Smart corporates are using mobile apps to collect real-time data, analyze it and feed it to employees, who can respond immediately. Companies that neglect these tools could find themselves at a disadvantage.
DO-IT-YOURSELF OR OUTSOURCE?
So, corporates are beefing up spending on app development. A Gartner survey from the end of 2014 found that 79% of companies planned to increase their dedicated budget in the following 12 months. And a report from research service BI Intelligence in November 2015 predicts that global investment in application development within IoT-related industrial environments will grow from $146 billion in 2015 to $716 billion in 2020.
Who carries out the actual development depends on the company. Union Station Technology Center, a relatively small data center operator with four locations in Indiana, wanted the ability to manage its system controls remotely and in real time. It created an IoT tool to feed data into mobile apps that CTO Vishal Singh bought off the shelf. Now key personnel, including outside vendors, get notifications on their smartphones—even when off duty—if something isn’t working right, and they can get on it immediately. “Before these changes, systems had to fail before the failure could be detected, recognized and resolved,” Singh explains. In the 18 months or so that it has been in place, he says, the mobile system has yielded tremendous return on investment in minimized downtime, reduced staffing needs and an enhanced competitive position.
Other corporates prefer working with a technology vendor from start to finish, while still others do the whole thing themselves. For example, to keep its sales force—tens of thousands of people around the world—happy and motivated, personal computer and printer maker HP designed an in-house mobile app that lets them review their performance and compensation every day. “They love it,” says Yves Cabanac, who manages sales operations and compensation. “We have had 95% adoption out of about 25,000 salespeople, and without doing any marketing for it. Salespeople don’t want to be locked at the office, and now they can check this information from their phones.”
But smaller companies could have trouble finding the skilled manpower to do this kind of proprietary development. According to Gartner, “through 2017, the market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organization capacity to deliver them.” Corporates that can’t keep up will turn to off-the-shelf solutions that can be customized after purchase, even by nondevelopers. A growing number of technology companies are focusing on offering just such products.
Mobile has evolved from being a ‘nice to have’ to, most times, a ‘must have’ or at least a ‘must be on roadmap.
~ Kristina Shen, Bessemer Venture Partners
The architecture behind mobile solutions also varies. Apps can be “native,” built specifically for a platform like iOS or Android to take advantage of a mobile device’s features, like the camera and GPS. They can be Web-based, accessible across platforms by opening a browser and logging into a URL. Or they can be a mix of both.
Malaysian engineering firm Abbaco Controls is looking to go native soon, but for the time being it’s using Web-based mobile apps to create a system for monitoring rice paddy irrigation. Developed in partnership with Intel, the system uses sensors to collect real-time information on water levels. It sends the data to the Cloud, where it is analyzed; the analysis is forwarded to human controllers who can then adjust the gates to allow for more or less water as needed. Abbaco founder Chang Yew Cheong says the system represents a big change from the past.
Such real-time responsiveness is critical for FedEx, the global delivery and logistics company, which uses the same enterprise mobile apps to notify customers of delivery status and to tell couriers not to bother stopping at an empty drop box. “The days of speed, consistency and omni-channel are fully upon us,” says Cisco Sanchez, vice president for enterprise foundational services.
Early adopters of enterprise mobile apps will have a competitive advantage, analysts say, because the digital divide between first-in-class and the rest is destined to grow. “This is a survival game for companies,” says Warburg Pincus’s Kushwaha, who performs technology due diligence on the firm’s prospective portfolio companies. “If you don’t have a mobile strategy, you must, because both your customers and your workers expect it. Enterprises have to start today if they want to really be mobile-enabled 15 years from now.”