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- Similarly, many companies have a sea of single-purpose apps—many of them dead or out of date and useless—that can get in the way and make finding the most-useful and relevant apps problematic.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.