Industry analysts predict that in 2013 mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide and that by 2015 media tablet shipments will reach around 50 percent of laptop shipments. A new era of development is on the horizon, particularly in the area of data integration. As the consumerization of IT fully dominates the enterprise IT landscape, many CIOs are concerned with how device proliferation will impact data integration and cloud-based enterprise apps.
While companies are recognizing the bottom-line value of a mobility-equipped and empowered workforce, they also want to be assured of security and mitigate the risk of any data breaches should a mobile device be lost or stolen. This concern is a major driver for the push we are now seeing in the marketplace for data integration solutions for mobile devices.
Before we discuss what’s yet to come and data integration, let’s take a quick look back at how we got here and how mobile devices are being used for data integration in the workspace today.
A look back at the not too distant past (circa 2003)
The first wave of data integration applications for mobile devices was extremely limiting and not pervasive. These early attempts were confined by the technology available at the time — for example, the wireless application protocol (WAP) could be used to provide a very limited subset of functionality that was predominantly text-based on a very small screen.
The original cell phones were not fully HTML-enabled, restricting users to simple functionality such as alerts and status checking, both in terms of system health (on-premise software) as well as business data processing. These simple functions enabled users to read error logs or initiate data reprocessing but had very little ability for remediation or editing data in flight.
Remember your old flip phone? Picture this B2B/EDI scenario: Data comes in from a trading partner and fails to process because the data contains errors. With your Motorola or Nokia cell phone, you could be alerted of the failure, view the detailed errors, view the actual data, look at the sender contact information and then call and ask them to resubmit. In essence, you were limited to just reviewing basic information or reactive business monitoring.
While at the time this functionality was cutting edge, vendors of data integration software were constrained in what they could provide because:
- The user experience was extremely limited with no HTML and very small screens
- On-premises software needed firewall ports opened for a WAP gateway to allow access in, creating additional security requirements and further limiting the actual adaption of mobile devices for enterprise usage
So, now let’s fast forward. Where are we today?
The rise of the smartphone, the tablet and the cloud
First, we have seen the consumerization of the smartphone and the tablet.
As their popularity has exploded, mobile devices have become increasingly feature-rich and sophisticated. Devices are more powerful and can now deliver a full-HTML experience. Screens have gotten bigger and touch screen capabilities that enable users to interact with content have taken off.
With smartphone usage hitting 80 percent across businesses, employees are primarily using them to view and read email and calendar applications, documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Tablets, with their larger screens, are more likely to be used for editing these same types of documents as well as modeling and analytic activities and access to Web meetings/video conferences.
Cloud-based services also have surged, making it easier to interact with enterprise software and deliver content 24/7 to mobile devices via the Internet. This delivery platform also has pushed businesses to extend and improve their applications as the user interface (UI) must be presented via HTML.
APIs and dashboards advance the user experience
The technology explosion has also seen the growing tide of APIs and online business dashboards.
With the advent of APIs, it is easier to build applications and services, and they can communicate with each other more readily. As a result, any device can now connect with those applications or services, whether it is a laptop, mobile phone or tablet.
Business dashboards also have emerged to deliver real value to the mobile workforce. Data can be pulled from multiple sources to provide a single, comprehensive view of real-time metrics for business/system operations and processes.
Compared to the text-based, limited business monitoring of the past, portable users are now able to view visually rich, interactive charts and graphs. Employees can proactively access and analyze more meaningful information with just a simple glance on their mobile device.
In short, we now have the proliferation of more powerful devices that can run richer applications, enabling easier, faster access to content — all leading to a better experience for mobile users.
Traditional businesses open the door to mobile devices
At the same time as the technology has advanced, traditional companies have begun to accept the use of mobile devices in the workplace.
Businesses see that by including mobile devices in their corporate IT policies — and on the same footing as desktop computers and other devices — not only can they extend the work environment to virtually anywhere, but they also can extend the typical work day beyond eight hours. In other words, an employee can work anytime/anywhere, increasing responsiveness and productivity.
So, how will this innovation impact data integration solutions?
Data integration will be key to meeting demand
As these technology and business trends have converged, companies are beginning to rethink their IT infrastructure and how best to integrate mobile devices with cloud-based services and enterprise applications.
As I discussed in my article, Best Approach to Data Integration in the Cloud: A Revealing Look at Two iPaaS Options, enterprises and midmarket organizations are increasingly looking to the cloud for data integration. A cloud-based approach enables businesses to reduce infrastructure costs and easily scale their capabilities without the capital outlay.
Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is a platform for building and deploying integrations within the cloud and between the cloud and enterprise. With iPaaS, users can develop integration flows that connect applications residing in the cloud or on-premises and then deploy them without installing or managing any hardware or middleware.
iPaaS also makes it easier for mobile devices to connect and interact with services via well-defined RESTful APIs. So much so, mobile devices are now unquestionably a very viable target for integration.
Two variations of the iPaaS model have developed:
- Customer-driven iPaaS: The user is responsible for defining and managing the integration in a hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment.
- iPaaS managed service: The iPaaS vendor not only hosts the integration platform but also handles the integration as a service.
The work of data integration can be broken down into several key tasks:
- Defining data interfaces for use in an integration scenario; this usually involves access to sample data and/or specifications and standards (XML schemas, business implementation conventions, etc.)
- Mapping source to target interfaces to represent the actual mapping logic
- Ability to test integrations
- More advanced data architecture requirements such as, but not limited to:
- Data semantics
- Impact analysis
- Usage profiling
- Integration solution management
Once an integration pattern or solution is deployed, there is the process of configuring a workflow, monitoring traffic, reviewing errors and logs, reporting requirements, SLA monitoring, etc.
In a customer-driven iPaaS scenario, many of these tasks are done by the customer and deployed to an integration platform. While more of these tasks can be done on a rich client device than previously, a key question is whether the business will have sufficient staff to handle these integration activities now and in the future with ever-increasing data requirements and constantly evolving security challenges.
In the managed service model, the provider is responsible for building integration patterns, rules and mapping and handles the deployment. They will have the necessary resources and expertise as well as the robust and rich set of tools that is required to effectively manage a complex integration solution. In addition, providers offer complimentary services that empower the consumer with greater management and visibility into what is happening on the managed provider’s platform on their behalf.
Going forward, applications that provide rich reporting, business analytics, BAM, audit/log viewing and easy access to data from mobile devices are fast becoming requirements.
Self-service capabilities that enable portable users to modify and resubmit data also will likely become an area of focus as more and more providers offer this functionality and users increasingly discover it can be done from almost any Internet-connected device in the world.
The future of enterprise applications for mobile devices is ultimately about providing the workforce with the data they need, when they need it and where they need it. With demand heating up and a growing “mobile first” mindset, providers will want to extend as much visibility, reporting and functionality to their managed service customers as possible while also ensuring data security.
The alignment of extremely high device adaption, increasing adoption of cloud services and the use of frameworks that make it easier to push data-rich experiences, along with corporate acceptance and policies that support mobile devices (often referred to as BYOD), is enabling integration providers to now offer first-class applications for smartphones and tablets. How your business handles data integration may be the key to taking advantage of them.
Rob Fox is senior director of EAI/B2B Software Development for Liaison Technologies and the architect for several of Liaison’s data integration solutions. Liaison Technologies is a global provider of cloud-based integration and data management services and solutions. Rob was an original contributor to the ebXML 1.0 specification, is the former chair of marketing and business development for ASC ANSI X12, and a co-founder and co-chair of the Connectivity Caucus.