Monday, June 6, 2011

Mobile Enterprise Application Platform: Any Time

Ten Key Questions to Help Compare MEAP Vendors

Comparing mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs) can be challenging. Quite often those that are seeking a MEAP solution do so precisely because they do not want to invest in developing in-house expertise in all of the programming languages and environments required to provide native client solutions for major mobile device environments such as BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and Windows. The IT departments ability to anticipate the challenges of each target device environment is often limited due to lack of familiarity with the differences in all these environments.

To complicate matters more, MEAP vendors are rarely what they appear to be. It is first of all necessary to try to separate out current capabilities from future plans in the vendor roadmap. One must then ask, what is the vendor history in living up to the promises in their roadmap?

Even once you have all this sorted out and have separated out marketing hype from actual platform capabilities, the task of making comparisons gets tricky. Is device management a necessary part of the evaluation, or should we consider that a separate category just as we consider development tools and IT operations software as separate systems in the data center? Evaluators need to carefully consider their own rollout plans versus the vendors plan for device support.

More important than any of these tangled issues, however, is the question of productivity. The reason for adopting a MEAP is to reduce effort. In order to live up to the need to develop and deploy mobile apps at anytime and anywhere, you need a MEAP that is truly metadata based, employs fully native clients, and has seamless capability to develop and maintain enterprise data center, enterprise cloud and enterprise mobile apps without duplicate programming efforts.

Here are a few key questions to ask a MEAP vendor?

1. Are native coding skills required to complete projects or make changes? Some MEAP vendors surprisingly do not complete the process of creating the mobile app for the target device. Manual programming and tweaking is required.

2. Will we need to use the native debugger to test our applications? If the MEAP forces you to debug their deployment capabilities on a target device, then you that means you are likely to be required to write code to fix any problems you find.

3. Can my MEAP platform also create desktop, client server and web applications? Some MEAPs are mobile only and have little or no capabilities for supporting other types of applications. This lack of support means duplicate coding for those environments.

4. Does the MEAP platform allow me to control the look and feel of the application so that I can develop with a native look and feel for each device? Will BlackBerry apps look like other BlackBerry apps? Will an iPhone app look and feel like an iPhone app? etc.

5. Does the MEAP platform vendor have a solid track record of back-end integration? Do they have a complete set of integration tools to allow you to integrate enterprise IT systems, data and processes with your MEAP platform? Integration to backend systems is a crucial component of providing B2E, B2B, and B2C applications. Without a straightforward solution for integration, you may end up spending months of unnecessary development time trying to integrate your mobile apps to existing enterprise systems.

6. Is the solution multilingual and can the vendor provide multilingual support? If you need a global solution, some vendors have limited reach in North America but not beyond.

7. How long have you been in business? Too many vendors are in startup mode with no guarantee that they will stick around.

8. Will you provide financial statements showing your revenues, profitability, cash on hand and debt position? If a vendor is unwilling to provide financial statements, then you are at significant risk that you may be dealing with a vendor that is on the brink of imminent financial failure.

9. Does the MEAP vendor have a parent company whose objectives are different from those of the independent software vendor that it acquired? If the parent company acquired the MEAP platform to serve the needs of its larger client base, will that be at cross-purposes to your needs?

10. Does the MEAP vendor have a coherent strategy for enterprise systems, mobile apps and the cloud? Can the vendor ensure that all of these solutions can be based on the same service-oriented architecture (SOA)? Is the platform capable of compositing existing application logic from Java, .NET, COBOL, RPG and other environments? A good MEAP platform will be capable of leveraging all that you have today and have a coherent strategy for deploying solutions in all of the environments that you need to be in tomorrow. A vendor that can future-proof your efforts will ultimately be the smart choice for development of mobile apps.

Once you have a satisfactory sense of what your vendor can offer, the question of how it is licensed and priced is appropriate. Some vendors adhere strictly to a per user pricing strategy. Others offer a per server pricing model. Some offer both or a hybrid. If you are developing a B2C enterprise mobile app, then per user charges are unappealing. But if you have a fairly small target B2E or B2B audience, then hefty per server pricing may be disadvantageous. In the final analysis, you will need a vendor that is willing to work with you to assure complete satisfaction and success. Evaluate vendor technical support, training and professional services. All these things combine to make the selection of a MEAP platform a difficult decision. But if you know the questions to ask, you are on the right track. To see a video announcing the Magic Software Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP), click here.

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