How To Avoid Mobile App Overload

Tuesday Jun 25th 2013

More than 85% of CIOs and IT managers surveyed believe there's a pressing need for them to retire apps that have outlived their usefulness.

By Paul Hyman

If one mobile application is good, two may be better, but there can come a time when an enterprise becomes buried under the weight of just too many apps. So how many is too many—and what's the best way to avoid mobile app overload before the problem becomes overwhelming?

Experts say CIOs need to anticipate the deluge before their IT departments are unable to get their arms around the mobile app situation. Some enterprises, however, may already be under water from apps flooding in from all directions—from public and private app stores, from Websites, from business managers who have the budget to develop or buy apps designed specifically for their own departments.


Indeed, a survey of 100 CIOs and IT managers across the U.S. and Europe identifies a pressing need to retire apps that have outlived their usefulness. According to the most recent Application Landscape Report from IT services and consulting firm Capgemini, more than 85% of those polled think their application landscape is in dire need of rationalization.

"This is not only due to the explosion of mobile apps—which is in its relatively early stage—but also due to legacy apps, aging technology, and overlapping enterprise solutions," says Ron Tolido, senior vice president and CTO for application services at Capgemini. "We have found that today's app landscape is often more an obstacle to successful business and IT alignment than a testament to it."

According to a survey of information workers in 17 countries by Forrester Research, the number of anytime and anywhere employees—those who use three or more devices, work from multiple locations, and use many apps—has risen from 15% of the global workforce in 2011 to 29% in 2012. And with tablet use for work and home expected to triple to 905 million globally by 2017, the BYOD trend is just getting started.

Without CIO oversight, says Chris Hazelton, research director at 451 Research, the ever-growing number of mobile apps being used by employees—and also by outside customers and partners—can lead to multiple vexing problems, including:

  • Two or more different apps may be performing the same function. Or there may be several versions of the same app. As a result, users are unable to determine which app to use and it can become difficult for IT to point to the correct one.
  • Similarly, many companies have a sea of single-purpose apps—many of them dead or out of date and useless—that can get in the way and make finding the most-useful and relevant apps problematic.
  • In an attempt to simplify the situation and combine several single-purpose apps, a developer may inadvertently create an app that is so heavy and complicated that its functionality suffers.
  • There may be so many apps tied to the enterprise's backend that the CIO loses control over which has access to corporate data.
  • Business divisions may be randomly distributing apps to so many users that those who should not have access to corporate data, including people who have left the company, have access.
  • A plethora of external apps can potentially send conflicting messages from the same company to outside users when they are driven by different business units.
  • The burden of having to manage an excess of apps—some of them possibly based on aging technologies—will quickly start to consume more of the IT budget and time.

But employees want access to the Internet and to all their business tools from any location, on any platform, on any device, according to a recent report by Forrester Research titled Benchmarking Mobile Engagement: Consumers and Employees Outpace CIOs' Readiness. And so CIOs need to have—or begin building—a mobile engagement strategy to enable them to make savvy and informed investment decisions so they will be ready to not only serve their mobile employees on the device of their choice, but also to anticipate what apps they will require next.

Unfortunately, says Forrester, the bulk of IT leaders are focused on implementing or improving mobile security and not on adapting to employees' mobile app wants and needs.

Instead, experts say, CIOs should build their mobile engagement strategy using these four steps:

1) Determine your current mobile app situation. Survey your business managers regarding what they're doing around mobility. Introduce proper application portfolio management practices to get a baseline of the existing landscape.

"Mobile apps present an opportunity for the CIO to regain control and create a mobile strategy for the company," says 451 Research's Hazelton. "The CIO needs to say to business managers, yes, absolutely embrace mobility, but when it comes to apps, when it comes to corporate data, I, the CIO, can provide you with best practices for developing or acquiring apps."

2) Start to rationalize the existing landscape based on the individual business value of each of the apps. Use portfolio metrics to drive decisions and involve and then commit business stakeholders.

"We believe proper app portfolio management can help companies determine how right their app mix is," says Capgemini's Tolido. "It will not only provide a financial and technical overview, but will also help to establish priorities and determine the actual value of each app to the company. The business value of each and every individual app should be the driving force here, not the number of apps."

3) Set priorities. Once the CIO has surveyed the enterprise and determined the needs of the business leaders and how mobile apps will meet those needs, the CIO needs to prioritize them.

"You're getting all these requests for new apps," says Michele Pelino, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "Are they all equal? Can they be scheduled based on the revenues they will bring into the organization or the efficiencies they could bring to, say, the sales team?

4) Moving forward, consider using an app store which, some experts say, is the best way to distribute apps, to avoid app overload, and to enable the CIO to determine what apps his or her enterprise is using and to regain control of mobility.

Forrester's Pelino's best advice to CIOs is to seek out a third-party app store provider, like Partnerpedia or Embarcadero Technologies, which brings to the enterprise a tool with which smartphone users have become very familiar.

"CIOs will find that, because people have become skilled at and very willing to go to consumer-type app stores—like Google's and Apple's—to download apps in a self-service manner, the concept in a corporate environment has great appeal," she adds.

"At the same time, the app store places the enterprise's apps in a controlled environment that the IT organization can use to ensure the security and viability of the apps, control which versions will be used, and so on," Pelino says. "Use of an app store is really one of the best ways to avoid mobile app overload."

About the Author

Paul Hyman is a freelance technology writer and editor. He was an editor-in-chief at CMP Publications (now United Business Media) and currently reports for such publications as Communications of the ACM, IHS’ Electronics360, and CRM Magazine. See an archive of some of his stories.

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