Essential Guide

A CIO's essential guide to mobile business strategy

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Cloud mobile back-end benefits for businesses

Adopting mobile cloud architecture is imperative for CIOs, in order to give their businesses a competitive advantage. The sheer quantity of mobile devices being used on a daily basis warrants major investments in mobile and cloud technologies. By harnessing these technologies, CIOs can help create new streams of revenue for their businesses.

In this webcast, Kurt Marko, analyst at MarkoInsights, outlines the many benefits of cloud mobile back-end services, including security, data storage and replication of information. Read on for Marko's recommendations to CIOs about implementing mobile cloud architecture in their businesses, including having architects and application designers investigate cloud and mobile-native design patterns, verifying the staff's level of mobile skills and intelligence, and investigating the mobile capabilities of potential cloud service providers.

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the last of four excerpts of Marko's webcast presentation on the advantages of mobile cloud. It has been edited for clarity and length. Part 1 looks at the competitive advantages of mobility. Part 2 examines mobile cloud app development challenges and how the cloud helps. And part 3 discusses MBaaS features and vendors.

Kurt Marko: Mobile and the cloud really are better together. They're a synergistic combination, where the cloud can exploit the benefits of the mobile device's portability and engagement and yet provide that robust, always-on infrastructure for the application back end. The cloud provides a very good portal to external services, whether on that provider's cloud or with third parties.

Mobile cloud back ends offload the compute and storage from underpowered mobile devices. It may seem odd to even say that term underpowered mobile when your handheld smartphone is roughly the equivalent computational power of your PC of maybe a decade ago, but relatively speaking they are limited in functionality. And more importantly, the storage is limited, people want to have their music library there, but they don't necessarily want to have gigabytes of corporate data or your applications data on their phone. And also people expect instantaneous response and very fluid user interfaces on their mobile devices, and they don't want to be waiting for complex calculations to take place on the device itself.

A top priority for any IT executive is to develop a mobile business strategy.

Cloud provides better data security. The cloud allows you to keep sensitive data off of the device. Indeed, depending on how you architect your application, you can limit the amount of cached data that is even there or what is done with that cached data when the device is locked. Cloud is much easier to back up and replicate the data than on a mobile device. So overall, it just provides better data and security and control. And it's much more reliable than a mobile device. If you have the data on a mobile device that's unique to that device and your CEO happens to leave it in their Uber ride, well they may be lost. But if you're using a cloud back end, the data is already replicated. The executive can pick up a new device, load the app and pick up right where they left off.

And obviously the cloud infrastructure itself is highly reliable, scalable and globally distributed so that if you have customers or employees worldwide, you can provide them a very responsive experience because of the local presence of cloud data centers in all regions.

So, we'll wrap up here with some recommendations and action items: A top priority for any IT executive is to develop a mobile business strategy. None of this makes any sense if you haven't figured out what you want to do with mobile. Consider how mobile fits into existing business processes, jobs, tasks and your various sales and support channels. Brainstorm how you might exploit mobile to either improve those processes or enhance those sales and support experiences. Consider ways that you could enable new products and services or completely new sales and support models.

Mobile devices with chat functionality are a potentially powerful tool for customer support. And mobile devices provide much more efficient processes, particularly for mobile workers and day extenders. If you have field service technicians, if they don't have a mobile device now, they are really at a disadvantage to their competitors that do, because it alleviates trips to the office, trips back to the vehicle to consult a PC or a manual. There are many, many ways that mobile can make jobs much more efficient.

Some to-dos for enterprise architects and developers: IT execs should task their architects and application designers with investigating cloud and mobile-native design patterns. Have your people understand this bifurcated functionality that I described earlier and how the cloud itself mandates a new approach designing applications. I've recently written a couple of articles for TechTarget on architecting for the cloud, but the use of cloud services really can ... force designers to rethink how modular they make their applications. So get those people to kind of educate themselves and understand how the use of on-demand cloud services can change the way they're designing products. Once they internalize those things, next it's important to focus on the specific back-end mobile services and how they enable these design patterns: lean, efficient and engaging apps.

If your organization already has some cloud-native development projects for perhaps another usage, tap any expertise in those groups, for design knowledge about mobile. Obviously, those people are focusing on other areas, but there may already be some cloud-savvy developers and architects in your organization. Find them and have them look at mobile back ends.

Along with that last point, assess the expertise in your organization. Canvas your staff to ascertain the level of mobile skills and knowledge. Identify any deficiencies, whether it's in mobile design, mobile languages, the continuous delivery in Agile development processes that I mentioned earlier, and knowledge of mobile app instrumentation and analytics, or just in general application analytics. Building data capture into apps to understand how they're being used and then analyzing that data is a very key advantage, particularly for mobile apps.

Have your staff investigate various mobile app dev tools, the various native development environments, languages and the training options available for those. And if it appears that there is a fairly sizable skills gap that will take a while to close, and you want to get started on some projects relatively soon, augment the staff with a mobile design and development boutique or consultant for specific projects.

It's probably not a viable long-term solution due to the expense, but it is a good way to bootstrap a project, and it's also a way to kind of inject outside knowledge into your organization by making sure you have people on those teams working with those outside developers.

When it comes to platform selection, the decision is a little nuanced, but we can make some general points. If you're already using one of the major cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, start there. Thoroughly investigate its mobile capabilities. Don't just investigate; literally start there. Plan a small test project, preferably one that may involve use of enterprise apps that are already running on that cloud, and get your hands dirty ... with [that provider's] mobile services and the integration of those with the other parts of that cloud. And if it works, there's really no need to go any further. Why bother with the alternatives if it's doing what you need [it] to do for now? That really only changes unless and until you need features that that platform doesn't provide.

If you're fairly mature in your mobile strategy, and you've got a big portfolio of apps on the runway, it pays to investigate one of those end-to-end mobile development products. They will provide a consistent platform for the entire app life cycle that also includes the cloud back-end runtime. So investigate those. The probable downside is the upfront cost, and the licensing model (the more you have, the more you're going to pay; the more developers and more apps you have, the more you will pay).

But there are some upsides, including [that] they may have the ability to much more easily share code and design templates across projects. That means your second, third and fourth project will go faster than your first one. And they often offer some specialized features: As I mentioned, those industry vertical modules or some features for security and regulatory compliance that are targeted to whether it's European privacy regulations or HIPAA compliance. There may be things in their platform that are particularly relevant to your case that provide a real advantage over a more generic mobile back end.

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Essential Guide

A CIO's essential guide to mobile business strategy

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