Notes From the Field: Mobile Applications and Rapid Development

Enterprise Mobile Strategy

CIOs Looking for Enterprise Mobile Platforms

As I look back at 2015, I am definitely seeing some trends in my day-to-day interactions with IT teams and CIOs: Mobile is driving many conversations.   It is no wonder if you look at some of the surprising statistics (from Kinvey):

  • Only 11% of end users access business apps from the corporate office 100% of the time.
  • 75% of Fortune 500 companies are taking steps to deploy HTML 5 mobile apps
  • Mobile CRM apps will grow by 500% over the next few years

Organizations are looking at alternatives to custom dev when examining their mobile strategy, and need agile, rapid development tools.

Below are two examples of customer use cases for deals that closed last quarter:

  • A large, global textile services organization looking to enable their mobile sales team on their tablets and phones.  This organization wanted a mobile app that could house all their sales forms and marketing materials, and give field reps the ability to access deal process information and get automated status notifications.
  • A mid-range construction company that needed a mobile safety app for field inspections from an iPhone.  Safety inspections can be a complicated business process, and often require notifications, follow ups and follow on process.  Most of the standalone apps on the market do well on the forms side, but fall short in the back-end process and reporting realm.  This organization needed a flexible, rapid dev platform to meet complex needs.

So, as I examine the mobile opportunities in the pipe, I see some commonality when it comes to what CIOs are looking for in a mobile business process app platform:

  1. The Ability to Build and Refine Quickly – Kinvey has a great report on the State of Enterprise Mobility, and there were several key findings in this survey of CIOs:
  • Over half said the time required to build a single mobile app is 7-12 months.
  • 50% say the process takes way too long
  • Mobile app dev is deemed as costly, slow and frustrating

More and more IT departments are looking for platforms to speed up development, and ease resource requirements.  Beyond the initial build, flexibility and agility for change is also a key requirement.

2.  Integration with Existing Systems – For any enterprise application, integration is often the biggest pain point, and typically reflects the largest time investment, and mobile applications are no exception.  Having an integration layer that can reduce or eliminate custom code and complex integration can not only speed up development, but also be a catalyst for opening enterprise systems to external, field workers.  An example of an accelerator in the data and integration space would be the K2 smartobject layer, which provides line of business integration through configuration with no code.   This layered approach is in line with Gartner’s Bimodal IT framework.

3.  Form Driven Workflow/Process – using mobile devices to collect data using forms is just the tip of the iceberg.  The IT departments I work with are looking for deep process after the data is entered.  This process contains not only basic notifications, but also several other components:

  • Business Logic and Rules – leveraging a process engine to make decisions and route work and information to the appropriate department or individual.
  • Integration with LOBs – writing the collected information, or portion, to an appropriate back-end system.
  • Form Archival – this provides the ability to take a “snapshot” of the form, and digitally archive it to an existing document repository through the integration layer.
  • Interaction with other systems – the ability to “check” with other systems during a process, and dynamically make decisions based on data.

So, what do these have in common?  They are typically steps within a manual process that are performed by humans, and consume time.  Efficiency is a core driver for the CIO looking to make an impact when using mobile devices to initiate processes.

4.  Reporting and Insight – Taking real-time data from field-based workers and providing insight to management is a key requirement in Enterprise Mobility.  Information that might not be accessible for days or weeks is now provided instantly to management.  Issues and bottlenecks can be resolved, and real-time, business impacting decisions can be initiated in an instant.

Just some thoughts and experiences ;).  Any feedback?  Also, if you want to see a video demo, you can see my latest post here:

Enterprise Mobility App Demo

 

 

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The CIO’s Quandry: Build, Buy or BPM?

Benefits of BPM over Custom Development

Choosing the Right Application Strategy Path

I have the privilege just about every day to be involved in one of the most complex decisions on the IT Strategy front:

What is the most effective way for our organization to introduce new applications or rebuild old ones?

These discussions are always bound by key options:

  1. Build a custom application.
  2. Buy an off the shelf commercial application.
  3. Buy a BPM/BPA Suite.
  4. A hybrid approach.

My position gives me the unique advantage of being an “outside” observer, and seeing how each choice is viewed.  Along with gaining insight into the minds of IT professionals, and how they view the application landscape, I also make a conscious effort to identify what works and what doesn’t (historically).   Below is a summary of my experience, and a compilation of opinions on each option.

Build

Ah, the custom application.  The promised land, everything you want, built exactly to requirements ;).  My favorite CIO quote in my time in BPM is: “I am so tired of being a custom software development house.”  The Build option has historically been the de facto path to meeting the exact business needs of a desired application, and truly tailoring functionality.  But building comes with unique resource requirements, longer timelines, and rigid change management that prevents agility.  Add in the standard requirement of Line of Business (LOB) System integration, and even small applications can require large teams with diverse skill sets to deliver.  For this reason, many organizations leverage 3rd party partners to help with development, which adds to overall project complexity.  The benefit?  If managed correctly, you get exactly what you want.  Some great info on Build vs Buy here:  Build Versus Buy Whitepaper

Buy

Whether its Safety, HR, Accounting, or any other core business function, there are focused commercial applications to meet business needs.  Most of these applications will meet about 80% of an organization’s requirements, but what I find is that missing 20% is the true gold.  Many applications offer APIs to extend and add functionality, but this requires custom development or hiring the 3rd party’s services team to extend.  I am seeing more and more organizations that are trying to get their app “bloat” under control, and reduce the number of niche applications in use by their business.  There are some key questions to ask when evaluating focused apps:

  • How easy is it to integrate with my LOBs?  Code or configuration?
  • Is the system overkill for what we are trying to accomplish?
  • How difficult is it to administer?  Will I require certified staff?
  • What is missing and what will it cost to extend and maintain?

I find many organizations “settle” when it comes to off the shelf applications, and adjust their business to the application.  The key benefit, in most cases, is you get up and running quite quickly, and can glean advantages and ROI without waiting for dev or build time.

BPM/BPA

The Business Process Management/Business Process Application suites are just about always in the mix, but I find there is always some deep education required on capabilities.  There is quite often core resistance to them, especially from the development teams.  No/Low Code platforms can be perceived as a threat, but smart dev managers see them as powerful tools that can lead to reduced delivery time, increased agility and quite frankly, a driver for accomplishing more with less.  The benefits are shorter dev times, agility when it comes to modifying the applications, and creating process centric applications that map to the business.  These platforms have evolved into a true “swiss army knife” of IT, and can be used as a plugin to provide solutions around all types of requirements.  More on No/Low Code here:  No/Low Code Platforms

Hybrid

The hybrid approach seems to be quite common, and many of the inquiries I see today involve organizations looking for BPM/BPA platforms to round out their existing inventory.  Maybe they have a custom dev project where they need a workflow engine, or a data integration layer, and see the platform as a way to provide core capabilities.  Perhaps they purchased an off the shelf app, and need to extend it, or wrap it with a more capable forms or reporting engine.  To see how a hybrid strategy including BPM/BPA can impact an organization, see this post:  BPM Benefits  The true benefit of this hybrid strategy is that you can have all the benefits of the core BPM engine, and use extended capabilities through the APIs to add value to other existing apps or projects.

Just a quick overview of App Strategy observations.  Comments?

 

 

 

 

Strategic Imperative: Embrace Digital Tech or Become Obsolete

Business Process Transformation

Report: Digital Transformation Success and Failure

During my morning reading and research, I ran across this great set of stats provided by the Sloan MIT Management Review and Capgemini Consulting.  They interviewed almost 1600 executives and managers across a wide variety of industries, and found some interesting results.

Below are some key highlights and core findings:

  • There is consensus that adopting digital business process is critical to organization success.  Execs and management are all in agreement that they must embark on the digital transformation journey, and modernize process and core business functions.
  • Most employees find the transition process complex and way too slow.  Employees and management are typically frustrated with the lack of progress and a missing sense or urgency.
  • Companies who succeed have comprehensive a plan.  Successful, transformative leaders share a complete vision, provide a roadmap for success, reward employees and distribute authority for implementation.

Here are some great stats as well:

  • 63% of respondents say the pace of technology change is too slow.
  • 93% of employees believe digital transformation is the right path.
  • Most agree transformation must happen within a 2 year time frame.
  • The top obstacle to success is a “lack of urgency”.

For more info, here is a link to the research:  Embracing Digital Technology

For more on Paper to Digital transformation, see: The Evolution of Business Process

 

 

 

Is the Cloud the Ultimate Silo?

There she stands.  Alone and unafraid.  The Breaker of Silos.

One of the core challenges for any CIO and his/her team is to create a seamless flow of information throughout their organization, and that begins with the breaking down of silos.  Connecting the dots, and creating those all important system-to-system touch points is almost always a custom development effort including integration at the data layer, forms and some portion of workflow.

BPA to Connect Silos
Every CIO’s Silo Nightmare

As the cloud has become a logical extension of the enterprise network, it brings with it additional challenges when it comes to integration.  Below are some of the key challenges:

  1. Security – Cloud security has always been a core concern of CIOs, with a focus on confidential information exposure.  When it comes to breaking silos, there is a whole new dimension around authentication and authorization.  How do I allow users access, but restrict what they see and use?  How do I link my on-prem security structure with my cloud additions?
  2. Data – Cloud data is readily available to enterprise applications through a host of APIs and services.  But what happens when I want cloud apps to have access to my enterprise line of business (LOB) systems?  We now create a plethora (one $20 word per post 😉 ) of issues that usually involves an endless array of meetings with the IT Security Team.
  3. The Flow of Work (Or workflow for the so inclined) – creating an end-user experience that is not totally painful is quite difficult as teams struggle on how to flow “digital work” in and out of the cloud.  Do I start my process in the cloud app, or as an on-prem experience?  Can I surface data from both cloud and on-prem systems in a form?
  4. Mobile – Mobile adds an entirely new dimension to the game, with most cloud-based apps providing a singular and “pre-silo-ed” experience.  This is great if users only use a single system, but how many mobile apps do I really need to get my job done?  Creating a single mobile user interface for work is the cloud “unicorn”.
  5. Duplication of Information – as a workaround, organizations typically have some degree of data duplication in their cloud applications.  The above mentioned challenges usually lead to many violations of a core tenet of every IT department: Minimize duplication of data.  Pulling down cloud information for cross-platform reporting can be a painful and labor intensive exercise.

So how can we solve these key challenges?  Business Process Application platforms hold the key to solving the cloud-silo dilemma.   Platforms like K2 blackpearl and Appit address all of the above concerns and then some without the need for costly custom development, and are built with the Hybrid Enterprise in mind.  More info: BPA for the Hybrid Enterprise

Build vs. Buy: A Whitepaper and Case Study for All CIOs

Business Process Applications

Build or Buy? Some Key Information

 

Every story is the same, with some minor differences.  IT departments are struggling, and trying to avoid becoming full time software development houses.  But let’s face it, building custom applications, forms and integrations is just part of the job.  I wanted to share this cool video and white paper put out by K2 focused on the “Build vs. Buy” dilemma.

They conducted an experiment with two developers of equal experience level.  They had one build out an expense application with a variety of forms in custom code (ASP.net), and the other built out the application using K2 smartforms.

“I have newfound respect for the power of K2 smartforms.
Put any ASP.NET developer through this exercise,
and they will come to the exact same conclusion –
this product is freakin’ awesome!” Eugene, the Dev

They predicted that K2 would be 4x faster, but in the end, it was 8x faster than custom dev.  The white paper here outlines all the requirements of the project, as well as some other details:

White paper: Easy vs. Hard : A True Story of the Power of K2

And here is the video they put together that shows a time-lapse:

 

5 Keys to CIO Success: Keys or Challenges?

CIO Success Factors

What really defines a successful CIO?  Ask this question, and you will get a wide variety of answers.   If you really get down to it, the keys to success are also core challenges, and all revolve around the core problems that CIOs face on a daily basis.  Below is a quick list:

Connecting Silos – Ah, the silos of the Enterprise.  In the evolution of an organization, systems come and systems go, but as time goes on, we usually build a complex web that is the foundation of our business.  A while back I was at an event, and on stage were the CIOs of Cisco, Netflix and several other high visibility organizations.  A question was posed around identifying one of their biggest challenges, and just about all included the constant quest to connect systems, and create cross-silo applications that can share and exchange data.  To do this well, and with little or no code, is a key to success, and a constant source of pain.

User Empowerment – Creating a technical infrastructure that empowers users, and provides a strong self-service theme is critical.  User empowerment is focused on giving users access to applications, interfaces and timely information that drive productivity and improve personal efficiency.   In this realm, transparency is key, and the complex inner workings need to be absolutely hidden from the end-user.  There are many facets to user empowerment, and in today’s world, it is usually tied to intelligent forms/dashboards that combine information from multiple systems, and provide a centralized interface for completing business tasks, making informed decisions and disseminating business data.

On Time Delivery – How do you deliver applications/projects on time, and meet expectations?  Today this conversation usually revolves around the Buy vs. Build (BvB) topic, and the ability to finish projects quickly with a high degree of quality, and little or no technical debt.  Unfortunately, the BvB topic is typically a political earthquake, with the CIO at the epicenter, trying to balance the errors of the past, current investment and the livelihood of developers, consultants and contractors.  Many CIOs today are choosing powerful Business App platforms that can get a dev team 70-100% complete through no code design (Of course I am partial to K2’s Business Application Platform 😉 ). Here is a great video with a side by side comparison of coding versus using an app platform:

Creating Business Efficiency – Doing more with less is a constant theme in today’s world, and technology is a key driver of overall efficiency.  But identifying key areas for improvement is usually a big challenge, with constant pull from all departments.  Priority and focus are key, and with only so many hours in the day, where do you assign resources for the biggest impact?  I would argue the elimination of paper and physical process is the lowest hanging fruit, and more can be found on the topic in these posts:  The Catalyst for the Paperless Office and Paperless Strategy.  Drive business efficiency, and the organization is more competitive, gets the most out of its employees and will improve its profitability.

Automation – A while back, in a previous life, I worked at mid-sized company that was touted for its document automation expertise.  While waiting near the front desk, I watched a process that blew my mind.  The front desk person, I will call her June, had a stack of hundreds of checks that had come in that morning.  She would take a single check, key the information into the finance system, and then walk over to the copier, put the check on the glass, and make a copy.  I watched her do this for 15 minutes, over and over.  When I told her we can automate that whole process with a check scanner, she just smiled, said “That’s just how we do it,” and kept on her task at hand.  Automation as a key focus for a CIO is not just about technology, but really about the people and change.  Laying the right technical ground work is only half the battle, as user training, adoption and comfort is key to success.  I place automation at the bottom of this article because it is an underlying theme for every other key focus.  Using tech to automate tasks creates efficiency, empowers users, helps to connect silos and will help in the on time delivery of all types of projects.

What do you think?  Comments?