Thursday, June 23, 2011

Facebook Focuses on HTML5 in 2011 - Good for Social Media - Not Good for the Enterprise

In the blog on Forbes, “Facebook: Our Focus in 2011 Is On Mobile, HTML5” (link at the end of this blog), it is easy to see why mobility is not only a focus for Facebook, but also for practically every business. However, what is good for Facebook, other social media companies, publications, and gaming companies is not likely the best thing for your company – except for similar functions like connecting and communicating with your customers and community. Mobile is the fastest growing part of Facebook’s network and mobile users are twice as active as desktop users. These are market realities in the consumer market.  Some meaningful questions for business users are “Is mobility relevant to our business?”, “If mobility is important in our business, do we face similar challenges as Facebook?”, and “If our challenges are not the same, is HTML5 worth the investment today?”  With almost 2 decades of enterprise technology experience under practically every environment and major tech segment, I believe that mobility today is almost certainly relevant to your company, as it delivers cost savings, improved productivity/efficiency, and various controls and risk mitigation – exactly that which enterprise technology should provide to one extent or another.

Where the confusion starts and understanding of requirements often breakdown is in understanding the challenges. Facebook is a) a social media provider and b) spending millions (maybe 10s of millions) of dollars to evaluate *if* HTML5 will be the answer to their problems. So, if you are a social media company looking for a mobile platform, you can probably stop reading here.  The needs of “enterprise” apps is very different. To quote the blogger, Oliver Chiang, quoting Bret Taylor, CTO of Facebook, “… Apple and Google could do more to ‘close the gap’ between what a native application on their respective smartphones can do and what an HTML5 app on those devices can do. One example is Apple allowing HTML5 apps to also access the accelerometer (which allows for motion and directional input) on the iPhone.”  My first reaction is, “Yes, there is a gap.” My second reaction, “What motivation do Apple and Google have for abandoning the capabilities of their respective OS in delivering their users an exceptional experience – let alone abandoning in part or in total the revenue streams and appeal of app stores?”  Regardless, HTML5 is not proven as a viable alternative for most business processes, is still in its infancy in the consumer market (making it a good bit further away from being ready for the enterprise), and help doesn’t seem likely from the device and OS camps.

The nuggets I took away reinforce the strategy we see among our customers leading the charge in enterprise mobility.
  1. Enterprise Platform, Not Just a Mobile Platform: Anyone who has ever had to work with a web form or manage employees in the field, knows that lost time, lost data, and limited access to data cost money and kill customer service and productivity. Mobile web is rarely even a consideration. Even an app built on web services can fail to meet enterprise requirements.
  2. Right Device for the Job: Yes, we love the power and capabilities of iPhone, Android phones, and their tablet siblings, but try to process hundreds of barcodes or RFID tagged items on these devices and you’ll likely be looking for a job at Facebook.  Enterprise mobility is about converting some operation or process into software or delivering software and capabilities to support operations or processes. If you've done your job in selecting a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) that will support today and in the future the devices/OS appropriate to the task, then you can take advantage of all the native power and glory of the leading mobile platforms and device manufacturers. There is no one-size fits all mobile solution – and you wouldn't want it that way. That is the way it was prior to iPhone, Android phones, and the reemergence of the tablet! Different great devices one of the main reasons that mobility is exploding globally. Different jobs require specialized tools.
  3. AppStore Revenue Share is Not a Factor: You can argue that iOS (Apple) limits what a developer can do in building an application and accessing certain capabilities of those devices, but, hey, that is Apple’s business – sell and support great hardware (and primarily to consumers), often with their own tools (for which they charge money). Facebook, gaming companies, publications, and other mobile app companies pay 30% of their revenue to the AppStore. Folks – this is a BIG motivator driving Facebook's investment in trying to break free of the AppStore with a web-based app (HTML5). The enterprise is under no such obligation.  Yes, there are a variety of different financial considerations that would inform your purchasing decision, but a revenue share is not one of them. Again, if your enterprise mobile app is not required to be deployed to thousands (even 10s or 100s of thousands) of users on different devices that you do not own, manage, or control, then you are completely free to evaluate capabilities of mobile web vs native app head to head on their own merits.
There is a lot of confusion in the mobile space today, especially the mobile enterprise space, but don’t avoid investing in a quality mobile enterprise application platform and quality mobile apps. If you are early in your mobile deployments the MVP (mobile value proposition) is so compelling that you simply can’t wait. It is costing your organization hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars annually while you wait for the rapidly changing mobile market to settle down. The average ROI among our customers is less than 6 months.  A hosted solution can provide immediate ROI. Yes, you will be asked to support Windows Mobile, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, etc. in your environment. And the list will change and grow with Windows Phone, Symbian, WebOS, and who knows what over the next several years. But will you be asked to deploy the same app across every platform? In most cases, the answer is, No.  The guys in the warehouse or doing deliveries are likely doing very different functions with very different needs than your sales and service team. The guys maintaining your fleet require something very different from your records management staff. So “build once, deploy to many” is partly an enterprise myth.   Yes, there is a cost of maintaining the same app for 2 platforms (e.g. Windows Mobile and iOS), but it is miniscule compared to a) the cost savings and other benefits of mobilizing your workforce and b) the overall cost of mobile initiatives. And if you've selected a capable mobile app platform, such as PointSync, the management will be that much less.

No one knows your business better than you. Have us help you put together for your business a Return on Investment (ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculation. If you haven’t yet been burned by the endless hours spent developing, supporting, modifying, and testing the data synchronization of your mobile solutions, please don’t’ start digging that hole before you talk to us and have us help you build your use case for a true mobile enterprise application platform and apps.  You, your mobile workers, and your CFO will all thank you. And if you have been burned, we’ll show you a way to salvage your situation in the most timely and cost-effective way possible.  If Facebook figures it all out, believe that they (and others) will announce it to the world and you’ll be happy that they *and not you* invested in HTML5 to attempt to meet your enterprise needs.

posted by David Cohen
CEO @ MobileDatatForce

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