No one argues against the contention that enterprises and, more importantly, their stakeholders (both internal and external) are increasingly demanding access to core systems on a remote/mobile basis. Still, there is much debate about the best way to actually deliver that mobile access.
Several schools of thought exist. First, we have the revolutionaries who suggest that existing applications are fundamentally flawed, inflexible and large, meaning they're unable to deliver what enterprise customers need. Proponents of this perspective say enterprises should pretty much take an entirely new look at how they work from a technology paradigm. These organizations take a Netflix-like approach to the problem space, deciding to re-architect from the ground up to meet their needs.
While that can deliver amazing results in terms of increased agility and ability to reinvent their business, the fact of the matter is this model isn't feasible for the vast majority of enterprises. Rather, an approach that sees them leaving their existing applications in situ and modeling ways to offer their stakeholders mobile and remote access to them is the way forwards.
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For those organizations, there are a couple of options. First, they can leave application mobilization efforts to their core application vendors: the Oracle's and SAP's of the world. After all, the theory goes, who better to mobilize a core application than the vendor that delivers it? There is certainly some value to relying on an SAP or an Oracle for this function, but things get more complex when we look at the common demand with regards enterprise mobile apps.
The majority of mobile use cases do not require full access to the core enterprise system from a mobile device; they need more contextual functionality. These use cases aren't about lengthy form filling and data entry. They are about application and approvals processes—the "tick the box" kind of use case that occurs very frequently within enterprises, such as a line manager who needs to approve his employees' time-off requests or a financial clerk who needs to approve expense claims and the like.
Enter micro apps
Those are the sort of use cases one third-party vendor, Sapho, is looking to fulfill.
Sapho delivers what it calls its Micro App Platform, a solution that allows organizations to transform existing workflows within business applications into "micro apps" that connect data and workflow between core systems and users via their mobile devices. Sapho, which also announced a $9.5 million Series A funding round, has already gained some customer adoption from the like of CBS Interactive, RPX Corporation and Turner Broadcasting. The rationale for the approach is simple:
“I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be to get employees to use enterprise software, as most of it is simply unusable,” said Fouad ElNaggar, CEO, and co-founder of Sapho. “Companies have spent trillions of dollars on enterprise software over the last few decades, yet employees are still plagued with feature-bloated apps and siloed systems that leave data fragmented or inaccessible. Push computing is the future of enterprise software, which is why we introduced the Sapho Micro App Platform, so enterprises can adapt to this reality and keep their employees informed, engaged and productive.”
Justification for the Sapho approach comes from another one of their customers, Super Delux:
“We have multiple teams who all work in different silos, which means information is spread across hundreds of systems,” said Wolfgang Hammer, CEO of Super Deluxe, a Turner Broadcasting Company. “This information sprawl makes it difficult to keep teams on top of critical production timelines. We used tracking apps and software, but they were clunky, slow, and often left out key data. By adopting Sapho, we were able to quickly unify data across all of our systems and deliver actionable updates to our team via simple, single-purpose apps. Now we have a complete 360-view of every project—from production schedule to finance to marketing execution. The technology has made such a difference that we are already evaluating how we can use it across other parts of the Turner family.”
Putting micro apps to use
If these micro apps are the way forward, what parts of delivering them—and via what architectural patterns—does Sapho cover. From the company, the different value propositions include:
- Rapid micro app development—IT professionals, business analysts and process experts can leverage Sapho’s pre-built micro app templates or create new micro apps in minutes with a drag-and-drop micro app builder. Micro apps are delivered to employees on any device through a downloadable app, a web browser or a messaging client.
- Out-of-the-box integration—To reduce development time, Sapho includes pre-built, customizable connectors to systems of record, such as SaaS apps, databases, data warehouses and internal web services. These connectors are designed to extract, transform and prepare data for employee notification (ETN).
- Event-based notifications—Once integrated, Sapho sits across these systems of record and monitors for system events, such as changes that occurred or should have occurred. Based on micro app rules, Sapho determines which events are important and notifies the right employees at the right time.
- Custom workflows—The Sapho connectors also integrate data from the systems of record. This allows IT to build micro apps for both simple one-click tasks to complex workflows that involve multiple systems and multiple constituencies for completion. These micro-apps push information to employees’ devices, allowing them to complete a task from their feed or secure micro app without any secondary system logins.
- Secure and flexible deployment—Sapho’s Micro App Platform runs on existing infrastructure, either in your data center or in your virtual private cloud, and integrates with existing identity and access control solutions to maintain security.
There are lots of different approaches to this problem—from the virtual desktop approach that seemingly every legacy technology vendor offers to application mobilization from vendors such as Capriza. The idea of micro apps certainly resonates with me and covers the contextual nature of many of these enterprise interactions.
Clearly there are some questions about how a small and relatively unknown vendor can grow to scale in an area that is critical for its customers. Sapho suggests that by offering customers both cloud-based and, more important, on-premises delivery modalities, they build a higher level of trust than, say, the pure-play cloud vendors. That perspective makes a lot of sense.
Sapho is an interesting approach, and I'm looking forward to how they leverage their early success and venture funding to grow their business going forwards.
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