Enterprise to mobile developers: We need business apps

Peggy Albright

The business world is finally embracing mobile applications. Companies realize that their employees want mobile business applications that are intuitive, friendly and as engaging as the consumer apps they use every day. This trend could offer real revenue potential for developers because business apps can command premium prices and produce better income for developers compared to consumer apps. 

"There is no question that there is money behind this," said Stephen Drake, program vice president for mobility and telecom at IDC. "There are definitely higher margins. The volumes may not be there yet, but definitely the pricing is there for enterprise applications if it is something that is of interest."

Developers are increasingly focusing on business apps. According to a developer survey that IDC conducted with Appcelerator in the first quarter of 2012, more than 40 percent of developers were working mostly on business apps during the survey, up from about 30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. The proportion focusing on consumer apps has dropped from about 70 percent of developers in the fourth quarter of 2010 to less than 60 percent in the first quarter of 2012.

Participants from throughout the ecosystem also continue to make commitments to mobile enterprise applications. Here are four announcements from just the past two weeks:  

  • AT&T (NYSE:T) launched a mobile app storefront for small businesses that are seeking wireless applications for workforce management, mobile office, fleet management, mobile payment and other functions.
  • AppCentral, formerly Ondeego, launched a multi-platform mobile application management solution to help companies set up enterprise app stores and manage corporate apps on company and employee-owned smartphones and tablets.
  • HP introduced a service platform that communications service providers can use to help their enterprise customers set up app stores to distribute and manage mobile apps for their employees.
  • The enterprise software firm SAP announced that it is acquiring Syclo, a leading mobile app developer for the enterprise, to meet the growing demand for mobile workforce software and services. SAP also partnered with Adobe, Appcelerator and Sencha to help it create an open mobile app development framework that will attract developers to integrate SAP data into innovative third-party apps, which run on its mobile platform.

Of course, developing mobile apps for the enterprise market requires a different type of thinking compared to consumer app development. For example, mobile enterprise apps will need to integrate with back-end systems and corporate data, and they will need to meet stringent security standards. The app will have to help a company improve productivity or customer relationships or serve other key business objectives. Development will likely take longer, because enterprises are careful to introduce applications and will often conduct pilot studies with internal staff before introducing a new application company-wide. Developers will have to look in different directions to find partners and learn their specialties because the enterprise sector has its own universe of software vendors and platform providers.

But the "consumerization of IT," which describes enterprise acceptance of technologies that originated in the consumer sector, could work to the benefit of mobile developers, who learned their craft in the consumer environment and can now apply their skills in this newer market to help companies create more compelling business apps that run on smart phones and tablets.

In fact, enterprises now recognize that their employees, customers and business partners want slick business apps that can live up to the experiences they enjoy on their consumer devices, Drake said. He suggested that mobile app developers may find that their creativity and design expertise is welcomed by firms that are trying to add pizazz to enterprise apps. 

One strategy mobile developers want to consider, if they haven't already, is reaching out to mobile operators and joining their developer programs. Many small and large companies have close relationships with their telecommunications service providers and seek them out for services and expertise. And many leading operators have established app stores by now for distributing applications to the enterprise market.--Peggy