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Mobile-First Strategy

Mark Sunday

Mark Sunday, CIO of Oracle Corporation, interviewed Suhas Uliyar, Vice President of Mobile Strategy Product Management at Oracle, to learn about the critical aspects of a mobile-first strategy and how to maximize the opportunities available to the enterprise.

Mark Sunday: What are the most pressing trends in the mobile computing industry and how do they affect the decisions of today's CIOs?

Suhas Uliyar: Many enterprises have implemented mobile applications that are very tactical in nature to solve very specific problems. This has led to a separation by creating silos between the mobile architecture and what I call "the rest of IT."

The rest of IT is focused on legacy applications and web channels. They are motivated to deploy a common architecture for the enterprise that standardizes access management and governance (single sign-on, provisioning, etc.) and a services architecture that enables reusable integration components. Mobility often arises from other parts of the company, such as when the marketing department hires an outside agency to build a mobile app for the public app stores.

For business-to-employee (B2E) applications, line-of-business managers may ask IT to create high-value mobile applications for specific functions such as field service optimization or direct store delivery, or perhaps to create a sales application for a subset of employees within the enterprise. But even in these implementations the architecture is often distinct. This leads to multiple user identity stores and mobile-specific integrations. Data resides in multiple places, which causes issues with data integrity. In summary, many enterprises have approached mobility as "ready, fire, aim"-not an ideal approach to an enterprise strategy.

Mark Sunday: How has the mobile computing market changed in the last few years?

Suhas Uliyar: The biggest changes are in the devices themselves, which include more advanced operating systems with a focus on usability. We're also seeing big advancements in the ease with which you can build mobile applications. Students coming out of high school and college are developing really cool apps with a plethora of tools, from native to cross hybrid to HTML5. That's a good thing for consumer-only apps but it can cause chaos for enterprise IT departments. When it comes to developing mobile apps, most CIOs are realizing that the front-end client development is the easy part. The complex, time-consuming, and expensive part is ensuring these apps comply with enterprise security policies, effectively integrate with the correct data sources in a way that is designed for mobile applications, and securely manage the identity, business applications, and content on the mobile device.

Mark Sunday: What are the essential ingredients of an enterprise mobility strategy?

Suhas Uliyar: I encourage CIOs to develop a mobile-first strategy. Mobile apps set expectations for usability, appearance, and behavior. When developing mobile apps, the design should consider "touch first," simplicity, and mobile contextual services such as location and voice. It is important to have a multichannel and multidevice strategy. Thus, CIOs should choose cross-platform development tools and an integration infrastructure that can support a multichannel environment. Having a common security infrastructure supporting multiple channels that include the mobile device is a must.

In addition to simply adding a new interface to your existing back-end applications, there are lots of new capabilities that mobile can offer. It's more than just putting a fancy front end on a legacy system, or mashing up data from multiple sources and calling it mobile. Mobile apps can be transformational. While most mobile apps are thought of as extensions to the back end, I encourage enterprises to think of mobile applications as "first-class citizens" that are not necessarily dependent on the back end and, in some cases, do not have a back end.

CIOs should also think about agility when it comes to mobile innovation. Developing an effective mobile strategy begins with understanding the role that mobile plays in the multichannel journey. Companies can gain deeper knowledge about customer behavior as they analyze how customers move between mobile and other channels (for example, traditional online, e-mail, chat, voice, and social).

Mark Sunday: I hear mobile client developers say, "I was done with my app in a week but it took me six months to integrate it with the rest of the IT enterprise." How do you impose security controls and enforce other back-end issues without stifling innovation?

Suhas Uliyar: Mobile application developers are continually looking for new ways to accelerate the development of apps to meet their consumers' needs. Integrating with the back-end system adds complexity and time to the overall project. Mobile back end as a service (MBaaS) speeds up this process in an innovative way without compromising security or introducing new integration complexities. It simplifies mobile application development with a standard approach to dealing with complex server-side programming and integration issues. This minimizes redundancy in back-end code blocks by providing ready-to-integrate features based on standard back-end templates. Mobile app developers can therefore focus more on the front end of the applications, using their chosen mobile client development tools for cross-platform hybrid apps, native development, or other JavaScript tools. They can also utilize mobile-ready APIs exposed in the cloud.

Mark Sunday: What are some of the technical characteristics of MBaaS?

Suhas Uliyar: MBaaS provides a set of rich RESTful interfaces for all the back-end operations required by the mobile app, abstracting these technical details from the mobile developer. It typically includes mobile-specific SDKs and APIs as well as common mobile services such as offline sync, push notification, mobile data persistence, and user management. MBaaS also provides an environment to easily integrate to custom and third-party APIs by providing a front-end scripting layer to existing back-end services. For example, it might use JavaScript containers such as Node.js to build, shape, and orchestrate services. With an MBaaS architecture, client developers can utilize essential enterprise services without the heavy lifting associated with back-end data management and user security.

Mark Sunday: What prevents CIOs from developing a solid mobile-first strategy?

Suhas Uliyar: The biggest obstacle continues to involve mobile security. There is a lack of awareness about instituting good Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, as you discussed with Amit Jasuja in a previous interview. Other obstacles unwittingly arise from mobile operating systems vendors who may lack an enterprise focus. For example, many CIOs are concerned with the frequent OS updates from Apple and Google and the consequent impact on their mobile applications. If you have to contend with an OS update every six months, you must consider the cost of development, deployment, and testing. Apple and Google don't really consider the impact of these frequent updates on the enterprise.

Fortunately, vendors such as Oracle are stepping up and saying, "We know about these challenges. We've done this for many years, and we are helping CIOs with these issues." For example, consider how Oracle is mobile-enabling its packaged applications, both on-premises systems like JD Edwards, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and [Oracle] E-Business Suite as well as Oracle Cloud applications. We also have a mobile-first strategy within our application teams. That means our customers obtain enterprise-caliber mobility capabilities as part of the package itself. They don't have to worry about integration or security. These mobile apps are built using Oracle Mobile Suite and secured using Oracle Mobile Security Suite.

Mark Sunday: Can you give us a preview of Oracle Mobile Suite?

Suhas Uliyar: Oracle Mobile Suite provides tools to abstract the application from the underlying OS, enabling "write-once, run-anywhere" capabilities for mobile devices. Thus, CIOs don't have to deal with Apple or Google or the next big OS. They can focus on building highly effective mobile apps that leverage their existing skill sets in HTML5 or Java. They don't have to go to multiple vendors for their multichannel integration needs. They can leverage one middleware infrastructure for their enterprise wide security and integration needs. Oracle provides enterprise-grade reliability, performance, and availability to handle the high volume of traffic from their existing web and mobile channels.

Ultimately, Oracle Mobile Suite empowers IT organizations to create transformative applications. We'll talk about this in our next installment.

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