Create mobile apps that are actually part of your business

Building iOS and Android apps only outside your core systems means you're not getting the value you could from mobile

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Suddenly the SOA notion makes sense again -- composing functions on the fly separate from the presentation layer. In the 1980s, when object orientation and client/server were the new "Aha!" revelations, the closest equivalent was the model-view-controller (MVC) approach. By separating these three aspects of applications, developers could create apps that ran across different environments in a federated style,

Well, MVC is back in mobile even if in Web apps the use of languages like JavaScript still mix up the "V" and "C," making it harder to use the true SOA approach. Yes, I know MVC is baked into the development frameworks from Microsoft, Apple, and others -- but once you start working across applications, you rarely use a single development environment, and MVC adherence tends to fall away.

Forrester Research, which is in my opinion the savviest general analyst firm when it comes to mobile issues, proposes what it calls a four-tier architecture -- client, delivery, aggregation, and services -- for mobile apps that is a good model for thinking about your business-enabling mobile app efforts. It's the services part that most businesses don't understand, but could unlock if they understood the SOA approach.

All of this brings me to a company named ClearBlade. It's an example of the kind of technology that in-house enterprise developers and their IT colleagues should be examining to have their mobile apps tap into their core systems. You can think of ClearBlade as providing the on-premises mechanism for IT to use its core systems as the sources for the enterprise's own mobile services. Commercial developers now routinely use mobile-back-end-as-a-service (MBaaS) offerings to bring functionality into their apps, for everything from sales tax calculation to error capture.

IT has no similar way to deliver its own functionality to its mobile apps. As CEO Eric Simone tells me, "SOA is not built for mobile devices -- the protocols and messages are different." As a result, you can't use SOA's inherent integration, composition, and federation techniques to extend your core applications to mobile contexts, or easily enable interactions between mobile apps and core systems.

Using techniques like RESTful APIs isn't enough for such integration, even if it is a useful component of your integration. After all, having APIs doesn't mean you have an architecture in which to wisely use them. In the federated world of mobile apps, that architecture brings us back to the MVC model, whether you're using MBaaS, enterprise PaaS, and/or something else to provide the functional components.

"MVC is a lost art, but it very much the way we need to build everything," Simone says. "Through the proliferation of new technologies like JavaScript, we've bastardized the notion of separation of concerns that is fundamental to MVC. We need to separate server side from client side, and we need to have the right APIs for them to interact." As you would expect, he believes ClearBlade has the technology to do that.

"The real issue in enterprises that we see is access to core data. Cloud-oriented MBaaS is great when you're building new apps and just displaying data, usually based on a cleaned feed provided from IT," he says. But as you start interacting with multiple cloud services, "you get sync issues and lose control of the feed sent to the third-party service that feeds the mobile app." Simone says this is not an MBaaS-specific issue -- in fact, it applies to any cloud service, whether used in mobile apps, Web apps, desktop apps, and embedded systems such as the emerging Internet of things devices.

But there's more to the enterprise mobile app than managing inputs and outputs among services. "Systems of record must be secure and must have controls. But access is critical for higher-functioning mobile apps, such as for sales or order-taking. There are lots of fears about opening up directly to mobile. The issue is that there is a gap between what the mobile devices can do and what controls are needed," Simone says.

MBaaS is a way to provide the middleware to address that, he adds. For example, most compliance rules are not technical but procedural, needing to validate or audit this or that. "It's much easier to do that from behind the firewall. On the mobile side, [tools like ClearBlade's] interact with mobile management tools that handle the device protocols or implement their own in containers," he says.

I can't tell you if ClearBlade is the right tool set for building your enterprise apps. But it points to a gap that many businesses have in exploiting the value of mobile devices for their employees and customers. IT needs to focus on how to make mobile a real part of its technology environment, not just its security fabric. To do that, it needs to look for tools and methods that let its business's developers tap into the core systems with tools that allow the rapid development of the mobile world and ensure secure, stable integration.

This article, "Create mobile apps that are actually part of your business," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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