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Rethink mobile app development: Re-use rather than rip and replace

Rethink mobile app development: Re-use rather than rip and replace

As businesses embrace the mobile channel, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater

There is no question that mobile use is on the increase. According to Telsyte, nearly 90 per cent of all mobile phone users in Australia will have a smartphone as their primary device in 2015, up from just under 50 per cent in 2011. That equates to 18.5 million smartphone users. Visits to e-commerce websites from mobile devices are becoming a significant part of the shopping experience, with 15 per cent of mobile phone owners doing so on a monthly basis at present.

As technology evolves, and new trends emerge, end users’ demands and expectations of software applications are constantly changing. The emergence of social media and Web 2.0 applications are driving users to expect more from applications in a business environment. However, in reality businesses are encountering system incompatibilities when creating enterprise mobile apps.

One main challenge is the supporting of new operating environments. The growing popularity of smartphones means that different mobile platforms need to be considered. Applications therefore need to be platform agnostic, even if they are mobile web based. More importantly, these apps need to be thoroughly tested to reduce the risk of failure and help lower ongoing maintenance costs.

Many core IT systems will already be comprised of well-defined functions that individually or collectively provide a valuable business service. Hence, exposing the mechanics of these services is often the main challenge and a good test of architectural prowess for mobile app developers who usually face the challenge of ‘how’ rather than ‘what’.

In developing mobile apps, the trick is to re-use as much of what is already working, and only build new what is absolutely needed. Rewriting a back-end IT system for the sake of a new mobile interface is overcomplicating an already complex IT task.

The trick of re-using proven technology isn’t a new idea: Existing web portals, which themselves are usually just hooks into pre-existing IT systems, can be harnessed for mobile apps. If applications are already connected with the Internet, IT can focus on the content delivery and management of existing functionality to mobile devices. In theory, then all that has to be created is a mobile interface.

Older core systems are typically better architected for re-use, as the core logic is more easily accessible from calling services such as remote devices.

As a result, many businesses are choosing to build application portals that allow new (mobile) interfaces to access existing business functions as the simplest approach to providing new mobile applications and services.

According to a recent survey carried out by market research firm Vanson Bourne, Australia, together with New Zealand and Hong Kong, has one of the highest rates of mobile deployments of mainframe applications in the world. To-date, close to a quarter (23 per cent) of Australian organisations have extended access to a modernised mainframe application to mobile devices, and more than a third (34 per cent) are planning to do so in the next three to six months.

In order to future proof systems for the rise of mobile, businesses should assess existing infrastructure and proven business services; and not fall into the trap of re-writing systems just to support a new channel. The key to this is to re-use as much that is already working as possible and look at how this can be built upon where needed.

Bruce Craig is country manager at Micro Focus Australia and New Zealand

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