Like the Gold Rush of the 1840s, or the land grabs of the turn of the century, there’s another wild frontier being overrun by speculators and opportunists – and there’s not a sheriff in sight.
Indeed in 2015, the world of the “mobile backend” – the critical connector between mobile device and legacy software system – is like a massive Wild West right now.
MBaaS – the technical term for mobile backends that serve as traffic cop between company and phone – is being overrun by vendors who promise the world – but deliver much, much less.
Reminiscent of the late 1990s – when businesses were clamoring for a shopping cart on their website and there was no single “gold standard” solution – we are back at a place where an unregulated landscape -- and uninformed public -- is creating major headaches for ROI-minded companies.
And today, the stakes have never been higher. According to KISSmetrics, one-third of all eCommerce purchases made during the holidays were on a smartphone. And 55 percent of all retail internet minutes were spent on a mobile phone or tablet. “Mobile,” said National Retail Federation Executive Director Vicki Cantrell, “can’t be viewed simply as an ancillary device or action.”
With so much hanging in the balance, the selection of an MBaaS vendor should never be undertaken as a “gamble,” or a “risk,” but instead, as an investment in a critical partnership. Make the wrong selection, and your entire mobile commerce program may be at risk. The good news is that a crystal ball and tea leaves are not the tools you’ll need to find the right mobile backend partner.
At iTexico, we’ve helped hundreds of companies conquer this challenge by considering a few simple – yet important – questions along the way:
1. How will a particular MBaaS offering interact with my current infrastructure?
Answering this question requires a clear vision of the entire critical path – including the complexity of the implementation. The last thing anyone wants is to withstand extended downtime – or a sharp learning curve – during the process.
A key consideration relates to security: How does the MBaaS – which opens a potentially exposed portal into my secure database – keep my data safe from hackers? By conducting eCommerce with you, through an MbaaS, you now have thousands of mobile devices penetrating your “iron curtain.”
The right MBaaS will allow you to expose your corporate purchasing system to consumers without putting the enterprise at risk.
2. How comfortable will I be that the technology will be around and supported five years from now?
Because so few standards exist with regards to MBaaS solutions, the credentials of your potential MbaaS vendor loom large. Make the wrong bet technically, and you could find yourself with an unsupported MbaaS product with little or no warning.
Among the questions you should ask: How many other apps have you developed? Do you have a track record of successes? Can I call your references to understand their experiences?
For a growth-minded business (and who isn’t?), you also need to feel secure that the MBaaS can scale with you. Finding out later – after your mobile strategy takes off – that the MBaaS you are using is inadequate can be a crushing blow. Even if you had a contract that offers flexible terms with little or no lock-in period, the technical reality of moving from one MBaaS to another is not so easy. The irony is, you are more locked into your MBaaS as you become more successful.
3. What are my migration options?
Certainly, it is easier to implement from scratch rather than convert when an MBaaS relationship goes awry – but we are experienced in doing both.
As an example, some colleagues of mine recently were called in to help a company in the social media space with its newly-developed mobile application. The app, still in beta, was slow and laggy – and release to the public, in this condition, would have undoubtedly been dangerous, if not fatal, for the company.
We thoroughly examined the situation and discovered that a third-party MBaaS was not only using an inefficient, and unnecessary, module, but also was pulling and delivering raw data from the database, causing the mobile app to shoulder the processing load.
Our solution was to develop a customized MBaaS in the native Microsoft Azure platform that was already in place. In the reconstituted back-end, all of the business logic, filtering and security was done on the service side, rather than on the app side – reducing processing time by 400 percent, and getting the company back on track.
4. It seems like all of this is a gamble right now. What will it take for the MBaaS world to seem less risky?
What we believe is needed is an API standard for MBaaS providers. This would provide consumers of this technology some modicum of portability of their backend investment. Precedents include SQL for relational databases; and J2EE for java application servers.
APIs we think should be consistent across vendors include:
- Put/Get Data
- Call server side routine
We are probably past the “end of the beginning” for mobile application development. Corporate customers no longer need to wonder if their systems need to work on phones and/or tablets. It’s generally accepted that in almost all cases they must.
Today, we are now answering the question of how do we do it and make it a central part of our ecosystem.
Choosing the right partner to navigate the complexities of the MBaaS world is probably the most important decision you can make right now, to ensure that what you’ve built is safe, secure – and scalable for a bright future.
What have you done at your company to select the right MBaaS?
Are you creating a good experience for mobile development too? You could also visit the UX & UI Design in Mobile Development article.
Other interesting sources:
- Marshall, Richard, Baker, Van L., and Jason Wong. "Market Guide for Cloud Mobile Back-End Services." Gartner. Gartner.com.
- MSV, Janakiram. "How Can MBaaS Players Get Ready for Internet of Things?" Forbes. Forbes.com.
- Novet, Jordan. "Paypal closing down backend service StackMob mere months after buying it." VB News. Venturebeat.com.
Tucker, David. "Understanding Mobile Back End As A Service." Smashing Magazine. Smashingmagazine.com.
Young, Wesley. "Study: Cosumers Increasingly Turn To Mobile & Varied Media Combinations In Last Mile." Search Engine Land. Searchengineland.com.