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How to support mobile app development in your organisation

John Moore | Aug. 14, 2013
As consumers eschew desktops and laptops for smartphones and tablets, organizations are increasingly tasked with developing apps for those mobile devices. These apps can be harder to manage than their Web-based brethren, but agile development methods can help ease the pain.

Mobile Apps Hard to Manage, But Users Love 'Em
Indeed, IT shops are grappling with the mobile juggernaut.

"Getting a handle on mobile initiatives that are underway is proving to be a challenge," says Sriram Ramanathan, chief technology officer at Kony, a mobile and multi-channel application platform provider.

Ramanathan says multiple lines of business within enterprises have already invested in native, consumer-facing apps, which were built using external consultants. Those apps may reflect myriad standards, technologies and processes used in their development. New devices, form factors and operating systems upgrades also contribute to the management task. In addition, Ramanathan notes strong demand for mobilizing internal apps, with both executives and employees leading the charge.

The spreading influence of mobile technology marks a departure from the traditional Web-based world. In that setting, CIOs grew accustomed to browser-based app delivery where they could centrally control Web apps with ease, according to Ramanathan.

To overcome the difficulties of mobile app development, some organizations are rolling specialized oversight groups. Ramanathan has seen a mobile/multi-channel center of excellence work well. He describes a center of this kind as a central, CIO-funded initiative that may carry out several tasks:

  • Providing standards pertaining to process and mobile technology.
  • Determining and socializing context-specific best practices for mobile development.
  • Ensuring security best practices.
  • Delivering a set of work product templates to support the mobile software development lifecycle.
  • Providing project oversight and governance.

Mobile Units Take Agile Approach to App Development
Examples of oversight groups include the Department of Veterans Affairs' still-evolving mobile application governance board. The department describes the board in its VA Digital Strategy document as being "responsible for decisions concerning the development of mobile apps centrally managed by VA."

As enterprises create centers or boards, they also look to deploy development methodologies for mobile apps. Agile methods and DevOps are among the approaches receiving attention.

Spotlight Ticket Management, for instance, follows the agile methodology, which the company had been using before its mobile development transition. "We're big believers in Scrum and just getting things down quickly and getting iterations out," Knopp says. (Scrum is a framework for team collaboration on software projects.)

Dave Peters, VA assistant deputy CIO for enterprise software development, also noted that apps need to be designed in an iterative fashion. The key is to involve users.

In the VA's case, Peters says the department needs to practice both continuous integration-an approach that's been around for about 20 years-and continuous deployment/DevOps "to decrease our time to market and enable more frequent and timely end user and customer feedback."

Successful Mobile App Development Makes Key Processes Repeatable
Arny Epstein, chief technology officer at Verivo Software, which provides enterprise mobility software, says companies that have built a good app development shop tend to be doing several things well. For one, they have determined the key skills they need and hired accordingly. They have also put thought into their desired development technologies and selected a mobile development and deployment platform to be productive with infrastructure, he notes.


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