Software developers are not usually the driving force behind creating the business case for mobile, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t involved in it. At a minimum, business leaders will look to you to help determine the overall cost of these initiatives. These decisions have consequences, and IT is in the business of revisiting its past choices. It’s easy to decide to write a new CRM feature in Java or .NET based on the demands of your existing internal infrastructure, but the mobile technology landscape presents a whole different ballgame.

The sheer number of mobile options makes it impossible to take a technology-first approach. So when a business leader approaches you for justification for mobile spending, or for help in better evaluating a program’s value, be ready to assess many factors, including but not limited to your inventory of mobile development skills, the first few applications you will build, time-to-market constraints, enterprise infrastructure changes, and how all of these factors will coexist in a mobile strategy.

Before beginning your cost assessment and resource planning, you need to make sure that you have a well-defined mobile strategy in place. Without this, you can be virtually certain that you will run short on resources sooner rather than later. To make sure you cover all the bases, consider using what Forrester calls the POST (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology) method:
People: Who will be the primary users of this app?
Objectives: What are the objectives of this app?
Strategy: What are the short-term and long-term strategies for this app?
Technology: Which mobile technology meets the goals of this challenge?

Having a strategy for your next mobile app isn’t the same as having a mobile app strategy. Data from Forrester’s Forrsights Software Survey, Q4 2011 showed that increased use of mobile applications is improving the satisfaction of business users. The increase in mobile development creates a vacuum for certain internal skill sets, and increases IT budgets to fund these activities. And mobile changes time-to-market expectations: The historical expectations of 12- to 18-month development cycles have shrunk considerably, to perhaps four to six months for mobile.
In our Mobile App Development Playbook, we address what you need to do as a result:

Develop a current mobile strategy. The ideal mobile solution for one business challenge may be far from ideal for another. You have to start somewhere, but don’t be so shortsighted to think that your most recent solution will fit all future mobile enablement efforts. Instead, be laser-focused on the current challenge and use this focus to select the proper technology.

Assess the internal costs to fully implement this mobile strategy. If you aren’t thorough in assessing the end-to-end impact of your mobile initiative, you’ll fall short. Will it require additional design and user experience skills? Will the existing enterprise infrastructure support the technologies required for mobile? You’re building this app to succeed, so plan for unmitigated success. Will your existing systems and infrastructure scale, or should you consider cloud as an option?

Factor in maintenance, KPI assessments, and associated mobile app improvements. Delivery of the mobile app to the targeted end users is only the beginning of its cost. Listening and reacting to real-time user feedback—including analytics—will help you monitor usage and catch early bugs. This is crucial to your success but will consume resources.

So why bother with all of this? Because enterprise executives continually lament the cost overruns of mobile development efforts. Mobile development is different, because mobile is more than just a new delivery channel; it is the engagement model for your company.

Mobile will change your enterprise infrastructure. Most enterprise mobile apps require access to data that is housed in a service infrastructure that can be architected to provide data in a mobile-friendly format like lightweight XML or JSON. More often, however, this data is provided using mobile-unfriendly technologies such as XML-RPC and SOAP.

The pronounced change mobile has on your organization will have an enormous impact on the skill set required by your developers. Mobile adds a new twist to client platform languages, user experience design fundamentals, back-end enterprise data exchange, and testing and automation practices. For example, client-side Android development uses Java, but places a heavy emphasis on interaction with the user interface, which is written predominantly in XML. iOS uses Objective-C, which involves a learning curve for Java, C and C++ developers. While HTML5 will be familiar to those with Web development skills, mobile’s reliance on new tags, CSS3 for styling and responsive design, and mobile JavaScript libraries is a considerable change.

Is your organization unready to jump into all of these new waters, but needs a mobile app soon? Organizations with weak skills may want to consider working with a digital agency on an initial implementation. Systems integrators can accelerate infrastructure improvements for mobile. Finally, if delivery skills and infrastructure are concerns, mobile middleware or Back-End-as-a-Service offerings provide service integration/federation and tools that will benefit skills-challenged development teams.

Michael Facemire is a senior analyst at Forrester Research.