Guest Post: Thinking Inside the App: Five Tips to Successful Mobile Application Management

On September 14, 2011

Mobile tech in an enterprise used to be relatively simple.  Companies relying on a mobile workforce would typically outfit their employees with company-provided cell phones, PDA’s, etc.  They were sturdy, secure, easily controlled and managed by the corporation, and – when bought in bulk – cost-effective.

Then Steve Jobs had to go and introduce the iPhone! The iPhone ingrained itself with consumers.  Soon, Android exploded on the scene. Consumers bought into those two operating systems – heavily – and began purchasing these mini computers in droves.  They took them to work.  Soon, what once was an enterprise environment dominated by BlackBerrys, became populated by iPhones, Droids, and others.

The commoditization of the smartphone and tablet markets has negated the need for businesses to deploy their own devices within an organization.  While that’s great, it’s also made it a bit more challenging to manage Apps across different platforms.  Until recently, companies and App developers approached this problem by managing individual devices, which often necessitated hands-on App installation and customization for different platforms.

A better way is to manage the App itself.  This process – mobile application management (MAM) – allows developers and IT managers to create Apps that address a core need of the organization that can easily be deployed, updated and analyzed.  Developers can control every aspect of the App itself without ever putting their hands on an employees’ device.

Some of you may already be doing this.  For those that need a primer, we have a few tips – not necessarily in how to begin introducing MAM into your development process, but more about the thought process that must be undertaken to make it a success.  Because when it comes to MAM vs. mobile device management (MDM), it really begins with adjusting your perception of effective management of mobile enterprise Apps.

First, let’s further define the differences between MAM and MDM, because they’re different, yet equally important.  MAM provides developers with the ability to control every aspect of the App itself, from creation to deployment to security and more.  MDM is purely device-driven:  analyzing each end-user device to see how it’s configured, for example, or managing mobile plan usage for each member of the employee base.  MDM is focused on how the device is configured and managed, but not the Apps, and data within the Apps.

Now that we’ve defined the differences, let’s look at thought processes that can help developers approach MAM in a rational way.

  1. Define how the App will meet business goals. No one develops an enterprise App just for the sake of doing so.  They’re trying to solve a problem, which may range from helping a sales force keep track of customer engagements to allowing construction managers to manage and log changes while standing at the construction site.  Solving this domain problem does not involve devices at all; the necessary focus falls to the usability, functionality, deployment and more.  All of these concerns lie directly within the App itself.  None of it is dependent upon a particular device.  Remember that this is the basic foundation for why you are developing the application; focus on building the App and try not to worry too much about the devices it will run on.
  1. Think inside the App.  The most important thing when considering MAM is to get away from traditional thinking when it comes to application deployment.  Many developers tend to dwell on how to create an App so it works on multiple devices and operating systems, when what they really should be considering is all of the things they can do within the App itself to make sure it solves the aforementioned domain problem.  This not only involves making sure the App is functional, but ensuring it offers a painless, pleasant user experience as well.  And this begins with the data and infrastructure behind the App.
  1. Focus on the App lifecycle. Think about deployment, security, updates and analysis because this is where MAM truly shines.  Employing MAM gives the developer complete control over every aspect of the App, including authorization, security, monitoring and – yes – even deployment.

MAM helps managers easily control Apps with the push of a few keystrokes.  For example, if an employee leaves the company, the organization’s App and the data associated with it can be wiped from their device remotely without them having to turn in their phone or tablet.  And Apps can be managed without any workflow interruptions or need for IT managers to gain access to users’ devices.

  1. Plan for adjustments – before something goes wrong.  Being able to predict IT-related issues before they happen is now commonplace; why should it be any different for your enterprise Apps?  Focusing on the device exclusively does not allow for this, but through MAM you can analyze App performance and make predictions as to how an application might operate, even across different OS’s.  For example, issues with latency on Android devices may not be showing up on iOS.  MAM will allow you to gain insight as to why, and provide you with the opportunity to proactively develop a fix and issue an update.  This is not a device problem, but an issue with how the App is interacting with a particular OS.
  1. Leverage analytics and measure ROI.  Realistically you either can’t or probably wouldn’t want to follow-up with everyone in an organization about how they’re using an App, whether or not they think it’s helpful, and what their overall experience is.  But through the MAM process you can analyze usage patterns and statistics across the organization to find out how often employees are using the App, when they are using the App, and what features are gaining the most traction.  This data will help provide you with a better idea of the ROI you’re receiving…which will, in turn, help you make necessary adjustments (UI, architecture, etc.) that can automatically be pushed out as updates, and the cycle begins again.

Although MDM is still very important, it’s becoming increasingly more effective to approach deployment of enterprise mobile Apps from the very start of the development process.  Effectively doing so will make the App roll-out process more streamlined, provide valuable insight into the efficacy of the App, give you more control over security and other key factors, and offer a viewpoint into how to improve the mobile user experience

About the Author

Chris Schroeder, co-founder and CEO of App47, is a seasoned entrepreneur who has worked at UUNet providing the management systems for the World Wide Network Operations Center.  After leaving UUNet, he successfully built and ran several startups with the most recent, RealOps, being sold to BMC Software in 2007 at 20x revenue. RealOps was a Run Book Automation product in Enterprise Management space. Chris was directly responsible for all Engineering, Q&A and customer support.  With App47, he is applying over 25 years of product development experience in Enterprise Management to the fast moving domain of Enterprise Mobile App Management.