Mobility Outlook Q4 2017

The mobile landscape is always changing, creating unique challenges and opportunities for AIDC solution providers — especially independent software vendors (ISVs). DevPro Journal sat down with four mobility experts to get their insights into how AIDC-focused ISVs can succeed with their mobile solutions.

DevPro Journal: What is the most significant mobility trend affecting ISVs today?

James Pemberton, Director of ISV Strategy, Zebra: One clear trend is the move to cloud-based apps. The advantages are well documented, but for enterprise apps — especially mission-critical apps — cloud-based architectures need to be well planned and executed to ensure continuous operation of the mobile worker. Typically, this means a native app on the device that can maintain offline operations for a significant period in the case that cloud connectivity is interrupted. That can still happen in a seemingly always-on environment such as a warehouse covered by WLAN, once local environmental changes are taken into account that can affect radio propagation or roaming between access points.

Doug Lloyd, vice president of global sales operations, Janam Technologies: ISVs face constant pressure to add value in an environment that is rapidly changing. Consumerization of the enterprise is one trend that is significantly affecting ISVs. They need to constantly maintain and upgrade mobile clients to account for the speedier release of upgrades on popular mobile platforms. This is a drain on resources — both from a financial and personnel standpoint.

David Crist, president, Brother Mobile Solutions: Based on what we’ve seen in supporting a number of market-leading ISVs, one significant challenge appears to focus on diversity. There’s diversity in applications, diversity in connected devices and technology platforms, and diversity in output and reporting requirements. These can be really tough issues for our ISV partners to resolve.

Use of popular consumer devices — Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as Android-based devices — is common across vertical mobile markets. Therefore, ISVs need to be flexible in providing software compatible with both platforms and keeping them updated regularly. Here at Brother, we try very hard to help our ISV partners navigate the current environment, especially when integrating beyond their product boundaries is not a core focus.

DevPro Journal: What’s the latest on operating systems? Where should ISVs focus and why?

Pemberton: With Microsoft recently announcing the end of Windows 10 Mobile, it would seem to be a 2-horse race now. ISVs have to focus where their end-customer demand is coming from out of necessity. That typically means offering both an iOS and Android version of their apps.

“Carpeted-space” enterprise apps can often lean toward iOS due to the popularity of Apple devices in the consumer market, though they are not in any significant way optimized for enterprise. Android offers more flexibility for developers and end-users both in the variety of consumer and “concrete-space” rugged devices and the features that the OS enables. In my view, Android is a clear winner for the mobile enterprise and that is why we have been producing Android devices since 2010 and have a wide Android enterprise product portfolio.

Lloyd: Microsoft is phasing out support of its Windows Embedded operating systems starting in 2018 and earlier this month the company announced that it doesn’t plan to introduce new features or hardware for the Windows 10 Mobile platform. While hundreds of thousands of Windows-powered rugged mobile computers are being used throughout the enterprise, many organizations are focused on their transition strategy. With Android rapidly gaining market share in the enterprise, ISVs should be focusing new efforts on delivering applications for this familiar OS. But for those that are still dependent on Windows mobile applications, they shouldn’t panic. Janam will continue to support and deliver products with the Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 operating system. We will not force customers to migrate before they are ready and we will continue to offer products that support Windows and Android on the same device — eliminating the stress and cost associated with application migration and expensive hardware upgrade. We believe that ISVs who can or have implemented a cross platform development tool strategy will be best positioned to take advantage of the complexities of this mobile application paradigm shift occurring in the enterprise market.

Crist: Undoubtedly, Android and iOS are the wisest choices today. Ease of use, along with superior functionality of devices based on these platforms, are driving their influx into a wide swath of enterprise vertical markets. Android can be advantageous for share-of-market application plays, and iOS can offer advantages for applications driving towards more of a consumer-like experience. With Microsoft Windows pulling out of the mobile OS race, these two are the obvious winners for ISVs. Those already on a Windows Mobile platform to support legacy installations should plan on moving to Android or iOS sooner rather than later.

DevPro Journal: What verticals, if any, are seeing high growth when it comes to mobile solutions?

Pemberton: We see growth in all of our core verticals of retail, manufacturing, transport & logistics, and healthcare. This is driven by a combination of existing implementations coming up for a refresh of software and hardware, along with new use-cases driven by new technologies such as RTLS. In my experience, many ISVs have their niche that they have cultivated through successive customer implementations and referrals, so it is hard for an ISV to make a leap sideways into a new vertical where they do not have such a strong track record.

Lloyd: According to a recent report from VDC, the most frequently targeted vertical is retail. As retailers are challenged with finding new ways to enhance the customer experience, they are looking to ISVs to deliver applications that not only drive operational efficiencies but also allow consumers to better engage with retailers through the use of technology. That said, the retail mobility market is somewhat saturated and ISVs should also be looking closely at sectors that have paid less attention to enabling mobile applications in the past — such as SMBs in the agriculture, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, healthcare, and field service industries. Each of these industries is evolving quickly and organizations are on the hunt for applications that can address various pain points.

Crist: Home healthcare is a large vertical market rapidly adopting mobility solutions for its mobile workers — including physicians, visiting nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other caregivers. Driving this growth is the need for home health organizations to fully comply with new CMS regulations and standards of care designed to protect patient safety, provide a continuum of high quality care, ensure accurate recordkeeping. and enhance clinician efficiency and productivity.

Transportation is another vertical in which we’re seeing high growth. Driving the trend in the long-haul trucking industry is the mandate for trucking firms and their drivers to maintain in-vehicle electronic data logs to record hours of service, driving behavior, and other permitting and regulatory documentation now required by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

We believe ISVs would be well advised to get involved in the mobile marketplace. The choice of which vertical markets would depend on their areas of expertise and interest. However, what’s certain is that mobility is definitely increasing, with one major research analyst forecasting that the mobile worker population will account for more than 70 percent of the total U.S. workforce by 2020.

DevPro Journal: What is the biggest mistake you see ISVs making when it comes to developing mobile solutions?

Pemberton: I would like to see ISVs take greater advantage of the enterprise developer tools and utilities that are available to truly optimize their apps for the enterprise and make full use of the enterprise-class features built into enterprise devices that are simply not present on a stock consumer smartphone.

Lloyd: ISVs need to have scalable applications. What a customer wants today will drastically change years, months, and even weeks later. Understanding your customers’ business is critical. Being able to quickly and easily provide a solution that is capable of scaling as new needs arise will help to ensure ISVs can retain customers as their businesses expand.

Ravi Panjwani, VP of Marketing and Product Management, Brother Mobile Solutions: Sticking too rigidly to a dated, pre-set product development roadmap can stifle innovation. We’ve heard a number of ISVs use the term “agile roadmap” in describing how they manage their businesses and product development protocols. Too many application development teams focus on adhering to a linear, predictable, ROI-driven development schedule. However, they may be missing out on new opportunity-driven change drivers which are always emerging. The more successful ISVs build flexibility into their development processes to allow for changes when opportunity knocks.

DevPro Journal: Why should ISVs consider using enterprise-grade mobile devices for their solutions as opposed to lower cost consumer-grade?

Pemberton: The decision is ultimately that of the end-user customer, not the ISV, of course. The ISV has a great position of influence over the customer’s choice however, and we formally recognize and reward that influence within our ISV program. We try to ensure that our ISVs have access to demo kits through the program so that they can choose to demo their solution to customers on an enterprise-grade device. I do feel that it is in an ISV’s best interest if the customer chooses enterprise grade over consumer as the performance and reliability of the total solution depends on a combination of hardware and software. To some extent the reputation of the ISV is partially dependent on the total solution working well as well. We hope that in recommending Zebra devices, the ISV is helping the customer make an informed decision along with the total cost of ownership analysis.

Lloyd: At the end of the day, consumer devices are not created to survive the rigors of all day, every day use in enterprise environments. We have seen many organizations go with a consumer device, only to quickly realize the operational downtime caused by repeatedly broken devices was significantly impeding their business. ISVs will ultimately have happier customers when they deploy a device that is purpose-built to withstand harsh environments. Further, with the ability to provide extended lifecycles on hardware, an ISV would benefit from being able to develop and deploy their applications over longer periods without the burden of having to modify or rewrite their applications to accommodate the rapidly changing architectures found on the consumer side.

Crist: Our view is that both levels of mobile device should be evaluated. Businesses should contrast and compare how each level device meets customer/market requirements. Then, if possible, proceed with programming or recommending the lowest-grade device that will get the job done. Today’s customers are extremely aware of not only their budget and spending constraints, but also how far they believe a particular device’s performance envelope can be pushed. Compared to the “over-specifying” tendencies of the past, the trend is now to push from the lower end upward. To us, that makes a lot of sense.

DevPro Journal: What tools, if any, do you provide to ISVs to increase their likelihood of success in integrating with your hardware?

Pemberton: ISVs should plan for a multitude of devices especially if BYOD is an option. This means planning for the lowest common denominator, but should not prevent a developer for adding in “options” to take advantage of enterprise-class devices if the app is deployed on one. Zebra’s offering in this area is called Mobility DNA. It comprises a comprehensive set of developer and management tools. Examples would be swipe-in keyboard access at convenient points in the workflow, or Simulscan Document Capture, which can simultaneously capture multiple bar codes, hi-res photos, signatures and even automatically populate standardized forms.

Lloyd: Janam provides free access to our Software Development Kits, Technical bulletins, downloadable ROMs and Images, and specialized utilities and APIs via the Janam ProductZone on www.janam.com. In addition, we have a staff of experienced systems engineers with deep application development experience to provide direct support to an ISV should they require assistance in developing applications on our products.

Crist: Brother Mobile provides a comprehensive suite of both standard (such as SDKs and stock firmware sets) and custom integration tools. We offer a range of specific SDKs complete with demo code to build applications. Our recommendations for development and integration tools are backed up by a highly qualified group of field- and headquarters-based engineers whose primary mission is to make our ISV partners successful using our mobile devices.

For example, we now have Apple MFi certification and AirPrint functionality built into our mobile printers so integration with iOS devices is virtually plug-and-play. In short, we have adopted the support philosophy of providing more than enough tools and guidance to “teach them how to fish” (e.g., integrate with our products), while at the same time respecting the coding and resource constraints they must work under for their own main product.

DevPro Journal: How significant a focus is ISV recruitment without your organization?

Pemberton: We enjoy a significant influx of new ISVs organically and proactively joining the Zebra ISV program — around 100 a month, and as a result we have a vibrant and healthy ISV community of around 2,500 ISVs. For this reason, we only undertake very specific targeted outbound recruitment campaigns where we see a particular gap in our vertical/geographic coverage, taking note that many ISVs play in a vertical niche and are often limited in their geographic reach.

Lloyd: The rugged mobile computer industry continues to be extremely competitive. As we look to better serve our new and existing customers, we work closely with a variety of ISVs across regions and vertical markets. We are actively seeking new ISV partners that share our commitment to providing mobile solutions with the right features at the right price, while eliminating the frustrations customer face when working with long-term industry incumbents. We want to align with like-minded challengers that are shaking up the industry with really competitive offerings.

Panjwani: At Brother Mobile, recruitment of ISVs is very important. ISVs are usually the “first-in the door” entity when new application opportunities are uncovered. They may not have the resources or bandwidth for full integration and delivery of an entire project. Software solution development defines the process flow of any business. That’s where our teamwork comes in. Working together with ISVs, we are very good at finding those initial points of customer interest.

As to growth goals, we expect to at least double the size of our portfolio of ISVs that we regularly work with and support. Our focus will still be on vertical experts who share the same strategic values we do. In fact, we are currently building an ISV program on top of The NEXT channel partner program to ramp up an even more dedicated focus.  

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The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.