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Mobile apps have already taken hold of the enterprise, and experts say their grip is only getting stronger. Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. reported that by 2017, 25% of enterprises will have an enterprise app store. By 2014, Apple will be as accepted by enterprise IT as Microsoft is today, the group added. Couple this with the rapid rise of Software as a Service (SaaS), and you see a striking new trend: more enterprises developing their own mobile apps for SaaS.
"What we're seeing is that [enterprise software] vendors are finally catching up to really enable enterprises to develop their own mobile apps for SaaS," said Robert DeSisto, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "When you look at the CRM [customer relationship management] stuff, there's no question that's where it's going -- fast. Even Salesforce.com is now aggressively trying to meet the needs of the enterprise to build mobile apps."
Salesforce.com recently announced a new set of tools and services that enables customers to build mobile applications on its cloud platform -- and this June, the company is slated to release version 2.0 of its mobile software developer's kit (SDK). The SDK update will make it possible for developers to connect business system data to HTML5, native or hybrid mobile apps.
It's not surprising that the CRM space is leading the trend of enterprise-developed mobile apps for SaaS, said Michael Facemire, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
"Salesforce and field-force enablement are two of the main drivers for enterprise data to be put in a mobile environment where it would be used outside of the firewall," Facemire explained. "With that business challenge -- where you need to access data on a mobile platform outside of your firewall -- the cloud makes perfect sense. It affords that opportunity, as well as [gives] you a nice set of APIs for your mobile devices to consume."
Similarly, financial services organizations seem to be out in front when it comes to developing their own mobile apps for the cloud. Part of the reason is that use of mobile banking apps is growing quickly. Forrester says that by 2017, 46% of all bank account holders in the U.S. will regularly use mobile banking services -- up from 13% in 2012. Today, 45% of American mobile bankers already opt to use their banks' mobile apps over their mobile sites.
Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees, a Java-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) company, has noticed an uptick in financial services customers using the CloudBees PaaS to develop their own mobile banking apps for SaaS.
"[PaaS] provides features that make it really convenient to develop applications on top of SaaS," Labourey said. "You're using the layer in the cloud as a buffer to shield traditional IT from the craziness that happens in mobile."
PaaS might be gaining some traction for enterprise mobile app development, but its main use case is still consumer apps.
"If I were in the IT world, one of the things I would love about PaaS is how quickly you can get up and running, and how easy it is to deploy to isolated environments," said Charles Teague, CEO of FitNow Inc., which recently launched Lose It!, a mobile- and Web-based weight-loss application built in with the CloudBees PaaS. "We only worked on this one [consumer] app, but I can imagine a world where you're working on twelve different projects with a PaaS, running ten different versions, and it's going to be really easy."
But PaaS has a long way to go before it becomes the go-to method for enterprises developing their own mobile apps for SaaS, according to Krishnan Subramanian, industry analyst and founder of Rishidot Research.
"One of the reasons PaaS is not being used in a big way to develop mobile apps for the cloud is because not many PaaS vendors include support for developing mobile apps as part of their platform," Subramanian said. "Once PaaS vendors offer platforms with more support for mobile app development, then you'll see more use of PaaS for mobile apps."
As it stands, Backend as a Service companies offer the support for mobile application development that many enterprises are looking for, he added.
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