Enterprising applications*

At the recent National Outsourcing Association Awards I was speaking with Clayton Locke, Managing Director (Europe) of IT and outsourcing services company, Virtusa. Virtusa is involved in software development, and one area that it has recently been exploring for its clients is developing enterprise apps for the iPhone and other smart phones.

To date, the majority of apps that have been developed are consumer facing. However, Clayton reckons that there is a market for developing apps that employees of an organisation can use. Given the relatively easy programming platform, it should be fairly straight forward to develop custom apps that can provide employees with an interface to back office systems – whether to view real-time data or to help automate some of the tasks that employees might wish to do on the fly.

Mobile apps already exist for some off-the-shelf enterprise systems. Through its alliance partner programme. Blackberry offers a number of these types of applications which provide mobile connectivity to standard software packages for things like time recording, digital dictation and document management systems.

However, the new SDKs for Blackberry, iPhone and Android should make it easy for individual organisations to develop their own custom apps that reflect the tasks that their employees perform on a day to day basis. One example might be an app for board members which gives real-time access to sales figures. Another example might be an app which allows employees to carry out tasks which would traditionally require a laptop to access and submit data.

The advantages of developing custom apps for the organisation’s chosen smartphone are obvious. Application development costs should be reasonably low. There are low deployment costs as the device is already in the pocket of most members of staff (or can replace their existing mobile device). It can be accessed anytime, any place – no need for a bulky laptop and power supply. Hosting an app on the client, rather than the server, lowers the amount of data traffic without any impact on functionality, as you only need to transfer the live data, not the application itself (cf with “The Future” ten years ago, when thin clients were seen as the way forward). The combination of 2G/3G and wifi connectivity means that a data link is usually always available (and when it’s not, data can be cached locally and then synchronised), and GPS/location based functionality adds another level of functionality. All these things can help improve productivity, efficiency and the service offered to customers. What might app could might you benefit from?

Of course, all this mobile access does give rise to increased risks.

I’ve blogged before about the security (or lack thereof) of personal mobile devices. Providing a direct link to back-end systems giving access to confidential data and (potentially) personal data raises a number of informations security and data protection issues. In particular, organisations developing and deploying such apps will want to ensure that the devices (and the data link) are encrypted, that a VPN is used to protect the link into the back-end systems, and that additional verification is considered when accessing the app itself. Any app that gives access to customer lists or customer information will need to be considered against the organisation’s obligations under the Data Protection Act. This also requires a health-check of the organisation’s internal acceptable use policies to ensure that employees are also doing everything that they should be to avoid unnecessary security risks.

Martin Sloan

*Sorry – no Schwarzenegger puns today.

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