Introducing "mobility" in the enterprise and consumer worlds
A primary focus in creating exceptional multi-channel experiences is mobile application development and deciding which type of mobile applications to build and how to build them.
Just as it is difficult to recall how business was ever conducted without email, the same conclusion is likely to be drawn about mobile applications in the coming years. Many organizations are diving headlong into mobility enablement. There is incredible pressure from executives, staff, and peers to support iPads, iPhones, Android devices, and the like, and there is also great promise of access and productivity. Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) initiatives encourage employees to use the device of their own choice at their workplaces as long as they pass clearance from an internal IT security team. While BYOD policies impact organizations in supporting their employees, of course all consumers and customers are BYOD and increase the challenge of designing and exploiting self-service mobile applications. In addition, the flexibility of multi-modal mobile devices, coupled with demand for live assistance, will also require greater flexibility on the part of customer-facing agents to interact with online mobile customers who need assistance, driving a need for unified communication (UC) on mobile devices. How many times do you want to patch your mobile eBanking application because the mobile operating system got updated due to security concerns?
With the popularity of mobile devices, especially smart phones, developers are developing a large number of applications in a very short time, which fuels a race that no one wants to lose. In the Mobile App stores, solutions vary from very basic single-function applications, such as your weight tracking and bar code reader, to complex and mission-critical applications, such as medical applications and mobile banking applications. Many consumer-facing organizations' sales and marketing teams are trying to reach out to a wider consumer base using mobile as a platform.
As the amount of information available through the Internet grows, searching for the right content becomes more and more difficult. Finding the right application in an application store (App Store) is also getting tougher. For example, the Medical Application category of an App Store has thousands of applications. Only a few of the applications (apps) may be designed for healthcare professionals while many others target the general public. In addition, many of the applications in App Store may be irrelevant, trivial, or even dangerous for consumers. Organizations will look to create internal App Stores for employees to provide safe and secure applications.
Examples of mobile applications
To provide safe and secure mobile applications to their field service agents, customers, dealers, sales force, insurance, banking and retail electronic manufacturing companies are investing on Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP). Some examples are:
An insurance application that collects data on customer driving habits and, based on that information, offers variable insurance rates and recommends new driving behaviors that help to lower auto insurance costs.
In healthcare, companies have developed applications using an external plug-and-play device that allows a phone to be used as an ultrasound scanner. The phone stores the video and images and is able to send them to the hospital for diagnosis. This has particular relevance in the developing world, where 70% of people cannot get access to ultrasound services. Because it is smart-phone based, the cost is dramatically reduced and more affordable to people in those parts of the world.
An auto claim client application that uses embedded features such as the device camera within the smart phone. This allows insurance field agents to take photos of incidents and send them to the back-office for faster claim processing and reporting.
A field sales application that provides the sales force with SKU information, stock levels, profitability levels, and dealer-specific orders on demand.
An insurance application that supports filing of claims, scanning of a QR code to download and view a policy, ID cards and billing information, and make calls to the 7x24 help line.
A citizen fills out a vehicle permit form online and prints a custom QR code. At the checkpoint, an officer scans the QR code using an Android phone, launching a mobile-optimized web application for approval or rejection.
Key questions to ask when developing mobile applications
As an architect or developer responsible for mobile strategy in your organization, some of the key questions you should be asking yourself include:
Am I creating a mobile application for sale where the value is the application itself?
Am I creating a mobile experience where the value is the backend services?
Am I creating a mobile experience for employees to do a specific set of tasks?
Am I creating a mobile experience for customers to do a specific set of tasks?
Am I creating a mobile experience to augment the PC browser experience?
Am I creating a mobile experience that could completely replace the PC browser experience?
Leveraging mobile requires more than just creating applications. You need to rethink your business processes, leverage real time information, re-imagine the customer experience, and design different security approaches.
As employees increasingly ask to use their own devices for work, companies and organizations are taking steps to expand their mobile device management capabilities to allow various mobile devices to attach to their network securely. In IBM alone, by the end of 2011, more than 100,000 IBM users were able to connect their mobile devices to key IBM services, including Lotus Notes Traveler for mobile access to Notes email, calendar and contacts, IBM Connections, and Mobile Bluepages.
The differences between a web application and a website
As organizations manage their company’s brand through websites and social media, a common challenge has become how to deliver content and applications together to mobile devices. Before we delve deeper into how to develop exceptional web experiences, it is important to understand the difference between a website and an application.
Consider a typical government site which provides citizens access to 140 different services from 25 semi-independent government agencies. Citizens will not tolerate accessing 140 individual URLs or registering 140 times.
A website aggregates web content and multiple web applications into a single user experience and works across multiple channels, including desktop browsers, kiosks, and smart devices. Typically multiple teams work on multiple parts of the website, each part having its own life cycle and management. A simple example might be an insurance self-service portal. There is probably also a mobile website to support phones and tablets.
Let's understand the components of a typical website.
Typical web application
Unlike a typical website, a web application is custom-built and often targets specific tasks. For example, a banking application that lets you check your account balance and transfer funds is an example of a web application. It usually contains a subset of the website’s features, targeted to what you can practically do on the device or channel.
IBM WebSphere Application Server is the right option for delivering stand-alone web applications. IBM Worklight provides the ability to create both native and hybrid mobile applications, and you can use either WebSphere Application Server as the backend (if you are creating hybrid mobile applications) or WebSphere Portal as the backend (if you are creating hybrid mobile websites).
The following screen shots show a walkthrough of a hybrid mobile application rendered via WebSphere Portal Server from a mobile device. The screens run left to right over two rows. The first screen shows a government website with a menu icon you click to show a list of portal pages available for navigation within the application.The second screenshot shows the list of pages or actions we can take; we'll select Citizen Reports. Screenshot 3 shows the Citizen Reports web application. This application allows a citizen to report an issue directly to the city authorities and view existing reports from other citizens. From the Citizen Reports app, we'll click the 'Show Reports' button to see a list of exiting reports (Screenshot 4, 2nd row). From here we can navigate to categories of reports (Screenshot 5) or see a particular report (Screenshot 6).
Which UI approach- Mobile web, hybrid mobile, or native?
There are primarily three techniques for creating exceptional mobile experiences:
- Accessible over the internet without installing software
- Use device browsers to provide native-looking applications
- Built using standard web technologies (HTML5, CSS, JS)
Hybrid mobile applications
- Leverage web technology and native device features
- Installed applications that use the device browser to display web-based user interface
- Able to use native device features
- Installed applications can use all mobile or tablet device features such as camera, accelerometer, calendar, and contacts.
- Support the richest user experience (for example, gaming applications)
- Built using each phone's native SDK
Consider the following statistics from snaphop, comScore & PewInternet:
Mobile web browsing accounted for 30% of all web traffic in 2012 and is expected to account for 50% by 2014.
75% of customers prefer a mobile friendly site (Google, 2012).
61% of customers who visit a mobile unfriendly site are likely to go to a competitor's site.
In November 2012, downloaded applications were used by 54.2 percent of U.S. subscribers (up 0.8 percentage points), while browsers were used by 52.1 percent (up 0.1 percentage points).
Cell phones are convenient and always available – 64% of internet users mention factors related to convenience or the always-available nature of mobile phones when asked for the main reason why they do most of their online browsing on their cell phone.
Mobile application development, deployment, functionality comparison
The following table provides a comparison of the three approaches detailed above:
Why type of application should you build?
This decision flow diagram will help you to decide what type of mobile application you need.
Mostly marketed as the quickest Do-It-Yourself (DIY) option to mobile optimization, screen-scraping is used to shrink an existing desktop site down to mobile proportions by mirroring the HTML data and outputting it into a mobile template.
This option seems quick and easy, and you do get to use your current site as-is. However, proxy mobile sites are not always what they appear to be. Companies that take this route may realize later on that building a separate mobile site is a better way to go. Here are some reasons:
Not optimized for the mobile use case - One of the largest issues with a screen-scraped site is that it is a simple mirror of your desktop site. Providing a mobile website that offers the right content in the right context is crucial in mobile web development. Often you are not going to get that by simply scraping an existing desktop site.
Limited design options - You may have noticed that many mobile websites look similar— a small logo, an image, and a few rows of content sections. When going with a screen-scraping development option, you are likely limited to a set of design options. Screen-scraped mobile websites can compromise your brand and online image if you are not careful.
Mobile updates are tied to desktop updates - When it comes to updating your mobile site flexibility is removed completely with a proxy mobile site. Any major changes on the desktop side can easily break the proxy connection to the mobile site and can result in a distorted mobile user interface. Additionally, mobile and desktop updates must be directly tied to each other. You cannot update one without having to worry about the other.
More reasons to go hybrid mobile with Portal
One of the key focus areas in this wiki is showing you how to create hybrid mobile applications with Portal. If you have WebSphere Portal Server, WebSphere Portal Enable, WebSphere Portal Extend, IBM Customer Experience Suite (CSE), IBM Intranet Experience Suite, IBM Collaboration Accelerator with WebSphere Portal, IBM Content and Collaboration Accelerator with WebSphere Portal, or IBM Web Content Manager on an active Passport Advantage Software Subscription and Support contract, you are now entitled to use two IBM Worklight Consumer Edition mobile applications with WebSphere Portal. This entitlement lets you extend the current multi-channel capabilities of the above mentioned Portal editions to include cross-platform hybrid mobile applications with IBM Worklight.
With this new entitlement, your WebSphere Portal content and applications can now be extended to access the full capabilities of a wide range of mobile devices, giving your organization a rich cross-platform hybrid mobile experience on smart phones and tablets. Hybrid mobile applications thus developed can only be used with Portal-managed user experiences. IBM Worklight Consumer Edition offers organizations a wide set of services aimed at helping manage, develop, and deploy rich, cross-platform mobile applications, and when combined with IBM Web Experience offerings, organizations can create highly customized, engaging, consistent, and personalized experiences across web, mobile web, and hybrid mobile.
Hybrid mobile application with Portal combines the best of both worlds: Mobile experiences that are built using both native code and web technologies.
As per the terms and conditions of this entitlement, you can develop hybrid mobile applications in a way that those applications do not access backend enterprise systems such as relational databases, and CRM/HRMS via Worklight Server directly. Hybrid mobile applications (installed apps) will be able to access backend systems only through WebSphere Portal Server as shown in the diagram below.
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