With the trends of consumerization and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) acceptance, enterprises are increasingly seeking to securely integrate tablets and smartphones into their environments. Meanwhile, external customers and partners desire mobile apps that provide on-demand, self-service alternatives to traditional consumer web portals. Mobile middleware can ease this integration, providing a consistent framework and set of interfaces for a wide range of applications and data sources. This is the first in a series of posts intended to help the enterprise IT buyer to better understand the benefits of mobile middleware, as well as to make an informed decision when choosing among the many products in this space.
Use case 1: Employee productivity
Mobile devices bring the potential for ubiquitous access to corporate resources, providing employees with an “always-on” connection to the enterprise. Email, calendar, and contacts are no longer sufficient for many enterprises – Line-of-Business applications with secure access to corporate data will further improve worker productivity.
While the first stage of mobile access was delivered using off-the-shelf software packages, the next wave will include much more custom code. According to a November 2011 Forrester study, over 50% of enterprises rely on custom applications developed either in house or by externally-contracted developers. These applications will require access to a mix of back-end services, from existing SOAP applications to newly-developed RESTful APIs, as well as cloud-hosted services such as salesforce.com.
An established enterprise may already have an ESB for internal services, or they may be using loosely-coupled, point-to-point connections between apps and services. Either way,the ESB likely was not designed with wide-scale or external connectivity in mind. Mobile middleware can help to bridge this gap, providing a RESTful interface to legacy services and data sources. It can also provide enterprise mobile application developers with a catalog of available APIs and documentation on how to consume them, speeding development and increasing consistency across applications.
Use case 2: External access
Many enterprises have offered their customers a self-service web engagement portal for some time. Whether it is used for commerce, basic account management, or other purposes, this portal ultimately connects back into enterprise services. With mobile browsers taking an increasing share of page views, portals that deliver substandard user experience are being reimplemented as native enterprise mobile applications.
While the scope of services to be accessed by external users is typically much narrower than in the employee productivity use case, the scale and security considerations are much greater. Also, digital natives expect integration with external identity providers, social networking, and other external cloud services. As with internal-facing applications, mobile middleware can act as a glue layer for these customer apps, providing integration with external services while securing access to internal data.
The Case for Mobile Middleware
Regardless of which use case is the primary motivator for adopting a mobilization strategy, it’s clear that legacy web and data services are not readily consumable by mobile devices. An enterprise, then, has two options: remediate each service independently, or adopt a mobile middleware layer that can bridge the gaps to mobile access. Development cost savings from the mobile middleware approach will depend on the number of services to be addressed and level of integration effort required. However, by abstracting away these integration functions, enterprises can be assured that security policies are being uniformly implemented, enforced, and updated — no easy task if custom code is added to a large number of applications.
A mobile middleware strategy can address the issues shared by both of these use cases: providing security and broad integration capabilities while delivering the performance necessary for a responsive user experience.
Over the next few weeks I will explore how mobile middleware can help an enterprise to integrate its own REST and SOAP services with 3rd-party APIs. I’ll also describe some of the security and performance considerations that go along with different approaches. Finally I will look at the options for application development that can benefit from the a consistent, RESTful back end.
In the meantime, here are some links to other material that should be useful when building a strategy for enterprise mobile applications:
- Comparisons of API Platforms and API Gateways
- CITO Research’s whitepaper describing API Patterns for Cloud & Mobile
- A Unified Mobile Architecture for the Modern Data Center