It’s remarkable how fast innovation is occurring in the use of mobile devices as both the destination of end-user information-based tasks, and as sources of IoT sensor data. The tethering of people to fixed infrastructure is dissipating before our eyes. Similarly, just about every tangible item can be hooked up to share information about its environment, functionality, and observations.
In this sort of inflection in the enterprise architectures, it’s sometimes useful to highlight the significant enablers of such profound change. As I circle around with some of the more progressive adopter of Mobile-first Operating Models, I’ve detected a handful of critical components that are common to the recipe for success. Two are most prevalent.
First is the fortuitous rise of DevOps within corporate business-IT choreography. Dating back a few years, DevOps has become a mantra for agility and speed in bringing new business functionality into operations. What was previously a protracted cycle of planning, development, testing, and deployment is now enabled with urgency through skilled practitioners that understand the cadence of a digital business model.
The user experience is elevated in importance, recognizing that the business transaction relies on capturing and sustaining the user’s involvement throughout the mobile event. DevOps practitioners are developing an increased advocacy for the end user as they plan and implement changes to an operating capability.
This convention advocates for a particular way of designing software applications as suites of independently deployable services. While there is no precise definition of this architectural style, there are certain common characteristics in companies that promote mobile utility as a priority. These include automated deployment, intelligence in endpoint devices, and decentralized control of language and data. You can see the natural adjacencies to the DevOps approach.
These two enablers are important because mobile applications tend to change quite frequently. And, increasingly, their changes are automatic – driven by the detection of new environmental characteristics, for example, and made possible by sophisticated analytics that assess the impact and adjust accordingly.
This rapid cycle of detection, analysis, and change is a stark contrast to how most enterprises have designed and deployed business functionality in the past. Many companies tend to plan for updates to their applications portfolio monthly, or even quarterly. That doesn’t work in a mobile-first mode of running a business.
The combination of DevOps and microservices drives an entirely different operating model for most IT organizations, a different set of skill requirements among their staff, and a different form of planning cadence with the business sponsors.
Taken together, these two conventions promote tackling development and operations as a holistic process, not separate departments with separate staff using separate processes. Mobility requires continuous delivery, an ongoing cycle of developing, and testing/deploying applications with incremental feature updates. Increasingly, these tasks will be driven autonomously as the embedded analytics make decisions that were once the domain of monthly planning meetings.
It is important to remember that many times an organization’s mobile strategy is driven by the Marketing or Business side of the company who may not use IT terms such as DevOps or microservices- however, their ambitions remain the same. Newer-age companies are leading the way on this approach, often working with release cycles of four weeks or shorter, utilizing A/B testing for continuous optimization, leveraging third-party mobility-enablement services as opposed to building everything in-house, and more.
Some of the companies that are leading the charge in this space include Walgreens, Starbucks and Sephora, with DMI clients Virgin and Addison Lee being two more examples of organizations who are continuously and rapidly improving their services. I particularly like the model whereby mobility is a first point of design, and not a derivative byproduct of a website-based model.
Many established institutions that have not yet taken an experience-based designed approach are challenged to adopt these principles. The CIOs that I speak with cite a daunting challenge to shift the talent pool in ways that sustain knowledge around legacy back-end systems, while building new strengths through the tools, technologies, and operating conventions associated with Mobile Operating Models.
A great illustration of this difference comes through the inherent variability that a mobile application must endure. Communications links can be episodic, sessions may be interrupted, users may change between tasks, etc. The effect of this is the need for the mobile services to be designed for failure – anticipating a broad spectrum of interruptions that may affect the user experience. Modern mobile applications place great emphasis on real-time monitoring of the application, checking both infrastructure and business relevant metrics.
All of this screams for fresh and unconstrained design thinking for how a business can best activate a mobile-first business model. The best-prepared IT organization to step up to the mobility table is one that already embraces DevOps and microservices.
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Peter Allen, President of DMI Commercial