May 14, 2014, posted by Ben Rossi
The future is ‘build your own app’, not ‘bring your own app’. There is a widely held view at the front end of the IT and communications industry that the dust has settled on the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon. Mobile device management (MDM) systems are in place, business policies crafted and best practices established. Yet, at the same time, many SMEs are still debating the issue and ironing out the details.
But, wherever a company is on the BYOD ‘journey’, they need to be prepared for more to come. It’s all part of a natural evolution. Just as employees became impatient with outmoded corporate technology and took their own phones and tablets to the office, they now also want to use the mobile apps they use in their personal lives at work.
It’s not surprising – Skype, Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote, together with a long list of other popular and predominately consumer-orientated apps – have become part of their everyday personal lives. Yet, when they are at work there are often no alternatives. So anyone with any initiative is bound to turn to these automatically.
So strong is the compulsion to use these apps that some would even be prepared to pay for them personally. Indeed, a recent US survey found that 37% of employees who currently use apps for work would do just this. Even among those who don’t currently use apps for work, one in five would be prepared to spend their own money.
So why not feed on this enthusiasm? The question of security inevitably rears its head at this juncture. IT departments, having come to terms with BYOD, are now getting stressed over the risks involved with employees downloading diverse apps on a range of different devices.
Consumer-style apps are typically not designed for the corporate environment where security is a big concern. Essentially, their use involves transferring data and often storing it in a public cloud, so the company loses control of its own data. This means companies need to question whether the risk is justified and, of course, this will vary from company to company.
Some large enterprises have started to adopt enterprise app stores that allow employees to just download approved apps. Gartner predicts that by 2017, one in four organisations will have deployed such a store. But some would argue that approach is itself inherently restrictive and that it runs counter to the individualism and creativity that BYOD first enabled in the workplace.
Some believe the next logical step is BYOA, but standing for ‘build your own app’ rather than ‘bring your own app’.
The rationale is that some businesses are now taking the original concept another step further, combining top-down vision with an employee’s insider experience to tailor apps that match the way they work – and help them run the company.
But is it really possible to run the front end of a company on bespoke apps? Inevitably, there are drawbacks, not least the cost. Although considerably more affordable than purchasing a new server-based application, developing company-specific apps requires a significant investment of both time and money to turn vision into reality.
Also, not all employees will own their own devices, so the business will have to invest in communal smartphones or risk a potentially divisive ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ situation. In addition, while apps may be ideal for straightforward tasks, they are unlikely to be as appropriate for complex processes that defy attempts to streamline.
However, I believe that intelligent use of mobile apps has the potential to transform a business, improving customer interaction and supply chains, and driving up productivity. They can be easily changed in response to industry and market developments, and tweaking an individual app will be far more economic than changing a large enterprise system.
But perhaps the most compelling advantage is that building your own apps is the ideal way to mitigate the risks of BYOD. Organisations need only allow users access to what they need. An HR department, for example, might provide apps for requesting holiday to all staff, but only provide the app to approve it to managers. In other words, only those with a need to access specific systems would be able to do so.
So is BYOA inevitable? For mid-range companies it may still be just an idea. However, they do need to build a strong foundation by ensuring their networks are ready. In particular they need to consider their LAN and WAN requirements around security, bandwidth and resilience. For example, are their internal enterprise applications able to port to a mobile strategy? Can the applications and data be de-coupled into a more modularised format?
In this business, we’ve all heard too many new ideas that are, allegedly, going to transform life as we know it. However, BYOA does appear to be a natural next step on the mobile trajectory. And with the right guidance it could also be more affordable, viable and secure than many others that have come before it.