There is an unexpected trend in mobile devices that might take you by surprise.
While many of the discussions regarding the use of mobile devices within a company’s network revolve around security, another crucial topic, and one you will find more difficult to solve intuitively, has to do with basic access to enterprise applications. Specifically I’m talking about the use of legacy applications commonly found on mainframes or mid-range systems like iSeries, VAX, HP or Unix servers.
As enterprise applications, by their nature, aggregate critical company data, the need for users across the enterprise to make use of the applications, or at least the data, is high. So it is no revelation that companies dealing with the rising trend of mobile device use — iPads currently being a big driver — would want to create mobile apps that incorporate use of these enterprise applications and their data. Not surprisingly, this is happening. But what is surprising is the wide-range of access methods being employed.
The most expected method of mobile access is custom mobile apps that leverage services built from the enterprise applications. (This is a mainstay for our Verastream business which has been working with this service style solution for years.) Using a service underpinning for the mobile apps allows a completely native look and feel on mobile devices, while at the same time yielding complete control of the back-end applications. Although this method requires a significant application development effort, it provides an extremely high level of control over workflow and usability.
Another access method employed to enable mobile enterprise applications is the use of basic HTML(5) web forms. The method uses web forms as a
front end to the native enterprise application screen. It affords rapid creation of mobile applications Forms can be auto-generated, they can be custom made and tailored to a set of pre-defined activities, or combined in any number of ways. While this access isn’t meant to completely transform the use of back-end applications, as the service approach can accommodate, it is a great method for quickly creating mobile applications. These applications will have the richness of server-side macros and procedures, but with the simplicity of auto-generated forms.
Finally, there is a popular access method you might not have foreseen. Many mobile users, and the IT admins and architects behind them, are opting to use the native application interface. For legacy applications on mainframes and other host systems, this means using native terminal interfaces on the mobile device. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “Why use the terminal screen on modern mobile devices?”
The answer combines a couple of attributes and makes perfect sense. First, you should know that this access method has really only shown a strong positive trend since the advent of the iPad, due to tablets and netbooks having screen sizes and resolutions that match terminal use needs. But this is not the driving reason — it is simply a reason not to dismiss the approach.
The propelling reason for using native terminal access has to do with the level of work needed to enable access to backend applications. Basically, there is no work needed. You can simply put in a middle-ware server like Verastream and then any mobile user that can authenticate can have a terminal session.
Also, as the server handles all maintenance of the session required for the back-end system and then provides the user with an auto-generated HTML(5) representation of the screen, session state is always maintained. This defeats the fragile nature of mobile devices dependent on a synchronous connection. This is truly useful to the mobile user.
Mobile devices need only a stateless web connection to the middleware servers. Ultimately this allows mobile sessions to stay active even when connections are poor. This is actually true for the previously detailed access methods, but it is a valuable attribute and one that comes without any real work on IT’s part.
If five years ago you were asked whether a device as advanced as an iPad would use terminal access, the answer would have been a confident no. But today, looking at the use case, the complications of changing backend enterprise applications and then considering the need to get mobile solutions in place now, this mobile trend shows strong merit and growth potential.
What methods are you taking to ensure good mobile capabilities with your applications?