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Microservices Journal: Article

Mobilizing Business Data: The Holy Grail of Enterprise Mobility

Enabling mobile-first security & data distribution models that efficiently integrate line-of-business systems & mobile consumers

The last few years have seen an explosion in the demand for enterprise mobile solutions. This movement has been clearly reflected in the rapid evolution of the enterprise mobile platform ecosystems. From mobile device management (MDM) to enterprise mobile middleware technologies, the industry has produced a large number of technology platforms aiming to address the different needs of the mobile enterprise. Despite of the rapid growth of the enterprise mobile space, the industry remains without good solutions for addressing what, arguably, can be seen as the most important challenge of the current generation of enterprise mobile solutions: mobilizing business data.

The reasoning behind my argument is very simple. The current generation of enterprise mobile apps is, by and large, focused on creating mobile representations of existing enterprise business processes. The majority of these business processes are tied to on-premise or SaaS line of business systems. While mobilizing some of those business processes can be seen as trivial, the introduction of mobile consumers introduces a number of risks from an enterprise perspective on such diverse areas as data privacy, performance or security.

We Are Great at Sharing Files but Are Bad at Sharing Data
Email, calendar and file sharing have been the focus of the first generation of enterprise mobile solutions. From Citrix's ShareFile Box to the recent Microsoft SkyDrive Pro, the industry has seen a plethora of solutions that enable secure document sharing on mobile devices.

Despite the importance of file sharing, it is important to realize that it's only a small element of enterprise mobile data. A large percentage of enterprise mobile apps are required to access business data from on-premise or SaaS-based systems using mechanisms that can be abstracted via files or documents. Sadly, as an industry, the enterprise mobile technology ecosystem hasn't produced the equivalent of enterprise file sharing technologies but for business data.

MDM Is Not a Solution
Mobile device management (MDM) has become a common element of enterprise mobile infrastructures. As an attempt to differentiate in an overly crowded market, MDM vendors often claim to provide the infrastructure for securely mobilizing business data. While that statement might be true in some very specific scenarios, it is far from being a generalization. MDM platforms can certainly secure business data in some very constrained scenarios but they typically don't provide the infrastructure for mobile developers to interact with data living on corporate systems. This type of solutions require a more specialized infrastructure that is outside the domain of MDM platforms.

Mobile Business Data Needs New Security and Privacy Models
Enabling access to mobile business data from mobile devices introduces new security threats to organizations in areas that fall outside the domain of traditional enterprise security packages. While most security threats in the traditional enterprises fall under the spectrum of antivirus or secure networking platforms, these technologies are just starting to understand the DNA of security vulnerabilities in mobile applications.

These security risks get exponentially more complex when we factor in access to corporate data from mobile applications. In order to address these challenges, organizations should embrace mobile-first security techniques such as multi-factor authentication, mobile data encryption or contextual threat analysis that are designed with mobile applications as a first class citizen.

Accessing Mobile Business Data in Real Time
Enterprise mobile applications often require real-time access to data stored in corporate systems whether they are hosted on-premise or in SaaS systems. This requirement often translates into serious challenges for line-of-business systems that are not optimized for mobile consumers requesting information on real-time basics.

To enable real-time access to business data from mobile applications, enterprises should provide mobile-optimized interfaces to broker the communication between mobile apps and corporate systems. By mobile optimized, we refer to capabilities such as support for multi-factor authentication, friendly to concurrency, contextually aware, message throttling, support for offline communication models among other essential elements of enterprise mobile solutions.

Storing Transient Business Data in Device
In addition to accessing information in real time from business systems, enterprise mobile apps often are required to manipulate the data directly from the mobile apps or operate completely offline. Consuming business data in this fashion poses well-known challenges to enterprises in areas such as data privacy and security.

In order to enable "data in device" scenarios, enterprise mobile solutions should provide the mechanisms to secure the target business data in a form that can only be consumed in the context of a specific user session within a specific application. In addition, this type of pattern is typically recommended to rapidly changing not overly sensitive data that can become irrelevant after a certain period of time.

Distributing Mobile Business Events
Business data is not only access from mobile applications to on-demand basics. In some scenarios, enterprise mobile apps need to receive business data in the form of notifications or events triggered by line-of-business systems. While push notifications is a typical event-based pattern for distributing information to heterogeneous mobile applications, enterprise mobile solutions often require additional mechanisms that address some of the security and information consumptions patterns in the enterprise.

To address those scenarios, organizations need to establish the infrastructure for mobile applications to securely subscribe to events that can be published from line-of-business systems. These types of patterns will ease the burden of optimizing traditional corporate systems to support direct access from a large number of mobile consumers.

Caching Mobile Business Data
Despite the requirements for accessing business data in real time from connected devices, it's important to realize that the majority of traditional enterprise systems are not equipped to support the performance requirements of mobile consumers. To address this limitation, enterprise mobile infrastructures often rely on more modern data storage mechanisms to temporarily cache business data so that it can be available to enterprise mobile applications.

Even though the business data caching can introduce additional back-end infrastructure, it minimizes the impact on traditional corporate systems from both the development and operational standpoint

Business Data is Not Mobile: We Need Context
Mobile applications are a richer and also fundamentally different consumer of business data than traditional line-of-business applications. In addition to the aforementioned requirements about data privacy or performance, mobile business data takes a different connotation when based on the location, frequency of access, wireless network, etc.

Extending traditional business data living in corporate systems with contextual elements will not only maximize the efficiency and richness of enterprise mobile applications that need to consume those business data sets, but will automatically mitigate some of the security and privacy risks mentioned in previous sections. While the effort of contextualizing business data might seem daunting at first glance, it can be a great enabler for brand new mobile-first business capabilities

Summary
Enabling robust mechanisms for consuming business data is one of the most complex aspects of mobile solutions in the enterprise. While solutions like MDM have provided effective capabilities for securely managing devices and files, business data access remains a very challenging scenario for most enterprise mobile solutions. To address that challenge, organizations need to enable mobile-first security and data distribution models that efficiently integrate line of business systems and mobile consumers

More Stories By Jesus Rodriguez

Jesus Rodriguez is a co-founder and CEO of KidoZen, an enterprise mobile-first platform as a service redefining the future of enterprise mobile solutions. He is also the co-founder to Tellago, an award-winning professional services firm focused on big enterprise software trends. Under his leadership, KidoZen and Tellago have been recognized as an innovator in the areas of enterprise software and solutions achieving important awards like the Inc 500, Stevie Awards’ American and International Business Awards.

A software scientist by background, Jesus is an internationally recognized speaker and author with contributions that include hundreds of articles and sessions at industry conferences. He serves as an advisor to several software companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, sits at the board of different technology companies. Jesus is a prolific blogger on all subjects related to software technology and entrepreneurship. You can gain valuable insight on business and software technology through his blogs at http://jrodthoughts.com and http://weblogs.asp.net/gsusx .

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