Sunday, May 20, 2012

What is a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP)?

What is a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP)?

MEAP, n., mobile enterprise application platform, an integrated development and deployment environment allowing for a single basis of development for multiple native client experiences across a variety of smartphones. 

Gartner says that: "A Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) is a development and deployment framework that provides tools for client, server and middleware for mobile. Targeting any mobile application on any device, ranging from a smartphone to a tablet;  multichannel and offline capabilities.  Best for companies that wish to deploy multiple applications on a single infrastructure, scaled to the size of their current mobile offering and available in an online and offline mode."

Ideally, a MEAP provides a unitary approach to the development and deployment of software for smartphones and tablets, i.e. mobile apps.  Without a MEAP, the development effort grows exponentially and many enterprises have already wasted millions of dollars only to discover how difficult it is to develop for multiple, changing target mobile platforms.

As Jones et. al. put it: “Take for example a small apps company developing for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. They would have to employ three teams of developers, as often, skillsets don’t mix. They would have to maintain three different codebases, and synchronize feature additions and bug fixes across the three. This is a daunting challenge, and one reason why many apps are launched across stores with months of delay. Furthermore, quality and design consistency will vary when multiple developer teams are involved, and especially when the development for a new platform is outsourced to a third party. Support costs are also difficult to contain when developing for multiple platforms, as developer documentation needs to be built for three platforms, as does the internal customer support documentation.” (Jones, et. Al., VisionMobile: The Clash of the Ecosystems Report, February 2012, VisionMobile).

A MEAP provides an enterprise IT team with  way to leverage a singles skillset – development capabilities in the MEAP language or paradigm – and still have the ability, perhaps for the first time, to produce mobile apps across a wide variety of devices: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, etc.

While it may not be true that a consensus has formed around the idea that a MEAP is the only way to viably develop and deploy enterprise mobile apps for mobile devices, a significant community coalition is forming around this approach. As CIO.com states: "Consumerization of IT" may be an overused phrase, but it is by no means a fad. Workers nationwide are coming to expect that personal devices will connect to corporate networks.”  So the pressure is clearly being placed on IT departments to create mobile apps that run on a variety of devices. It is important that IT decision makers divorce themselves from their own religious zeal about their own favorite mobile platform and realize that we live in a pluralistic society, so to speak, when it comes to mobile devices. In today’s modern and technologically divergent world it is impolite to try to impose one’s own mobile device bias on another.

MEAPs are not immune to the debate over HTML5 vs native. Even a mobile platform such as Magic Software’s application platform which supports both HTML5 merge and native deployment via specific native RIA clients on each platform is finding itself stressed to take sides in the HTML5 debate.

As Jones et. al. state: “The perennial question for many developers is whether to use a web-browser approach to deploying mobile apps, or whether to create native applications. Web apps provide a large addressable market, at the cost of web-only distribution and a comparatively shallow experience. Native apps allow for much deeper device integration and experiences, but at the cost of a platform-specific addressable market.” (Jones, et. Al., VisionMobile The Clash of the Ecosystems Report, February 2012, VisionMobile).

But Krebs and Klein are less ambiguous with their opinion: “However, for enterprises looking to develop sophisticated mobile B2B and B2E applications across a variety of mobile platforms to a large number of users leveraging a MEAP currently represents the most viable option.” (Krebs & Klein, Native & HTML5 Mobile Apps: Not an either or, but a where and when…February 2012, VDC Research.)

This bias against HTML5 is understandable. In recent compatibility tests, HTML5 was found to be less than a third compatible with the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango browser.  HTML5 was closest to being compatible with the Firefox Mobile 10 browser and even then it was barely two-thirds compatible.  

Compliance fragmentation is not without cost. “The result of this “compliance fragmentation” is that web app developers have to spend copious time and resources in cross-optimising their web apps for the major smartphone platforms. Perhaps most notable is the case of Assanka, makers of the Financial Times popular HTML5 app, who took 24 man months to create the news reader HTML5 application for the iPad, and another 12 man months to port that same application to Android.”  (Jones, et. Al., VisionMobile The Clash of the Ecosystems Report, February 2012, VisionMobile).

And all of these technical fragmentation issues are occurring even as GUI standards are shifting; Business Processes are being “unbundled”; and Business Apps are being designed to compete for attention in the “attention economy.”  In short, expectations are at an all-time high while standardization seems to be at its lowest point ever.

To overcome the lack of standards, enterprises need a shortcut.  “MEAPs are perhaps best positioned for enterprises looking to develop sophisticated enterprise-grade mobile applications that leverage multiple data sources scaled across various devices and OS platforms and are offered to a multitude of employees.”  (Krebs & Klein, Native & HTML5 Mobile Apps: Not an either or, but a where and when…February 2012, VDC Research.)
Jones et. al. concede:  “The cross-platform tools market is in a state of abundant developer volatility. Comparing the CPTs developers are currently using vs. planning to use or abandoning, we see continual flux, as developers try a tool, and then churn to a different one. This is a market with no clear winners or losers. It’s a market where there is little developer loyalty, and perceptions are still being formed. This is a great time for wellfunded vendors to establish a beachhead of developer marketing and inch themselves apart in terms of mindshare.”  (Jones, et. Al., VisionMobile The Clash of the Ecosystems Report, February 2012, VisionMobile).

Magic Software (NASDAQ:MGIC) is fortunate in that it is one of the largest MEAP vendors in the market and the only entrant with a pure-play attitude, well established and scalable broker technology, and global reach.

Deploying apps from Magic Software’s application platform is highly flexible. All of the platform-specific options for app deployment are supported by Magic Software including vendor app stores. Magic apps can be launched from the home screen in iOS or the app drawer on Android devices. Magic provides an amazingly mature and well-established WYSIWYG drag-and-drop, form-based environment with table-driven settings used to define the business logic.

As the mobile enterprise application platform or MEAP approach gains favor amongst a growing number of large and midsize enterprise IT departments, Magic Software will benefit from the lion’s share of the new business being generated for MEAP platforms. MEAP is a mobile app development concept that must be taken seriously in today’s era of cost-conscious IT spending amidst rising consumer and business expectations.



Glenn Johnson is a Senior Vice President at Magic Software Enterprises, Inc. Active in the software industry since 1984, he frequently speaks at industry conferences and writes for numerous publications.