The consumer mobility market has experienced massive growth, largely driven by the sale of smartphones, which topped 1.2 billion units sold globally in 2014, an increase of 28% from 2013.

This consumer adoption subsequently drove the Bring Your Own Device movement, as employees demanded the right to bring their own mobile devices into their workplaces. Ninety-five percent of employees now say they use at least one personal device for work. In turn, companies adopted mobile device-management solutions for security and control, largely to protect company information and applications. This resulted in companies locking down employee devices to provide secure access to personal information-management (PIM) applications such as e-mail, calendar and contacts.

Despite the ascent of mobile devices in the workplace, fewer than 25% of companies have built or bought a mobile app beyond PIM apps. Despite the high demand from employees to access corporate systems from mobile endpoints, enterprises are woefully unable to deliver the “consumer-like” user experiences their employees expect.

Where are all the apps?
The average Global 2000 enterprise uses 424 packaged and custom-built applications to support its business. This includes packaged on-premises applications such as SAP and Oracle; packaged cloud-based applications such as Salesforce and Workday; and bespoke applications that were purpose-built using Web, .NET, Java, and even legacy “green screen” systems.

Out of all of these applications, fewer than 5% have been extended to users on mobile devices. Why? On average it takes corporations seven months and US$270,000 to develop one mobile app of medium complexity for two mobile device platforms.

Gartner warns that companies will need to develop and support up to 2,000 mobile apps within five years, as the mobilization of a given back-end system will likely yield multiple apps to support various subsets of workflows.

Sadly, only 33% of companies have a formal strategy for enterprise mobility. Further, 67% of CIOs have no specific budget for such projects, 53% have infrastructure built for Web (not mobile), and 50% do not have the right in-house resources to develop mobile apps. Clearly, the time, complexity and cost of current approaches have kept enterprise mobility an unfulfilled promise.

To be fair, the CIO should not shoulder the blame alone for this lack of progress. Rather, the technology vendor community shares responsibility, as the solutions and approaches that have been set forth to date are slow, complex and expensive, relegating enterprise mobility as a luxury that can only be justified by a handful of revenue-generating or customer-facing use cases.

Such approaches can be broken down into four categories: 1) Buy, 2) Build, 3) Virtualize or 4) Mobilize.

Buy: Some companies hope that they can buy mobile apps from current on-premises or cloud-based application vendors, or will receive them as part of future upgrades under their maintenance contracts. Regrettably, less than 23% of companies implement such systems off the shelf without customization. Therefore, if a customer wishes to use the mobile apps provided by that vendor, it would need to modify the source code of that app to reflect the customization to the associated back-end application. The result is that buy is likely the slowest, most complex, and most expensive choice.

Build: The majority of vendor solutions are in the build category. These options include native mobile operating systems such as iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry, as well as open-source mobile platforms. These are fine if a company is building an app for a specific mobile device, but the time, complexity and costs become exponential when a company needs to build and maintain multiple apps across multiple mobile OS and form factors.

Build solutions also include mobile application development platforms (MADPs). MADPs were created based on the notion that mobile apps for the enterprise could be developed and managed using a singular platform. However, MADPs are proprietary development tools that require exotic skillsets and fluency, which in turn typically creates a dependency on external consultants to implement and maintain. In addition, MADPs often present high software licensing and maintenance costs, which is why they have already become a “legacy” approach.

Another build category that has recently emerged is Mobile Back-end-as-a-Service (MBaaS). These solutions provide mobile developers with a way to link apps to APIs to back-end applications. It remains, however, the MBaaS tools are “middleware” between app and back end, which means the customer must either build a native app or a platform-based app on the mobile device, and have developed structured API libraries.

A final build category has emerged recently, called rapid mobile application development (RMAD). RMAD tools present alternative, faster approaches that yield rapid delivery by a wider range of lower-cost resources. This market is being driven by significant innovation, with the objective to replace traditional coding with more effective codeless development tools that automatically build the constructs of the mobile app. While there is a huge variation in RMAD vendor offerings, the solution holds promise for the future of the build approach to enterprise mobility.

Virtualize: Virtualization solutions have been offered by established players for many years. These are based upon remote computing protocols that are 20 to 30 years old, which provide the means to re-visualize applications between homogeneous desktop environments. The major benefits of virtualization are speed, security and low cost, and the drawback is a poor, non-native user experience, which is particularly acute when using a mobile device.

Mobilize: Virtualization has given rise to new tools that apply next-generation technologies to “refactor” or transform the back-end application for consumption on mobile devices. Therein, such solutions deliver the speed, security and economy of virtualization, but also deliver a native user experience on the mobile device.

Most app refactoring solutions specialize in virtualizing a specific class of back-end technologies, such as Web, .NET, Java or green screens, and then can only address a portion of the application functionality built on those technologies. However, only a handful of solutions have recently emerged that transcend any application based on any back-end technology to any endpoint.

The future: Fulfilling the promise
As consumers of mobile technology, we live in a world of $0.99 apps, which is simply not applicable to the mobile demands of the enterprise. However, this next generation of solutions is quickly helping to bridge the gap—a massive step toward fulfilling the promise of enterprise mobility.