How Consumerware Will Transform Mobile Apps
With its unique set of software, interface and usage characteristics, consumerware is set to transform how organizations create and use mobile apps.
By Shivesh Vishwanathan
Traditional software used to be transactional, but today it's transformational and stateful. Instead of being packaged in a box, software is now service-oriented, contextual, data and analytics-driven, collaborative, and has content at its core. This new wave of software is called consumerware. It's this consumerization of software that's making consumer-facing characteristics central to today's software.
One can trace the consumerization of software back to the advent of personal computing and the graphical user interface (GUI) which brought computing closer to consumers. However, what’s now incontrovertible is that the consumerization of software has entered a distinct new phase, marked by mobile devices becoming the primary source for information consumption—and enterprises have taken note. Mobile-based enterprise software and productivity tools are being designed and implemented for competitive advantage. In the mad dash to implement mobility, companies need to manage the disruption. It's one thing to implement mobility as a tactical tool, expose some Web services, build mobile apps and be done with it, but it’s a completely different ball game if you want to leverage mobility for a competitive advantage and put it to best use.
Three qualities of consumerware that distinguish it from traditional software are its software, interface and usage characteristics.
Software. The software set of characteristics refers to the way core software is written. The IT industry first moved from console-based, program-driven software to GUI-based, event-driven software. Event-driven software put users in control and allowed them to drive the program. With consumerware, software has gone one step further and become context-driven. The availability of location, user presence, push notifications, permanently stateful and service-oriented nature of software means that while the user is remains in the driver's seat, the program is also aware of the context in which the user operates in, and drives user action. Most enterprise software today provides transactional, fixed responses based on user requests as opposed to being transformational and stateful. Informing the user of state changes and actions driven by other users is primarily driven today using intrusive e-mail notifications. Consumerware uses push notifications and helps the workflow along its away. Creators of enterprise mobility software need to embrace these software characteristics of consumerware to help drive faster and better-informed business responses.
Interface. The move to a context-driven paradigm has had a significant impact on interfaces, between multiple components of the software or between the software and its user. In consumerware, the user interface is contextual and highly customized. Web-based enterprise software had monolithic Web interfaces that encompassed a whole "management system" partly because traditional browser screens could hold a lot of information. Today, the user interface needs to be tailored to a single-purpose app that encompasses information from multiple management systems.
Even within the software system, the interface between its components needs to be revisited. Most mobile apps stitch together disparate pieces of information from various back ends. The back-end interface needs to be more granular for the front-end mobile app to call the right functionality and put the pieces together for the user.
When it comes to defining any interface for your consumerware, think about the level of granularity. Make it too granular and you end up with a fragmented set of interfaces that are unmanageable and hinder performance. Make it more composite and you lose flexibility.
Usage Characteristics. With the change in user interfaces to more granular ones, new enterprise mobile apps should pull together pieces from various back-end systems to provide functionality of a single app. Mashups of data from disparate systems, including external public systems, is now commonplace. When visiting a client, a salesperson not only needs information from the CRM but also needs a dashboard that pulls in data from the CRM, the customer accounts database, LinkedIn, weather and traffic, and more. The usage paradigm has flipped from "systems-centric" software to "value-centric" consumerware. As far as the user is concerned, each mobile app is a tiny dashboard that needs to provide him or her with neatly synthesized information.
You are most likely creating apps using front-end tools, exposing Web services and worrying about security. As you finalize these important aspects to ensure the strategic impact that mobility can provide, keep consumerware in mind with its context-driven software, granular interface and value-centric usage. It'll make a world of difference.
About the Author
Shivesh Vishwanathan is a senior mobility consultant with Persistent Systems. This is his first article for CIO Insight.