Mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP) vendors are rarely what they appear to be, which can make choosing the right MEAP solution challenging. After all, those seeking MEAP solutions are most often doing so to avoid training IT staff to provide native client solutions for multiple mobile devices and anticipate the unique challenges of each environment.
Since mobile enterprise application development can be unfamiliar territory for the IT team, you must first determine the company’s individual needs to know what to look for in your MEAP vendor. You need to carefully consider your own rollout plans versus the vendor’s plan for device support. Ask yourself the following:
- Is the MEAP solution truly end-to-end, or will we sometimes need to run native debuggers and programs in the native environments?
- Does the MEAP solution handle server-side business logic or is it limited to client-side development and deployment?
- Does the MEAP vendor offer code-free integration tools, or am I limited to the integration plug-ins provides?
- Does the MEAP vendor have a proven track record of 10 years or more, and will it provide financial statements to prove its stability?
- Is the MEAP platform a part of the vendor’s core business strategy, or is it simply a side business designed to support customers of the main product line?
Once you determine your needs and begin searching for a MEAP solution, the first step is to evaluate each vendor’s roadmap to distinguish current capabilities from future plans. This will help clarify which services the vendor can immediately provide to your company and which services you can hope to see in the future.
After you have sorted through the marketing hype and pinpointed actual platform capabilities, you can then begin to make comparisons. Managers should consider four factors when comparing MEAP solutions: maintenance, adaptability, longevity, and pricing.
Does the solution require native coding skills to complete projects? Some MEAP vendors do not complete the process of creating the mobile app for the specified target device. Your IT team might need to manually program and tweak the solution, which is not very efficient.
Also, ask the MEAP vendor if you are responsible for debugging its deployment capabilities for each target device. If so, it means you might be required to write code to fix any problems you find after the solution has been implemented. Further, if the MEAP-generated code does require manual tweaking, you might not be able to “round trip” the code, meaning you can no longer maintain the client-side code using the MEAP platform.
Can the MEAP solution also create desktop, client server, and Web applications? Some MEAPs are limited to mobile only and have little or no capabilities for supporting other types of applications. This lack of support means duplicate coding for those environments is necessary.
You will also want to make sure the solution allows you to develop with a native look and feel for each device. It is important that BlackBerry apps look like other BlackBerry apps and iPhone apps look and feel like iPhone apps.
Also, does the vendor 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 critical part of providing business-to-enterprise (B2E), business-to-business (B2B), and business-to-consumer (B2C) applications. Without a straightforward solution for integration, your IT team may end up spending months of unnecessary development time trying to integrate mobile apps to existing enterprise systems.
In addition, you will want to make sure the solution is multilingual and that the vendor can provide multilingual support. Some vendors are limited to North America and do not have a global reach.
Does the vendor have a solid position in the market? How long has it been in business? Too many vendors are in startup mode, which does not guarantee that they will be around to provide support over the long term.
Ask the vendor to provide you with financial statements that show revenues, profitability, cash on hand, and debt position. If a vendor is unwilling to provide financial statements, it is a telltale sign that the vendor is not financially stable.
On the flip side, you don’t want to deal with a MEAP vendor that has the backing of a parent company whose objectives may differ 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, it does not necessarily mean it is the best solution for your needs.
Also, be sure the MEAP solution is easily adaptable as mobile technology evolves. Does the MEAP vendor have a dependable strategy in place to manage changes in enterprise systems, mobile apps, and the cloud? Can all of these solutions be based on the same service-oriented architecture (SOA) using the vendor’s solution? Is the platform capable of compositing existing application logic from Java, .NET, COBOL, RPG, and more?
A good MEAP solution will be able to take advantage of the technology that is available today and have an educated strategy for anticipating the solutions that you need tomorrow. A vendor that can future-proof your efforts will ultimately be the smart choice.
How is the service licensed and priced? Some vendors offer a per-user pricing strategy, while others offer a per-server pricing option. Some might offer both or a combination of the two, but it is important for your vendor to be flexible. For example, you may find it attractive to start with per user license pricing, but as your business grows a per server license fee may be more cost-effective. In the end, you will need a vendor that can work with you to ensure complete satisfaction and success.
Choosing a MEAP vendor can be challenging, but if you know the right questions to ask, you’re on the right track. Once you have a satisfactory sense of what each vendor can offer, remember that the ultimate goal for adopting a MEAP is to save time and reduce IT efforts.
Whatever MEAP vendor you choose, be sure the solution is truly metadata based and employs fully native clients. Also, make sure it has the seamless capability to develop and maintain enterprise data center, enterprise cloud, and enterprise mobile apps without duplicate programming efforts to facilitate development and deployment of mobile apps from anywhere at anytime.