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Last week at TechEd Las Vegas we spoke to many customers about their mobile strategies and projects. Every one that we spoke to shared that their projects continue to be heavily driven by consumerization of IT. But it’s not just workers bringing their favorite smartphones and tablets to work. It is also organizations stepping up to the challenge with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mobility policies, and it is the underlying mobility management platforms being able to support a growing diversity of devices in the workplace. Consumerization of IT is also having a huge impact on mobile app developers and the way they create mobile applications.

For years, building a robust consumer application meant choosing a platform like iOS, mastering its native development tools, and building the app. For obvious economic reasons, developers spent their greatest efforts on the largest markets, which at first was iOS. As the Android market grew, developers would often launch an application on one platform and then build it again for the other platform. The dominance of iOS and Android in the smartphone market made it difficult for competitors like Windows Phone and BlackBerry to attract the attention (and development efforts) of developers. The cost of developing apps was too high to spend it on marginal device markets. These are the dynamics that have been driving the consumer mobile app market in recent years. However this is all changing and it is changing in a way that also affects how developers create enterprise-grade business apps.

The change agents for mobile app developers are cross-platform app development tools (there is a long and detailed report on cross platform development tools available here). Cross platform developer tools are developer environments that enable developers to create mobile apps for multiple platforms with essentially the same codebase. PhoneGap and Sencha are two leading examples. Cross platform development tools have turned out to be a boon to mobile app developers for several reasons. First, they make it possible for developers with basic web development skills to create native mobile apps with HTML5. The other significant advantage is that developers can now develop an app once and it will run on multiple platforms and screens. This capability vastly increases the potential market for a given development effort.

Cross platform development are completely altering the consumer mobile app market, but how does this play in the enterprise app space? Enterprise apps present a special challenge. They need secure connections to back-end enterprise data systems, they need data encryption, and they need rigorous role-based configuration and control. These capabilities are difficult to build using cross platform development tools.

The best way to leverage these tools in the enterprise apps space is to adopt an enterprise app platform standard that is totally compatible with cross platform tools like PhoneGap, Sencha, Appcelerator, and others. In this way a developer can use an app container from the enterprise-grade app development platform for all the security controls, authentication, and back-end data connection. That container becomes a run-time environment containing apps developed using the cross platform tools to quickly build the business logic and user interface. Apps developed with the cross platform tools then become “plugins” to the container.   

This strategy makes it possible to accelerate the development of complex, secure enterprise grade mobile apps. The key to success, however, is adopting a platform that is compatible with a breadth of cross platform development tools. This maximizes the potential developer pool for enterprise-grade apps, and it minimizes app development cost.

Interested in learning more? Last week our mobile experts recorded YouTube videos live from the TechEd Las Vegas showcase floor including John Wargo, Tony Kueh and David Brutman about how SAP is harnessing third party mobile application development. Enjoy!