Today, India is no more a mobile first economy but a mobile only economy. With the rising number of mobile internet users, mobility has forever transformed the way we work, communicate and socialize. Start- ups and fast moving incumbents globally are harnessing mobile technology to offer personalized experience to their customers. Smartphones have brought around disruption in most industries. Today, banking services are available to the customers at their door steps, travel and transport have earned the reputation as innovators with radio taxi’s pay-per-use travel and driverless cars.
The recent push towards digitizing India will create further opportunities for improving digital infrastructure, delivering services online and making citizens digitally literate. While most corporates have already invested in technology, this momentum will drive companies in both the public and private sector to invest in technology or update their existing technologies to suit their business needs. However, for a successful implementation there are a few things to consider:
Bringing data to the phone
Typically, information resides in the “backend” commonly referred to as a System of Records (SoR). These SoRs expose Application Programing Interfaces (API) which Systems of Engagements (SoE) like Mobile apps or web apps use. The SoEs read, edit and write the data to the SoR using the APIs while being connected to the internet.
Today, the primary net connectivity for a smart phone is the public internet which is provided by a telecom operator (EDGE/2G/3G/4G etc) or sometimes through a WiFi. For a mobile app running on this smart phone, it means the APIS which were earlier available only within the firewall; now must be made available on the internet. Hence, these APIs are made secure using some form of authentication mechanism. Typically, the mobile app developer needs to deal with connectivity to multiple SoRs each with its own security requirements.
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API gateways can act as a solution to all these problems by allowing organizations to secure and monitor the SoR APIs. For instance, IBM’s API Connect is an API management solution that addresses critical aspects of the API lifecycle for both on premises and cloud environments.
The Mobile challenge
Besides security requirements for SoRs, mobile apps have their unique set of requirements like mobile specific security fingerprint authentication, mobile app lifecycle management, app version management and uniform authentication. In addition, mobile app developers have to integrate mobile specific features like push notifications, 10+ sensors like GPS, camera and wearables.
Mobile development teams also have unique needs for providing a seamless user experience for users on the go. The app may need to be functional when the user is online as well as offline. The complexity multiplies while implementing or upgrading an app that needs to run across multiple mobile platforms (iOS, Android, windows). Mobile apps also need to keep up with user feedback and deliver quick updates. Hence the devops frequency for mobile apps is often faster than the backend and API devops frequency.
Post deployment, there are two critical challenges:
- Insight into working of the app
- Scalability of infrastructure depending on increase or decrease in traffic
While operations engineers need information on crashes, error logs and performance; business analysts need information on app features used and drop off rates. Building all these features from scratch by the mobile development team distracts them from their core job – providing the best user experience on the mobile app.
Solution lies in Mobile Middleware
Deployment of a mobile app solution – part on the cloud part on-premises.
Mobile middleware like MobileFirst on Bluemix is the answer to all the aforesaid challenges. It provides a pass-through layer for enterprise data. The enterprise data passes through this secure layer without having to reside in the Mobile Middleware. The middleware layer offers an intercept for authentication, API mashing, protocol translation and mobile specific feature support. MobileFirst middleware provides enhanced capabilities like encrypted local storage to support offline mode, device tracking, app life cycle management and a platform for API isolation. They also come with robust analytics capabilities that provide operational analytics as well as app usage analytics. All this at no additional burden to the app developers.
Deploying mobile middleware in a cloud hosting platform like Bluemix.net has several advantages as it provides a secure connection to the SoR APIs and is scalable on demand. Some organizations typically see their users interact with a mobile app in peak patterns like festive offers, end of year traffic for insurance quotes, seasonal peaks for package delivery confirmation etc.
Pay-as-you-go and pay-per-use model are preferred as it allows business leaders to avoid going through the centralized IT budget and without compromising on the security. With these services for example a leading life insurance company’s lead generation division can equip its field agents with a policy calculator and lead capture mobile app without compromising on enterprise security.
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There are other use cases where incidental mobile apps are becoming popular like an app for a sports event or a marketing campaign. These apps can be built with all the enterprise features mentioned above, but built without the development overhead and a pay per use model.
With public cloud platforms maturing and providing secure on-premises connectivity, using them as extensions of your core IT infrastructure has become a reality. We are seeing an increase in adoption of mobile middleware hosted on the cloud. It is certainly an option worth investing.
(Disclaimer: This is a guest post submitted on Techstory by Ajay Chebbi is a Sr. Architect – Development with IBM India Software Lab. All the contents and images in the article have been provided to Techstory by the authors of the article. Techstory is not responsible or liable for any content in this article.)