These software suites are known as Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAP) or Mobile Application Development Platforms (MADP) and they promise rapid enterprise mobile app development as well as cost-effective lifecycle management for mobile applications. As a leading mobile enterprise application consultant Emerge has designed and developed custom applications for two decades and provides deep insight into the application development process. There are a few key things we have learned along the way and are essential for organizations to know today.
The biggest benefits of Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms are reaped if the desired mobile app requires integration with several external (possibly legacy) data sources or needs to be deployed across multiple operating systems or channels, such as iOS and Android. In those cases, a MEAP can provide efficiencies by providing pre-existing middleware that facilitates the data integrations and by compiling applications to multiple operating systems from a single codebase. MEAPs can also provide a single integrated solution for crucial application features, such offline synchronization and conflict resolution, geolocation services, push notifications, user authentication, data and file storage.
One of the biggest risks when working with MEAPs is the lack of proper product strategy and experience design. The importance of a proper User Experience Design (UX Design) alone process should not be misjudged: MEAPs can provide false confidence to internal groups that they can design and develop a mobile application on their own, missing opportunities to create an experience that truly services and delights its users. In addition, application interfaces built in MEAPs tend to use templated layouts and therefore miss a big opportunity in building a meaningful brand connection with users, who are becoming more discerning as many consumer-facing applications are investing into interface design innovation. As noted in our article regarding disruptive Digital Transformation trends, providing consumer grade experiences is becoming a requirement even in the enterprise space. With a standard expectation of a consumer grade experience, digital products need to provide best-in-class UX and UI to be accepted by modern users. Investing into leading edge UX and UI for your internal and external customers is not just a consideration for the next consumer startup anymore; these are table stakes in order to ensure adoption and acceptance by any user base. Working with a digital agency focused on product design and development can help navigate some of the pitfalls of mobile enterprise app platforms while still leveraging the software’s strongest suits.
As mobile technology evolves, some MEAPs are also falling behind. Several providers still rely on Cordova, which uses HTML/CSS/JS to render the mobile application content. This works for the most basic applications, but starting in 2018 Emerge has stopped recommending Cordova as a solution for discrete mobile application projects. We find that Cordova-based apps cannot fulfill the high customer expectations for consumer grade user experiences anymore. If the goal is to have a single codebase for mobile and web applications though, then a Cordova based solution might still make sense. Keep in mind that the mobile app experience will feel more like a full-screen website than a distinct mobile application.
The MEAP and MADP marketplace has dozens of players--each with its own strength and weaknesses--and we recommend an in-depth evaluation before selecting a single platform. Among the dozens of players in the market here are three Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms leaders that we recommend as the starting point for your evaluation:
The Kony Mobility Platform combines several of their products into a holistic service offering for organizations looking to build an application that connects to their preexisting back-end business systems, such as SAP, Siebel, Salesforce, Sharepoint or Oracle. One of the strongest pieces of their offering is Kony’s MobileFabric, which allows decoupling the front- and back-ends through a set of connectors that auto-generate the client bindings through their iOS, Android, Windows, and PhoneGap SDKs.
Application development is handled through Kony Nitro Engine, a JS based development platform that allows working both with native and hybrid application components. It is also compatible with Kony Visualizer, a GUI based development interface.
Each one of the components of the Kony Mobility Platform is powerful in itself, and together they create one of the most powerful mobile development suites in the marketplace.
Outsystems positions themselves as a low-code development platform for web and mobile applications, first and foremost pushing the rapid application development benefits of their software suite. At the core of their offering stands their model-driven visual development interface, which provides drag-and-drop functionality for the user interface, business processes, logic, and data models.
While we do not recommend using the available UI components to build anything but the most basic user interfaces, the software does provide the richest feature set for implementing custom business logic that we have seen in the marketplace. One of the biggest strengths of Outsystems is the capability to integrate with 3rd party systems, including custom SOAP services and REST APIs using their visual development interface. This makes integrating with an existing system such as Salesforce or legacy databases a snap.
Another interesting feature of Outsystems is the ability to run an application on their cloud-based platform, another public or private cloud platform or on-premises. This allows for a variety of use cases, including the most data-sensitive business needs.
New on this list for us this year, Mendix has established itself as a leader in this space. Their platform has gained much traction, and it is even used by SAP and IBM in their respective MADP offerings, adding long-term stability to the Mendix platform.
Typically choosing a MEAP means long-term vendor lock to the respective platform. One feature that really stands out to us with Mendix is cloud portability. A production system using their platform can be deployed to any cloud-based or on-prem Cloud Foundry environment. Should something happen to the Mendix network (which lives on AWS), companies can move their applications to their own hosting environment.
Another great offering is the Mendix app store. Here members of the developer community can make their modules available to anyone using the platform. This includes everything from data connectors, to interface component and authentication modules.
Mendix also has a strong focus on "citizen developers", enabling business process owners to build and modify applications without involving IT developers. They do this by tailoring the development process and documentation to a variety of abilities. How much value this provides will vary by business, but we appreciate their focus on a wide range of development skills, therefore potentially allowing smaller business teams to develop their own applications.
For a more in-depth analysis of the MEAP marketplace, we recommend Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Mobile App Development Platforms report or The Forrester Wave Mobile Development Platforms report.
If you are considering developing a web or mobile application in-house using an Enterprise Application Platform then consider working with our team at Emerge Interactive to ensure a successful project. Our Enterprise Mobility Strategy & Consulting offering can help you lay the foundation for an effective mobility program and guide you through the complex decisions your organization needs to make to get there. Contact us today to talk to one of our business experts about how to best leverage a mobile enterprise application platform for your project.
[2/15/19: Updated for 2019]