The proliferation of mobile devices has, in many ways, been a boon for modern enterprises. Mobile devices can enable your employees to access work information and communicate with clients from anywhere at any time, accelerating the speed at which your company moves. That’s an unequivocal good thing, but it does come with one pretty major downside: compatibility. How can you make your business tools work across all of those different devices and platforms?
You can issue company phones, of course, but in this day and age everybody has a personal smartphone. And many people have personal tablets and laptops too. If the apps your employees need can only run on one mobile platform and won’t work on all of their personal devices, you lose some of the benefits of having a connected mobile workforce (because people don’t, for example, tend to check their work phones as often as their personal phones during off hours). But if you do want to work with everybody’s devices, you’ve got to solve the compatibility problem.
How can you develop apps for your employees that will work across Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and maybe even Windows Phones without spending an absolute fortune developing the same app over and over? You can do it with MEAPs.
What is a MEAP?
MEAP is short for Mobile Enterprise Application Platform. In short, a MEAP is a suite of products and services designed to facilitate the development of mobile applications. Gartner coined the term MEAP in 2008 to replace the more cumbersome “multi-channel access gateway market,” but that’s essentially what a MEAP is: a single gateway to multi-channel (or multi-platform) app development.
Put another way, a MEAP is a platform that’s designed to take into account the diversity of mobile and desktop devices, the diversity of potential app data sources, and the diversity possible users when developing an app. Using a MEAP, you should be able to develop an app once and then—with minimal or no time spent porting code to new platforms—publish and manage that app across a variety of systems and devices. Instead of having to rewrite the same app over and over for each new operating system, you write it once, and the MEAP takes care of the rest.
What Makes a MEAP?
Typically, a MEAP is composed of two parts: a mobile middleware server and a mobile client application. The middleware server is where most of the action happens. It handles all of the cross-system integration, security, and data management, although it doesn’t store data itself—rather, it is integrated with your business’s existing data storage solution or solutions. Typically, the middleware server also comes with tools that allow for management and configuration of the mobile client application after it has been launched.
The mobile client application is the other part of a MEAP, the part that actually goes on your employee’s phones, tablets, PCs, etc. How exactly this works depends on your company’s needs and the MEAP you’ve chosen. With some MEAPs, you might use a Java and HTML5 development environment to develop a single app that the MEAP is capable of converting into native iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows apps. A more simple MEAP might just allow you to develop an HTML5 application that could run in browsers across all of those devices. But whatever the specifics, a MEAP’s mobile client app is tightly bound to the middleware server, and it shares any new data users have stored with that server whenever it’s connected.
As with any sort of software solution, there are lots of options when it comes to MEAPs, but they do tend to share a few common features. First and most obvious: they support multiple types of mobile client applications without having to write code for more than one client.
Moreover, coding an application through a MEAP is usually relatively straightforward. MEAP development environments typically use fourth-generation programming languages so that the development required on your end is relatively simple. Some MEAPs even use graphical tools or special simplified scripting languages so that little coding is required.
MEAPs typically come with middleware servers that are capable of integrating with a variety of data sources from your existing backend systems. The idea is that you can develop one app that works on most mobile platforms and that’ll work with all of your various databases so that employees from every department can get what they need when using the app.
Finally, MEAPs typically allow central control of mobile applications, including everything from app updates to user access levels, via the middleware server.
MEAPs offer a number of advantages over traditional development platforms, especially if you need to produce an app that works on a broad variety of platforms or that draws data from a number of disparate sources in your back end (or both).
First, a MEAP can be a major cost-saver in certain circumstances. Obviously, if you only need your app to work on iOS, developing a single native iOS app might be cheaper than deploying a MEAP, but the more platforms you need to support, the more the cost of traditional native development balloons. The cost of a MEAP is likely to be less than the cost of developing native apps across a three or more mobile operating systems, for example.
For the same reason, deploying a MEAP can also save time. Coding your app once and having it work across multiple platforms is a major time-saver, of course, but perhaps even more important is the time savings MEAPs offer when it comes to application management. Because there’s only a single code base to maintain (instead of having different code for every app), managing apps, pushing updates, and making tweaks via a MEAP is a much simpler proposition that developing and managing multiple native apps separately.
Finally, MEAPs typically offer a more secure environment and a suite of security management tools. MEAPs generally will help you keep guard against unauthorized access even if a user’s device gets lost or stolen. Plus, the central middleware server provides an easy way for your IT team to monitor usage and access across all of the installed mobile clients, making it relatively simple to spot problems.
If all of this is sounding good, then the next step is a serious assessment of whether or not a MEAP is right for your company. We’ll examine that process in more depth in the second part of this article.
In last week’s article, we looked at what Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs) are, the kinds of features they typically contain, and what advantages MEAPs can offer. But once you’ve got a good understanding of what MEAPs look like, it’s time to move on to a deeper question: whether or not a MEAP is right for your business.
The simplest way of assessing whether a MEAP could be right for you—and a good first step to take in your own assessment— is Gartner’s intuitive “Rule of Threes.” The “Rule of Threes” says that MEAPs might be right for you if you need your mobile solution to:
- Support three or more mobile applications
- Support three or more mobile operating systems
- Integrate with three or more back-end data sources
The Rule of Threes is just a quick diagnostic to give you a rough indication of whether or not a MEAP might be right for your needs, though.
The next step is to ensure that the tools you’d be looking to build with a MEAP don’t already exist. Depending on your needs, there could already be an enterprise mobile application out there that does enough of what you need to make the investment in a MEAP unnecessary. If you mostly need the app for your sales team, for example, Salesforce offers mobile apps that work on every major mobile platform and that might get the job done without the need for a custom MEAP project.
If you do need something that’s more customized, the next step is to consider strategy and cost. Does a mobile application that’s deployed across your entire enterprise on multiple platforms really fit with your company’s short- and long-term strategic goals? More importantly, does the cost of implementing a MEAP fit into your budget and is it justifiable in the context of your strategic goals?
If you’ve considered those questions and determined that a MEAP fits with both your strategic goals and your budget, then the next step is to find a vendor that can develop a customized MEAP, or to find an existing MEAP solution that meets your needs.
What to look for in a MEAP Vendor
As with any kind of development outsourcing, you’ll want to do your due diligence when it comes to MEAP vendors, but there are a few MEAP-specific things you should be looking for.
First and foremost, you’ll want to verify that any MEAP platform you’re considering supports all of the operating systems you’ll need your app to be compatible with. Assuming that your company is taking a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach, which means that at a bare minimum you’ll need compatibility with iOS and Android phones and tablets. But depending on the size and habits of your workforce, you may need a MEAP solution that supports Windows Phone or Blackberry, too.
Remember, too, that compatibility isn’t just a client-end problem. You’ll also need a MEAP that’s compatible with (or can be made compatible with) whatever data storage formats and content management systems your company already uses on your back-end. If your company uses an offline, on-site database, then you’ll want to avoid MEAP solutions that can only be integrated with web-based data services.
Beyond compatibility, though, you’ll also want to look for agility. The mobile world changes fast, and a device that doesn’t even exist now could be wildly popular in a few years. Ideally, you want to find a MEAP solution that’s agile and adaptable so that in the future new kinds of devices or new mobile platforms can be rolled into your existing system without having to start again from scratch.
The development environment a MEAP solution offers is also of paramount importance, and options can vary quite a bit. Many MEAPs use fourth-generation programming languages (often web languages like Java or Ruby), but some use customized scripting languages, and a few may even use third-generation languages. You need to find a MEAP that will match well with the skills of of your team—the people that’ll be using the development environment day in and day out. If you’ve got Java experts on your staff, for example, then a MEAP that uses Java as its primary programming language would be ideal. If you don’t, then a Java-based MEAP might not be the best idea.
Once you’ve chosen a vendor or a pre-existing MEAP solution like Swift MEAP, the next steps will vary depending on your choices. Often, MEAP vendors will provide on-site installation, preference-tweaking and, if necessary, some training to get your teams up and running. After that, the reins will be handed over to you and your team so that you can develop your mobile app (or tweak the pre-existing app that came with the MEAP as you see fit).
The world of mobile devices in the workforce grows more complicated by the day.
Employees often bring smartphones, tablets and/or laptops to work—sometimes all three on any given day—and these same people expect their business apps to work seamlessly on every device they use.
That’s a tall task for anyone who creates mobile applications, especially considering that there are a multitude of smart devices running on different operating systems—such as iOS and Android. But here’s the question most business are asking themselves today: If you need a mobile app to help streamline workflows and organize your workforce, how do you create an app that works on multiple devices without spending an arm and a leg?
The bottom line is that creating native apps for individual devices can be costly and time-consuming. Meanwhile web-based and hybrid solutions often don’t work as well when dealing with a lot of information that must integrate with back-end systems.
But…one way to meet the needs of your workforce is with Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs).
Benefits of MEAP
Less Time and Money
According to AT&T, mobile application developers spend 20 percent of their time actually developing an application and 80 percent of their time adapting them for multiple platforms. MEAPs allow you to flip that ratio.
In MEAP deployments, the middleware connects to data in back-end systems, then adapts and translates the information so that it’s viewable on whatever device is requesting the information. So, instead of paying a company to create multiple versions of one app, you can put your money toward developing more apps that add value to your business.
As you may know, application development can be very time-consuming. A survey by Kinvey revealed that 56 percent of CIOs and mobile leaders said it takes between seven months to more than a year to build one app.
In fact, because many MEAPs on the market utilize Java—the most common programming language—as well as HTML5 for common, cross-platform interfaces, the development period for apps meant to run on multiple platforms requires less time and energy than if you were to develop multiple native apps simultaneously.
It’s one thing for individuals to download commercial apps—such as games—onto their mobile device. It’s a whole different challenge when mobile apps are integrated with a company’s key back-end infrastructure. If a device with access to key data via a company app should fall into the wrong hands, a breach could easily occur and cause financial damage to a business.
Many MEAPs, however, guard against unauthorized access and aid in the effort to protect data, even if the device is lost or stolen. Because these platforms offer a front to back-end solution, they are able to utilize advanced encryption standards—which make the transfer of data across mobile networks more secure.
Additionally, because MEAPs allow for an environment where security is heightened, it means that industries that must comply with strict security regulations can rest assured they will be compliant.
MEAPs can also play a watchdog role because they own a centralized management component that allows for transparency throughout your mobile network. Your IT team can monitor any and all activity on mobile apps, including users, data, traffic, etc. and deliver a detailed report to boot. That includes being able to control which users can access certain applications as well as which applications can access databases and retrieve data.
The complete transparency also allows for troubleshooting problems and keeping an eye on bandwidth and server capacity as more and more mobile apps are integrated into back-end systems.
If the Rule of Three strikes a chord with you, the next step is to find a vendor that can customize a MEAP that meets the needs of your business. Before embarking on the search, take a look at “How to Spot False Promises from Enterprise App Development Platforms.” This article provides a list of key questions you should ask any future partner in this arena.