The Best Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms for 2021
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How to select the right MEAP for your Enterprise Mobile Application project
Your team has been tasked with building an enterprise mobile application to allow your increasingly mobile workforce or customer base to access your company’s services from their mobile devices. This can be a daunting task, as it requires a variety of domain expertise, from solutions architecture and user experience design to mobile application devops and deployment management. Fortunately there are several ways to tackle a project like this and improve your mobile experience, and I will outline a few of them here.
As more enterprise organizations are embracing mobile technology and looking to enhance their operations by embedding mobile and tablet applications into their business, the marketplace is getting crowded with companies that promise a one-stop solution for enterprise mobility.
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 product design 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. User experience exercises, such as empathy mapping, journey mapping, and creating a service blueprint, can ensure that you create the best application to serve your 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, although using a newer framework such as React Native will provide more longevity. Keep in mind that the mobile app experience using Cordova will typically 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 strengths and weaknesses–and we recommend an in-depth evaluation before selecting a single platform. In addition to considering hiring a Digital Product Agency to design and build a bespoke mobile app for your organization, we will highlight four Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms leaders that we recommend as a starting point for your evaluation.
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 used to not recommend using the available UI components to build anything but the most basic user interfaces, they have more recently updated their UI library to be more competitive. Their software provides 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 (a subsidiary of Siemens) 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. Mendix also recently started offering support for private cloud installations, allowing you to run your low code applications in your own Kubernetes-based (virtual) private cloud.
Another great offering is the Mendix Marketplace. 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.
New on our list this year, Plant an App is still a relatively new player that is differentiating itself through its inclusiveness of all business personas, particularly developers. Instead of trying to replace developers through their low code platform, their goal is to empower developers through their platform.
Low code is enabling developers to be even better at their jobs and that is why they have built their platform around the needs and wants of software engineers, helping them accelerate software delivery without compromising on technical flexibility. They claim that a large majority of people building apps with Plant an App are technical people.
In exchange for working with a less established low code platform, you receive more pricing transparency and better value. Their entry level plan costs only $2,000/app/year. Unsure if low code is right for your business? Plant an App will develop a proof of concept app for you in a week for $4,000. Their business model enables them to target mid-market enterprises, where the need for agility and digital transformation is more challenging, especially due to budget constraints.
HCL Volt MX (formerly Kony Quantum)
After being acquired by Temenos, a Swiss banking software provider, the non-banking part of the platform was spun out to HCL Software and continues to live on there. The former industry leader continues to be worth considering, although it is unclear how much HCL will invest into it in the future.
The HCL Volt MX platform combines several 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 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 Nitro Engine, a JS based development platform that allows working both with native and hybrid application components. It is also compatible with Visualizer, a GUI based development interface.
Each one of the components of the HCL Volt MX platform is powerful in itself, and together they create one of the most powerful mobile development suites in the marketplace.
If you are uncertain about your team’s ability to take on the workload and responsibility of the end-to-end application design and development, consider partnering with a proven Digital Product Agency. Our team can help you complete an organizational review, linked with a solutions analysis, to determine the correct approach to your project. We offer the strategic leadership that aligns the project with your long-term business goals, avoiding technical debt and maximizing your ROI. Schedule a free consult with us to review your project and options.
For a more in-depth analysis of the MEAP marketplace, we recommend Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms report [PDF].
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 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. Unsure about how to proceed? Schedule a call today to talk to one of our business experts about how to best leverage a mobile enterprise application platform for your project.
[12/02/20: Updated for 2021; updated all offerings and added Plant an App]