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Consumer messaging apps make their mark on the enterprise

CIOs should keep an eye on the consumer messaging apps market; enterprise search brings big data to the masses; and introducing the citizen developer: The Data Mill reports.

In today's acquisition-happy economy, it's worth noting how a $19 billion purchase price stacks up against technology history. "That's more money than Google paid to acquire Motorola Mobility, and they sell handsets. That's more money than Oracle paid for Sun, and they sell computers," Larry Cannell, Gartner Inc. analyst, said at the recent Gartner Catalyst Conference.

Yet, that's the headline-grabbing deal Facebook struck with WhatsApp so it could add the mobile messaging app to its growing app arsenal. What did $19 billion buy, exactly? About 450 million active users, and many CIO head snaps, no doubt, as they came face-to-face with yet more compelling evidence of the consumerization of IT. As Facebook goes, so goes the enterprise.

Still, the rise of consumerization does not equate to the fall of IT, as Cannell pointed out during his presentation on messaging apps. Instead, "IT can play a critical role here," he said. It's time, he said, to take stock of how the momentum of the consumer messaging apps market is impacting the enterprise. Cannell provided three observations.

First, the consumer market has learned that a single app that serves multiple purposes might work great on the desktop but bomb on the mobile device. "The constraint smartphones impose on us in terms of size and personal use forces a different application model, behavior and set of assumptions," Cannell said. It's a strategy Facebook is, quite literally, buying into, as it "unbundles" features found in its desktop edition for multiple, single-purpose mobile apps like WhatsApp and Instagram.

Second, because the consumer messaging apps market is, in Cannell's words, "blowing up," it's creating what industry publications have dubbed "the messaging wars." New vendors such as Cotap, Lua, TigerText and Red e App are looking to carve out a niche, Cannell said. And social software platforms such as Salesforce Chatter and Yammer are also jumping into the fray, having included mobile messaging capability as a platform feature for about a year now. They're all competing against -- or in Microsoft's case, offering an alternative to -- the more established products such as Cisco Jabber, IBM Sametime and Microsoft Lync 2013. Cannell recommended CIOs start with what they know. "If you have a unified communications environment that works well, I'd check these first," he said.

Third, the popularity of consumer messaging apps also presents an opportunity for IT. Enterprise messaging brings with it the traditional IT quandaries: How do we ensure information is protected? Will information exchanged need to be reused? How can workflow processes be streamlined to create more productivity? Do records have to be maintained and archived or can they be discarded? (By the way, Cannell said no vendor is extensively addressing records management and, at companies where that is a top concern, CIOs will likely need a third party.) Answering questions like these will require -- at the least -- IT expertise and, in some cases, IT and the business to partner up.

For CIOs who conflate messaging apps with culture change -- and therefore outside IT's scope -- Cannell made the case that the platform is directly related to employee productivity, a top business concern and also an established IT domain. It's time to recognize the potential opportunity.

Food for thought: big data and enterprise search

Big data projects don't require reinventing the wheel -- not from scratch anyway. According to Gartner analyst Darin Stewart, an effective way to bring big data to the masses is to lean on a practice that likely exists within the company already -- enterprise search.

"If you step back and think about what big data is at its core, it's about uncovering nuggets of insight or knowledge or trends relevant to some question you have, some information you're trying to address. And pulling that answer out from a bunch of low-value and unrelated content, stitching it together and presenting it to the user," he said.

Search performs a similar function. But the traditional approach to enterprise search won't work. Rather than a generic index, IT will need to find appropriate use cases where search can play a powerful role, such as providing relevant information to call center operators. In cases where a customer has called or interacted with the company multiple times without satisfaction, an operator may have to curate data -- what worked, what didn't -- from multiple, unrelated systems while interacting with the customer, he said.

IT can "pull all of that information together under a single interface" by breaking up large sets of carefully selected, enriched content into multiple, purpose-built indexes. The indexes will enable users to dig in where needed and even expose information to big data tools such as sentiment analysis and geocoding.

"A lot of really interesting work that's happening in this area is leveraging open source tools and it's happening in the cloud," Stewart said. "So it's kind of an easy entrée for your enterprise without having to rip out and reconfigure the data center."

As for the technology, Stewart talked in terms of Hadoop, a distributed computing framework, and Apache Solr, an open source enterprise search platform, though he said other options existed.

Don't look now, but here comes the citizen developer

Move over shadow IT, there's a new player in town. Gartner refers to it as the citizen developer, a non-IT employee dabbling in application development and "using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT." And they're getting a little help from cloud providers who have "intentionally designed their user interface to be geared toward a less technical audience to try and encourage this consumerization effect," said Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of the consultancy THINKstrategies Inc.

Still, Kaplan, who will be hosting the Connected Cloud Summit in Boston next month, doesn't believe citizen developers will replace those who do hard-core development or erase the demand for that kind of expertise.

Welcome to The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter at @TT_Nicole.

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What enterprise mobile messaging app are you using?
I am using Cotap, a newer messaging system, but easy to use on my mobile device, and both professional and secure.