise team, while AT&T has invested heavily in growing an internal mobile-specific application development team and a business unit to sell and educate CIOs on enterprise apps.

“From a solutions point of view, first of all you need Mobile Enterprise Management, which consists of device management and anti-virus/anti-malware. You need some app management and then you need to service this to not just company-owned devices, but also BYOD devices,” said Mobeen Khan.

The operator is moving to a new single platform called Toggle that allows you to manage every mobile management need.

“Toggle does app and content management, it does device management, it checks your devices for malware, it provides point-to-point connections which are secure, so app-level connectivity security.

“And then it can work in a containerised model that's available both on company-owned devices or BYOD devices, allowing employees to view corporate documents in a secured container on their devices,” explained Mobeen Khan.

AT&T also found that their customers were not willing to deal with life-cycle management and securing the apps, so they decided to handle it all in-house.

“Many of our customers said to us, that they don't want to deal with life-cycle management, with support calls. It's not like their other IT apps, it's a mobile app. So we even take support calls for our customers. That’s the investment you need to be willing to make to be in this space.”

Orange Business Services’ David makes the distinction between horizontal and vertical apps.

In February, Orange Business Services launched a HD Video Meeting app for Android and Apple devices in 107 countries that is applicable to any enterprise.

But he added that the operator is also addressing vertical markets as well, particularly in the financial services and healthcare sectors where there are very unique needs.

A White Paper, written in association by FT-Orange with management consultants Arthur D Little, highlights some specific challenges for apps serving vertical markets.

 

The challenge of securing data

It cites the complexity of device and OS portfolios driven by BYOD, security and where data should reside as well as service management and control issues.

When it comes to security, AT&T found that integrating customers' data into the mobile app was a particular challenge.

Mobeen Khan said some customers store their data in "nice, clean APIs", which means that it's simple to build the app user interface and connect it back to the customer's API. 

But when customers store their data in an SAP or Oracle database, integration is more complex.

"You'll need to put the effort in to bring the data out. You just need to work with someone on our team who knows how to expose the SAP connectors, or sometimes the customer themselves will tell us to build the UI and they'll connect up the data, so that it remains secure."

A wider concern is that enterprise apps, whether horizontal or vertical, will put much more of a strain on operator networks when compared to consumer apps.

“We recognise that the onset of enterprise apps can create massive amounts of data for the network, however at present we have not seen any major effect as such,” said David.

“As a network provider we are continually engaged in network infrastructure planning at a holistic level and such trends are being addressed as part of a wider exercise to continually improve our network.”