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Back-end integration: the lynchpin for enterprise mobility

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Integrating mobile apps with back end systems can be made easier with the right capabilities

Enterprise mobile apps rely on integration to back-end systems for much of their power. Just think about all the information that apps get from established systems of record.

If your sales people are using a smart phone app to quote prices or order-promise dates to customers, the accuracy of those promises relies on sound, real-time integration to a back end system.

If your C-level executives are using a mobile business intelligence app to peruse key performance indicators and drill down to further data, their grasp of corporate performance relies on integration to back end systems.

In short, we all know the power of enterprise mobility relies on access to timely, back end data. But that’s not the only reason that enterprise mobility begs for strong integration with the back end.

The other reason is that mobile apps and app users are generating valuable content and knowledge. Much of this knowledge is in the form of what experts call “unstructured content” that - while valuable to the enterprise - isn’t a simple transactional update.

For example, think about the type of consensus building on product design issues that might be reached in collaboration conducted via a mobile app, or notes from a service interaction supported by a mobile app. By achieving solid data integration into an app and capturing content from the app-enabled process, everyone is better served - mobile users, the enterprise, and ultimately, your customers.

Fortunately, there are ways to harness unstructured content generated as part of mobile app use. For example, mobile apps can be integrated with portal solutions such as a SharePoint portal or an SAP portal to take advantage of the content management and workflows engines in those types of solutions. Some enterprises are beginning to use social media styled solutions such as corporate WIKIs to capture knowledge. Enterprise mobile apps can hook into these types of solutions as needed.

So in essence, we should think of integration for mobile apps as a two-way street. First, mobile apps need timely enterprise data to empower business processes and mobile users, but secondarily, the results, insights, and collaboration outputs generated via mobile apps should have a way of being fed back to systems of record.

This dual integration imperative is why it’s important to have a mobility platform with comprehensive integration utilities. By comprehensive, that means the ability to have mobile apps that can communicate via virtually any integration mechanism out there: SAP’s BAPI standard, SharePoint, relational databases, or Web services protocols such as SOAP, REST, and RSS. Increasingly, it’s also important to have mobile apps that can use browser controls to incorporate HTML5 content and JavaScript into native or hybrid apps.

A mobile integration strategy also should take into account workflow, which might include having hooks into workflow engines, but also the ability to continue to work on the go even when the user loses wireless connectivity. In this latter case, the mobile development platform must allow app users to continue to view the appropriate screens and data and synchronise with the back end once the user is within coverage range.

In addition to being comprehensive, integration for mobility should be easy to use. This can be done through features like plug-in scripting in the platform’s development environment and automatic data mapping.

Another aspect of comprehensive integration support for mobility is the ability to configure apps that draw on multiple back end systems for information, thereby supporting a crucial business process that one single system could not handle on its own. Some people call these composite apps, or “mashups.” Creating mobile mash-ups requires an integration foundation that can support many types of interfaces or links to disparate systems.

There are other capabilities to look for in your integration foundation for mobility - such as data access that is fast and optimised for mobility, or support for a secure, single sign-on function. Ideally, you want a platform with these capabilities built-in, rather than addressing them as integration projects that call for specialised IT services talent.

While integrating mobile apps with back end systems is not necessarily easy, it can be made easier with the right capabilities. For sure, it should not be viewed as a pain-staking process that can only be minimised by sticking to more limited apps. Integration is what lends much of the power to enterprise mobility, allowing you to better serve the mobile user, all while capturing content and knowledge from mobile interactions.

Chris Garber is director of product management for Verivo Software

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