7 Questions to Ask Your Developer to Get the Best Enterprise Mobile Apps

Every organisation seems to have mobile apps these days, from your health insurance provider, to your superannuation fund to your favourite retail outfit — which makes the idea of developing one for your own organisation sound pretty easy. The truth is, getting productivity-boosting, user-friendly, secure mobile apps is not guaranteed unless you outline the right requirements for your developer. These tips will help you get mobile apps that keep your workforce churning out the business results instead of calling up the help desk for support.

1. Can you develop with reusable code?

If you can’t decide on one platform for your mobile apps, having them developed with reusable code allows them to work across devices, whether they be iPhone or Android. This option isn’t for every organisation — reusable code can be more expensive —, but if you have a lot of platforms to support, it will likely cost you less in the long-run than it would to develop different mobile apps for different platforms.

2. Can you enable data integration?

Data integration supplies organisations with a unified view of all data across devices and sources. The ability for different business units to view information from other units, such as customer data sitting in the marketing and sales departments, especially when on the go, can help boost the speed of decision-making and business processes. Mobile apps that can be easily integrated with other data sources will continue to show their ROI.

3.  How do you secure mobile apps?

Security of mobile apps and devices falls into the realm of your organisation’s IT department, but you’ll have an easier time preventing data loss if your mobile apps are secure to begin with. Areas to cover with your developer include whether passwords are saved, how the mobile apps store data and whether that corporate information is kept in a container away from personal data.

4. Can you help me integrate mobile apps into my organisation?

Integrating mobile apps into your enterprise is not as easy as it seems. You must take into account response times, bandwidth and security. A good developer can provide device integration, connectivity and field service support so your mobile app goes from being a piece of inactive software to an orgnanisation-wide productivity powerhouse. Give them bonus points if they can integrate your mobile app with your back-end systems and software.

5. Where’s the value-add?

What happens after your mobile app’s developed? Can your developer support other mobility functions, such as helping you select and manage a mobile device management or mobile application management tool to secure software and devices?

6. How will you ensure my app is user-friendly?

It might sound like a no-brainer, but we’ve seen many organisations go through the process of developing a mobile app internally only to receive grumbles of usability issues from end users. The concept of an app and its actual functionality are two different things. A good mobile app developer will address concerns such as the ideal screen resolution for your app and features that might detract from your app’s performance.

7. Will you provide lifecycle support and roadmap planning for my mobile app?

Your mobile app is a living, breathing thing that will need to be modernised, maintained, secured and eventually retired. You’ll also want to identify the key business drivers you want your app to align with and the metrics for measuring its performance. An experienced mobile app developer will be able to offer these services in addition to designing and provisioning your app.

The Desktop and the Mobile Device: A Case of Either Or?

Before its release last week, Windows 8 was already blazing a polarising line between diehard desktop-lovers and members of the mobile device movement. The first camp proclaimed there’d always be room for the desktop and that the mobile device will never allow for the level or productivity and task completion a standard PC does.Windows 8, the latter camp proudly cheered, will send the classic desktop to its deathbed as more employees give first priority to their personal mobile device.

As organisations consider how far to dip their toes into mobility, it’s important to remind them that at this point, both desktop and mobile computing are still theirs for the taking. There is no computing ultimatum right now, and there might not ever be. What makes more sense than choosing which side of the dividing line to stand on is determining how both computing styles can fit the many and varied needs of your organisation.

The mobile device fills the gap

Think of mobility as a way to ensure productivity continues even when your employees are away from their desks. A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers entitled “The re‑emergence of enterprise mobility” describes the mobile device as an “intelligent network node.” Specifically, the mobile device offers more modes of contact than desktops: email, phone, text, video, chat and social media. This increases the chance you will be able to reach employees in some capacity while they’re on the road.     

Sharing content between the desktop and the mobile device

There are tools and applications that enable you to share content across devices, making it easier to integrate mobility into your desktop strategy. For instance, organisations can share their SharePoint portals on tablets and mobile phones with mobile web apps and customised mobile solutions. Employees can then access the same documents and calendarsthey use on their desktops. SharePoint 2013 will offer even more options in the form of new mobile browser experiences.

The desktop and the mobile device: What works for your industry?

CIO Australia article from earlier this year suggests that certain industries may be more primed for mobility than others. These are usually organisations with highly mobile employees, remote employees and employees needing to share data frequently throughout the day. Supply chain processes, disaster recovery and business continuity capability and social networking are also good areas for mobile optimising.

Before you start letting a flurry of personal devices into your organisation, consult with an IT provider that can help your business plot its desktop-mobility strategy. Datacom experts can share insight on every aspect of your deployment, from hardware procurement for both the desktop and the mobile device through to licensing and security.

Which Mobile App Delivery Method is Right for Your Organisation?

Are you ready to let your employees use mobile apps? You have more to consider than just what apps you’re going to let them access – you have a few delivery options as well. Picking the right one depends on what you need in terms of security, IT management and device compatibility. Here are a few considerations to get you started.

You need: No data stored on the device

Choose: Virtualisation or cloud

Enterprise users will make up about 75 per cent of the market for cloud-based mobile apps by 2014, according to Juniper Research. Both virtualising your mobile apps and delivering them through the cloud keep data off the device. Both approaches also can put more control in the hands of the IT department, which can oversee access to applications and manage how they are used.

Security buffs are likely fiercely nodding their heads, but keep in mind that if you virtualise, there could be usability issues surrounding the need for constant network connectivity and how a mobile app looks and performs on a device. Delivering mobile apps through the cloud can ease these usability issues, but your security concerns will only be abated if you know where your data is sitting.

You need: To take the app migration burden off IT

Choose: An enterprise app store

By 2014, 60 per cent of IT organisations will have private app stores, according to Gartner. These stores work similarly to Apple’s app store by allowing employees to quickly and securely download certain applications they are authorised to use. This takes a lot of the burden off IT as they don’t need to provision apps to different users and devices.

However, building an app store does come at a cost, and users might grumble if your app store doesn’t resemble Apple’s. That means you need to consider the ability to rate apps, search for apps, recommend similar apps and allow user feedback.

You need: Compatibility across a wide range of devices

Choose: Web apps

Their ability to run in browsers means web apps don’t require a distribution system, so users can access them from any number of devices. Plus, IT doesn’t need to create several incarnations of one app, which leads to easier delivery and management. Internet connectivity will always be a concern to run web apps, however; if it’s poor, even refreshing the screen will cause problems.

These are just a few reasons for considering the different mobile app delivery methods. If your organisation needs additional help with taking its enterprise applications into the mobile world, Datacom’s Enterprise Mobility Applications practise can help. We handle application development, integrate apps with devices and offer field service support to ensure you applications run smoothly.

How are you delivering mobile apps in your organisation?

5 Bring Your Own Device Best Practices

By Julian Buckley

Just because Bring Your Own Device is new to your organisation doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done — successfully — before. We can learn from those businesses that immediately jumped on the BYOD bandwagon. Use these lessons of right and wrong to do even better with your BYOD programme.

1. Give controlled freedom

Yes, BYOD is all about the employee and what mobile device and platform he or she wants to use. That doesn’t mean your IT department can’t implement some restrictions, such as allowing workers to choose from a pre-approved list of devices it has already “tried and tested.” The hard truth is that IT will only have capacity to support certain devices. It’s the organisations that let their workforces choose from a BYOD buffet that tend to see support costs soar; locking this down to a known list of devices can help organisations baseline these costs.

A best practice identified by the International Data Corporation (IDC) involves IT letting employees choose from a shortlist of mobile devices that can be supported in-house. How do you create this shortlist? Do something bold — actually talk to your employees. Ask them about the devices they use at home, why they use them and how they differ from the devices offered at work. You’ll be able to get an early picture of what your BYOD programme will look like — and how your IT department can support it.

2. Don’t put all your apps in one basket

Do you really need to make all your legacy applications available to your mobile workforce? Focus first on business-critical apps that carry solid value, such as dashboards covering metrics and goals and workflow charts. You can use the same survey approach here that you did with the devices: which tools and applications help employees get their jobs done best?

Also keep in mind the need for ongoing mobile app development, especially if different versions need to be written.Outsourcing application development to a provider that can tackle mobile device integration and connectivity so all your employees can take advantage of the custom mobile application is one way to avoid sucking up your IT staff‘s resources.

3. Innovate and compromise

Many organisations are finding that an innovative, supportive BYOD strategy helps retain staff, attracts new hires and ensures better use of technology within a workplace. Just because there’s a new operating system (Mac’s Mountain Lion or Microsoft’s Windows 8) out on the market doesn’t mean your organisation should ban or block it from entering into your BYOD strategy. Enabling your workforce to use the latest and greatest can be a great productivity-improver and assist with staff morale and greater freedom.

4. Secure the data and the device

Treat the device as the first barrier to entry and lock down the data where possible. What if the worst happens and a hacker or street-side thief does get into the phone or tablet? If corporate data is inaccessible — sitting in the data centre instead of on the actual mobile device, for instance, — the rogue individual won’t be able to steal it. Leveraging technologies such as Citrix XenApp or VMware Horizon can bring the applications to the users whilst retaining the data centrally in your environment. Having user policies in place that restrict access to corporate information and applications for certain employee groups also prevents sending too much sensitive data into the world.

5. Reduce support costs by educating users

Your new BYOD-inspired workforce might have some legitimate tech support issues. Many others will stem from a lack of self-help enablement and complex guidelines for things like user enrolment, switching approved devices and password reset. Give users the ability to do as much as they can on their own so they aren’t needlessly flooding the help desk with inane enquiries.

What BYOD best practices would you add to this list?

Julian Buckley is the Business Manager of Professional Services for Datacom in QLD.  Julian leads a team of solution architects, project managers and consulting engineers that evangelise, design, scope, deliver and implement purpose-built, client-focused infrastructure and virtualisation solutions for our customers. His team in QLD focuses on long-term relationships with clients, building end-to-end enterprise ICT architecture for corporate, education and government clients across Microsoft, Citrix and VMware technology sets. A local leader in virtualisation in the QLD market, Julian’s team can help all clients achieve greater return on investment, reliability and performance through best practice, industry-leading solutions.

Pros of Outsourcing Mobile Application Development and Management

Creating enterprise mobile applications for your organisation can improve efficiency, service, flexibility and productivity. If software development isn’t one of your core business functions, however, it can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing technology used in creating mobile apps, and your IT department will likely grapple with the development process. Outsourcing your mobile applications – both the development and management of them – lets your IT department continue focussing on its core competencies.

It alleviates device management headaches

Developing mobile apps is one thing; making sure you can deliver them to different devices is another. If you leave your mobile apps project with internal IT staff, they’ll likely spend considerable time addressing management and security features across a range of different tablets and smartphones. In addition to actually developing software for you, an IT outsourcer can oversee device integration and connectivity so all your employees can take advantage of the custom mobile application. IT outsourcers that offer field service support can help iron out any hiccups that occur duringapplication delivery.

It cuts down on testing time

Increasing fragmentation of mobile operating systems and device models has made mobile apps testing more complex. There is a serious risk that turning inward to the IT department for mobile apps development will run up costs and resources and extend project time. Outsourcing application development allows you to benefit from a proven testing methodology. For instance, Datacom software developers rely upon Test-Driven Development, a technique involving automated unit tests that guide application design and force decoupling of dependencies so software can continually be evaluated to ensure it remains working. This method ensures our developers only create production code when they understand the ultimate outcome and how to test the result.

It gives application management better attention

IT departments unfamiliar with mobile apps development might dust off their hands once they finish creating and delivering the new software. This is a mistake, as application performance and measurement won’t be addressed. In addition, mobile device application development might also require different management tools than traditional software, as it involves varied end-user behaviour and experiences. An IT outsourcer can help you take advantage of application managementbased on service-level agreements that account for reliability and availability measurements. The best outsourced mobile application services also allow organisations access to shared tracking systems so customers can continually monitor application performance.

How has your organisation benefited from outsourcing mobile application development and/or management?

Have Your Considered Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to Manage Bring Your Own Device?

There isn’t a single approach to managing Bring Your Own Device at organisations. A slew of different mobile device management and mobile application management tools exists for allowing access to apps and data on employee-owned devices, and organisations can choose one or several of these tools to work in tandem to cover all the different devices and platforms.

Other organisations are managing Bring Your Own Device through virtual desktop infrastructure. There’s some debate in the IT industry and the media over whether using VDI for this purpose is smart. You can decide for yourself by reviewing the benefits and disadvantages to this approach.

The pros

VDI delivers desktops through the data centre to any mobile device. This means all devices can essentially be managed from one location, providing easier administration and deployment and a more streamlined way to enforce compliance for all users. It also gives the end users better ability to connect to their virtual desktops from any device whenever they want.

Security is also strengthened because no corporate data is actually sitting on the employee’s phone or tablet—it’s all in the data centre. If an employee device falls into the wrong hands, the thief won’t be able to access work information.  IT retains complete control over both the operating system and the apps on the device.

The cons

With VDI virtualisation, users have to connect to the data centre to access the corporate desktop. This means network connectivity and bandwidth become factors the IT team needs to worry about for anyone in the company trying to do work from a personal device. Network performance can affect even the most basic of tasks if the network is sluggish. VDI also presents issues with running rich media on virtual desktops, which can prevent users from accessing certain functions, such as video, and can cause screen resolution problems.

There are also issues related to the lack of desktop customisation that crops up when you’re provisioning an image to a user’s device. In this way, VDI runs the risk of defeating the purpose of BYOD: allowing employees to have the user experience they want on their device of choice. The act of turning mobile devices into desktops via a VDI image means users won’t get the native experience of the device. There could also be problems when certain users need access to different apps and extra licensing costs for accessing the desktop through VDI on personal devices.

How to decide if it’s right for you

Deciding how to manage BYOD is a big decision for your organisation. Doing it in a way that allows your IT department to retain the right level of control while also letting users work the way they want on their personal devices is crucial. The right IT outsourcer will be able to assess your current infrastructure and systems to determine if your environment is right for both VDI and BYOD. If VDI isn’t the way to go, your IT provider will be able to make recommendations on the right approach and guide the design and implementation process.

How do you manage BYOD at your organisation?

Shaping Your Mobile Device Management Strategy: Part II

By Jean-Pierre Walle

Often I sit down with a company looking for a mobile device management solution to oversee a Bring Your Own Device programme only to discover they don’t have any policies guiding the use of personal smartphones or tablets at work. In my research, 72 per cent of organisations do not have defined policies for BYOD.

MDM tools are the vehicles by which you enforce company policies for BYOD; they do not set these policies for you. Fortunately, Datacom mobility experts can help organisations develop these policies in the early stages of their BYOD programmes. But this is just the first step. There are other boxes to tick before you choose a MDM tool for your workforce. Most crucial are deciding how you want your MDM solution to handle security, provisioning and configuration, user support, enrolling new users and exiting former ones, personal data and end-point protection.

Do you auto-lock your devices? Less than 10 per cent of people who bring their own devices to work use auto-lock, according to an ESET/Harris Interactive study conducted earlier this year. If a device isn’t locked – the most basic security measure –, no MDM solution will be able to protect it. Before you even entertain managing devices, you must ensure every employee enables auto-lock on their mobile device. Start with your own phone or tablet so you lead by example.

Which device types will you support? This is the million-dollar question for many organisations and being choosy can reduce the chance of too many devices taking over the workplace. You will need to consider platforms, operating systems, models and versions to get a sense of how much support you will need to allow through your MDM solution. You might also consider blocking unauthorised, modified or jail-broken devices. If you’re struggling with choosing which devices to support, Datacom mobility experts can tell you which devices are more manageable than others.

How will you classify and manage assets? You can group mobile devices by operating system or version, classify them based on whether they have been provisioned or decommissioned and monitor specific physical details and device location. You also have choices related to integrating this inventory with your other hardware assets. You can elect to report on these assets, tracking any compliance status and policy violations.

How will you activate the MDM solution on each device? IT can do this physically on each device or you can allow desktop or mail gateway sync. Datacom also offers organisations the ability to conduct over-the-air enrolment and configuration. Keep in mind how you want to remove users who leave the organisation.

How will devices be configured? You can choose to self-service provision, which personalises devices, activates security policies and sets up the network connection.

How do you want to secure the device? What sort of password policy do you want for personal devices? How many characters will be required and how many login attempts are allowed before it must be reset? MDM services offered through Datacom also allow two-factor authentication and may be able to leverage native device encryption depending on the device OS. Your BYOD policies will guide much of the end-point protection you leverage.

How do you want to secure the data? This item is separate from device security, as how you protect the data is ultimately what will keep corporate information safe should a device be compromised. You can elect to do a remote data wipe if you find the device has been left in a public place, operated by another user or lost.

What restrictions will you enforce? It’s possible to restrict access to music downloading applications, cameras and non-enterprise applications and block document sync.

How will you monitor apps? MDM services allow you to keep an inventory of which apps have been installed, lock access to the app store and host custom enterprise apps. You can also offer enterprise software via downloading, web links or access to third-party stores.

Who will help users when they need it? MDM tools can be configured so users can help themselves for easy tasks such as password reset. You can also allow your help desk to interact with remote users through settings on certain MDM products.

Jean-Pierre Walle has over 23 years of experience in IT and telecommunications. He currently serves as a Business Unit Manager for Datacom NZ, a role in which he oversees End-User Services. His teams specialise in managed services for mobile device management, 24×7, global remote desktop support and end-to-end service for SME/SMB customers. In addition to managing these teams, Jean-Pierre oversees the service delivery, P&L and development aspects of these managed services. He is also an ITIL® practitioner. 

3 Steps to Simplifying IT Management

Last week, we started looking at how IT complexity can cripple your organisation. This week, we look at additional actions you can take to start simplifying your IT environment.  

Your IT department’s expansions might seem at odds with one another. Just when you’ve upgraded the servers and introduced a robust redundancy system, the emphasis has immediately shifted to providing your employees with mobile productivity tools. And once you’ve launched a mobile solution for your organisation, it’s time to move an in-house solution into — yes, you guessed it — the cloud.

And all of these IT functions demand:

  • Allocating the budget for hardware,software and licensing
  • Scoping projects, evaluating options, deploying the solution and testing
  • Training end-users and refining processes and workflows
  • Keeping trained and available support staff on hand to maintain all systems — and field your employees’ questions

While it might be tempting to just issue a slate and chisel and abacus to each employee and call it a day, you’re well aware your employees need every technological advantage in order to compete. But staying abreast of tech trends doesn’t have to be as onerous and costly as you’ve become inured to.

Simplicity is the name of the game among CIOs for companies ranging from startups to McDonald’s. And how do most of them accomplish this seemingly Herculean task? In our experience helping IT executives reduce complexity, we’ve identified three common areas to cover:

1. Take a comprehensive inventory of everything IT-related: infrastructure, cloud solutions, desktop programmes,custom apps, peripherals — everything. Most IT managers and executives are amazed at how cumbersome their organisations have become. And, if your company has been involved with a merger or acquisition, be sure to tally all IT levels. After aquiring another business, one Australian financial services company was able to achieve greater IT simplicitiy in just six weeks by outsourcing the integration of the new service into their existing environment. By leveraging IT outsourcing to integrate disparate networks and systems and improving core network and storage network capacity, the company was able to consolidate and optimise their entire IT infrastructure. Just ensuring unwanted redundancies are eliminated, unnecessary programmes aren’t renewed and unprofitable processes are abandoned can greatly reduce complexity.

2. Consider what infrastructure is necessary, and what’s necessary to keep in-house. Once the inventory is complete, we like to roll up our sleeves and help our clients design an infrastructure strategy and design. With the move to cloud solutions and virtual networks, you’ll likely find your intricate systems of servers and hardware can be reduced to a few easy-to-manage systems. And it’s almost always at a lower total cost of ownership than purchasing and maintaining everything in house.

3. Determine who’s supporting what, and what’s not receiving the proper support. It’s hard to keep your organisation running smoothly and efficiently when managers and specialists are spending time assisting the help desk. We’ve found many of our clients are pulling their hair out at the cost of continuously training employees to provide phone and support  — not to mention the scheduling nightmare of maintaining the proper amount of support staffing during working hours. When you opt for desktop support services, you place the onus of training, staffing and hiring on your vendor.

Ideally, you’ll want to find one vendor that can hold your hand through every step of your complexity-reduction checklist and serve as the sole point of contact for your IT needs. That’s ultimately how organisations can transform their IT operation into simple, manageable environments.

Shaping Your Mobile Device Management Strategy: Part I

Now that mobile device management (MDM) isn’t a matter of when your organisation will need it but how you’ve managed to get by so long without it, the smart CIO is the one actively working on an MDM strategy.

With many employees using personal laptops, smartphones and tablets, IT executives and managers are faced with difficult issues covering the gamut of procurement and contracts to support and repair. Through a proper MDM strategy, your organisation will be able to not only manage myriad devices, but also boost employee productivity while ensuring data security and keeping costs low. Besides creating and enforcing MDM departmental procedures, you can select software and tools to help your department manage their mobile devices.

Of course, the right policies and the right tools will differ based on every organisation’s unique situation. But as you shape your own MDM strategy, consider these guidelines:

1.    Protecting corporate and financial data is always the top priority. You can’t boost worker productivity and, in turn, improve operations if you’re constantly putting mobile devices on lockdown due to security breaches. Most IT departments forbid any confidential corporate data on an unencrypted device or network. Barring your employees from conducting business on the hotel’s convenient open wireless network may be the source of some consternation, but it’s your safest bet. And when employees need to use a corporate or personal credit card online, they’ll need to use some other device, plain and simple.

2.    Provide the right communications applications on mobile devices. Too often employees are not given the tools they need, and, as such, they’ll use their personal email addresses or social media accounts. While the CIO’s role is certainly not to thwart proactive employees, he or she must ensure business is conducted securely and with the proper tools. If your organisation provides the proper communications software — for instance, extending your unified communications platform to mobile devices —, your employees won’t have to use personal applications to conduct business.

3.    Find a vendor that manages technology and support top to bottom. A good IT outsourcer can source the right MDM tools and solutions for your organisation, leaving your employees the freedom to use their mobile devices for work, not constantly work on their mobile devices. Your vendor should handle the MDM software recommendations and implementation procedure. They should also be able to tell you everything you can do with your MDM solution, such as monitoring and reporting.

As your organisation evolves, so must your MDM strategy. But establishing a solid foundation for your MDM strategy now is your best shot to handle the vagaries of the mobile device world.

The Importance of Reducing IT Complexity

By Lauren Fritsky

The bulk of IT costs goes toward maintaining creaky infrastructure and complicated, often archaic systems. Three quarters of the average IT budget is spent on legacy systems alone, according to Microsoft. IT departments pay a steeper price. IT staff bogged down in keeping legacy systems a few steps from death’s store and tuning up old infrastructure have no time to innovate or be strategic. This creates a vicious cycle in which the department keeps the status quo without ever having a chance to prove both its technical and business power.

Organisations that can simplify their IT environments – standardise hardware, better manage applications and keep the data centre uncluttered – can reduce costs, better pool resources and help IT leverage technology to drive business results.

One issue: Years ago, it was server sprawl causing a headache in the data centre. Now, it’s virtual machine sprawl. The latter might sound innocuous, but taking server virtualisation too far – basically, creating VM after VM just because you can – might result in a mess of too many VMs that overtax your infrastructure and cause the cost of licenses to soar.

One solution: Virtualisation management technology and services can help IT better manage and contain the virtual environment. Through our managed services team, Datacom can oversee server management and monitoring so you keep virtual sprawl in check. The process begins through automation, which helps streamline the virtual environment and more quickly provision virtual machines. The end result is a self-service method that allows IT to routinely provision, secure and manage VMs so they don’t spiral out of control.

One issue: Legacy systems maintenance can keep IT from developing innovative new applications that could boost system efficiency and end-user satisfaction. There’s also research demonstrating that the more apps a business runs, the less efficient it is. The organisations with the best performance run an average of 20 applications, according IT research by The Hackett Group; lesser-performing companies run 39 apps on average.

One solution: Many organisations keep legacy systems going because they fear the cost and challenge of updating them. Leveraging the help of an IT outsourcer to plot and execute your legacy system modernisation or transformation can take the headache out of revamping your business-critical applications so you can get better use out of them. The first part of the process involves conducting an audit of all the apps running in these systems. Identifying which ones are critical to the business will the set the wheels in motion to clean up the clutter.

How have you planned to reduce IT complexity in your organisation?