Mobile App or Mobile Client?

There is no doubt that Mobile is one of the hot topics in the development world of 2014. There is an ever growing number of companies and products offering solutions to create mobile applications from existing applications. Some are targeted specifically at IBM Notes applications. A process we at Red Pill Development refer to as Symmetric Modernization.

More Applications

When we build a mobile application the existing code is typically converted from the original application onto a target mobile platform. Using tools provided by business partners this process can be shortened. After the process is completed the original application must remain for continued use on non-mobile devices. Depending on the target mobile platform we now have one or more additional (mobile) applications that now must be maintained. A complete modernization effort may also require the development of a new responsive web and (sometimes) social clients adding further to the maintenance costs because the same business logic is now repeated in multiple applications. A common mistake made in building a business case for mobilization is to only consider the initial development cost, ignoring the added maintenance costs for the remaining life of the application. Another important cost consideration when using automation tools is that machine generated code is often more complex and hence expensive to maintain.

One alternative approach is to build a mobile client that derives its business logic from the underlying application. A single mobile application is added to act as a proxy mobile client for all the other Notes applications. Now when the original application changes the mobile client will reflect those changes with little or no additional effort involved.

Linear Scaling

Another major challenge for mobilization is scalability.  The real problems with symmetrical approaches only appear once a project moves beyond the initial pilots and POCs. IBM Notes has been a huge success over the past 25 years. There are now an estimated 10 million Notes applications. Many organizations have 1,000+ Notes applications running on their Domino servers. While subsequent mobilization will usually be faster than the first application, the mobile application approach remains linear. Finding a budget and the time to mobilize 100 or 1,000 Notes applications can be a challenge beyond most IT budgets. Organizations usually respond to the math by deferring or removing a great many Notes applications from their modernization efforts. So a large number of Notes applications now fall even further behind. Users perceptions of Notes are being formed based upon Notes 4.5 navigators and layout regions. This continues the death spiral for Notes applications in which users respond to an aging interface by using them less which then leads to them warranting even less attention until they stop being used altogether. The business need doesn’t go away, its just that the users have probably now downloaded an app from their favorite app store to solve their needs.

The mobile client approach doesn’t require a single mobile application to be developed for each Notes application. In an asymmetric product like redpill Now a single application provides the mobile client for all the underlying Notes applications. The time required to add a mobile interface for one application is largely the same as it would be for 1,000. This fact continually confuses potential Red Pill customers. When we quote a price to migrate 1,000 applications we often get asked, well how much if we start of with just one? We get quite a few puzzled looks when we answer with the original number.

The End Game

After 25 years a great many Notes applications are starting to show their age. Many need resuscitation or they will surely die. When evaluating options for mobilizing Notes applications it is important to run the numbers carefully. Consider both the conversion cost and subsequent maintenance costs. Before starting the first pilot identify the total number of Notes applications in your portfolio and carefully project the total cost and timetable for moving to mobile. Remember, when you add a cool new mobile interface to one application your users will probably respond with requests to convert more. Doing this one application at a time is expensive and time consuming. And then there is the requests for new applications that will be inspired by those initial mobilizations. Your pipeline of requests could soon exceed your capacity to respond unless you plan very carefully. With a symmetric approach it is almost certain that before you have completed adding a mobile interface to more than a handful of Notes applications something new will appear on the horizon such as wearable devices, social capabilities etc. This will cause the cycle to start all over again.

Symmetric approaches to modernization work well when the number of applications is relatively small. At Red Pill Development we believe entire portfolios of Notes applications will only ever be modernized with mobile interfaces by taking an  asymmetric approach to the opportunity. A solution that comes from developing a mobile client rather than creating a portfolio of mobile applications.

Peter Presnell
Peter Presnell
CEO at Red Pill NOW. Strategist, technologist, blogger, presenter, and IBM Champion 2011/12. For years many companies have invested heavily in the Notes/Domino platform and I see my role as helping to find paths forward for that investment.

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