A few weeks ago, I was travelling across London on the Tube. My starting point had been the City, the UK capital's financial district. It was rush-hour and the subterranean rail system was absolutely packed. I managed to squeeze into a particularly full carriage and, after a while, noticed something I had never seen before. Not a single passenger, jammed together as they were, was reading a newspaper or even a book. Almost to a man or woman, their faces were intent on the eerie glow of their smart phone screens.
It was one of those sci-fi reality moments. Although hundreds of thousands of free evening papers are handed out to commuters as a matter of course every workday evening, it seemed that in such claustrophobic, sharp-elbowed circumstances, the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy was now the better option.
Synchronistically, I had spent the day at British Power i group NiSUG's annual conference where the subject of mobilizing i-based apps had taken centre-stage. At the conference there had been some interesting debate about, for instance, the choices between native, web, and hybrid development. I even got the chance to get down and dirty with some of the tools on offer from the ISVs. This included utilities that even someone with my limited technical knowhow could get up to speed with fairly quickly. This was heartening because right now, as my experience on the Tube only underlines, it's pretty much mobilize or die.
At the meetings about software development that I'm party to nowadays, data interaction via mobile devices often hovers around the top of the agenda. Nearly always, this is driven by customer demand. Now that a full-functioned, always-connected, hi-speed mobile computing experience sits in people's pockets as a reality rather than a prediction or aspiration, their enthusiasm for using it grows more and more.
Indeed, such has been the speed of the smart phone revolution, it is sometimes better to think of it as a tidal wave that's already been and gone. If your lovingly constructed system for executing a vital business function has been left high and dry on the shoreline, it may well be all washed up already.
If some midrange folk seem slightly hesitant to get to grips with this state of affairs, it's often because, as with so many things, they have been way ahead of the curve in the first place. They were pushing data to and from hand-held devices last century, particularly in shipping, distribution, warehousing, and logistics. Despite a new generation of execs, salespeople, and service engineers clamouring to use business apps via smart phone, there is an element of "been there, done that" and even "don't believe the hype."
Across enterprise computing as a whole there is also evidence of a rearguard action against the whole phenomena, whipped up, in the main, by security specialists warning against the dangers of "bring your own device" in the workplace. However, resistance to BYOD is futile. It's akin to the King Canute-like IT managers of yore that superglued up the USB ports on their workers' PCs for fear of data theft.
In the UK, at least, it feels like push-button phones have become almost extinct within the blink of an eye. It seems there's something about a touch screen interface that engages users at an almost visceral level. This enthusiasm has informed non-technical users who now, after all these years, are thinking in terms of applications rather than programs. In turn, this actually appears to make life easier for IT folk within organisations in terms of buy-in, and interest in, what they can deliver with their systems. And, of course, it certainly explains the Janus-faced nature of Microsoft's Windows 8.
So, now is not a time to be conservative. If you don't mobilize your own applications you'll almost definitely end up getting them mobilized for you by a third party chosen by your board. If you do it yourself, you get corporate kudos and ensure the longevity of systems that were chosen by you. Make an app that feeds a few fairly mundane KPIs to an executive's iPhone and you'll be amazed at the positive response.
Standard RPG-based info can be remanipulated to suit the mobile platforms du jour fairly easily, so there's also a message here to IBM. While there may be no plans to make your own solution, Worklight (part of Big Blue's Mobile Foundation 5.0 suite), i-native anytime soon, your partner ISVs have been there for some time. And although the environment we find ourselves in nowadays is a scenario you have been talking up for years, a propaganda blitz on Power i-based mobile development is probably required right now.