System administrators take note: That mobile employee expense app you're building should be every bit as easy to use as Facebook. Oh, and you better deliver it quickly too, because that's how Facebook rolls.
Increasingly, organizations are finding that they need to build mobile apps for their employees in this hyper-connected world. Because employees are probably already used to Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps and other consumer-friendly apps, they'll expect a high degree of polish and performance from their enterprise apps as well.
"As consumers become more familiar with mobile experiences, they are bringing those expectations into the enterprise and expecting the enterprises to move just as fast," said Jeff Haynie, co-founder and CEO of Appcelerator, which offers a set of software and services for building, testing and managing mobile applications.
Appcelerator has enjoyed considerable success catering to the exploding field of consumer mobile apps. Appcelerator's software has been downloaded over 600,000 times and has been used to create over 70,000 mobile apps, according to the company. Family Dollar, VMware, Sprint and Avis have all used the software to build and run their own apps.
Now Appcelerator is turning its attention to supporting business-oriented apps. Such apps are being designed to solve "employee or business-oriented problems, much like apps solve problems in people's personal lives," Haynie said.
The company has updated its Appcelerator Platform with new features and associated services designed to ease the process of building business-class mobile apps.
While enterprise software companies such as SAP and Oracle provide mobile front ends for many of their products, most organizations have their own workflows that cannot be easily encapsulated by off-the-shelf products. As a result, organizations are looking to build their own apps to handle unique parts of their operations, Haynie said.
As a result, "I think there is a big shift towards business or employee-oriented applications" in the mobile development world, Haynie said.
The Appcelerator Platform is an integrated suite for building mobile applications. The package includes a code editor and a set of tools for testing the software, as well as for monitoring its usage once the app goes live. It includes libraries that allow a single app to be ported to different mobile platforms, including Apple, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.
The Appcelerator Platform is based on the company's Titanium open-source, cross-platform mobile development library and code editor.
To help business-class apps, Appcelerator has revamped its software's analysis capabilities. This service can track how often an app is used, what sections of the app are used and how often the app crashes or runs slowly.
"The audience [for this analysis] is mainly business, product or marketing people who are really focused on understanding performance indicators and quality indicators," Haynie said. The software "lets an IT administrator map key business criteria into a tablet application for executives to understand what is happening in their business, from an application standpoint."
Apps that are built with Appcelerator Platform automatically collect key metrics through an Appcelerator hosted service. Administrators can create custom metrics by adding into their app interface calls to the Appcelerator data-collection service. Organizations can also run their own in-house service to collect Appcelerator data as well.
The company has also extended the use of its monitoring services so that programmers can retroactively embed Appcelerator's programming interfaces into any app that has already been built, not just those built on the Appcelerator platform.
This update will allow developers to monitor any native app, one built specifically for an Apple or Android.
The Appcelerator Platform also includes software for creating and consuming third-party APIs (application programming interfaces), called API Builder. Previously, this task of connecting an app to a third-party API could be cumbersome, requiring knowledge of software libraries and communication protocols. Using a set of drivers, this software provides an easy way to encapsulate widely used enterprise APIs, such as those from Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
API Builder also allows developers to write their own APIs, allowing the app to tap into internal company business processes. Administrators can add in additional logic to the APIs, for tasks such as packaging data in a particular format, for instance.