Q&A: IBM MobileFirst Evangelist Gavin Bourne
Gavin Bourne has logged more than 20 years in the mobile industry. He started at Motorola in 1994, at a time when mobile phones resembled bricks with buttons, and long before anyone conjured up the idea of a “smart phone.”
Now, the San Francisco resident is a mobile specialist for IBM’s Cloud Division. His task is to help build up an ecosystem of enterprise customers and developers to support IBM’s MobileFirst Platform.
IBM acquired WorkLight in 2012, which IBM then launched late last year as the MobileFirst Platform. With the MobileFirst Platform, the venerable technology company has created a tool chest that virtually any enterprise-grade mobile app would need — a cloud-based database, connectivity modules to enterprise databases, analytics, security, and more.
Without the benefit of a platform like MobileFirst, there is a tremendous burden on developers to simply establish the bridge between a mobile app and an enterprise’s often disparate data sources. The MobileFirst Platform helps make quick work of these integrations, allowing app developers to instead shift their focus to front-end development and user experience.
We recently caught up with Bourne to talk about MobileFirst, its evolution, and the future of enterprise mobile apps.
What’s it like working for a company as steeped in tech history as IBM?
It is super interesting, especially if you care about the history of technology. Probably because of IBM’s heritage, the company is unusually self-aware. IBM has had its ups and downs and IBMers are constantly reinventing themselves and the company.
Since IBM acquired WorkLight in 2012, can you tell us how it’s evolved into the MobileFirst Platform?
Worklight’s primary mission was to provide a cross-platform development solution and some connective tissue to enterprise systems. Worklight evolved into the MobileFirst Platform with a strong emphasis on providing developers with security, analytics, and the ability to apply context to mobile apps. Most importantly MobileFirst enables enterprises to continuously improve a mobile application over its entire lifecycle. Consumers eventually delete 80% of the apps they download. Beating those odds requires developers to get the user experience just right. With MobileFirst, developers like ArcTouch can assure customers their apps will be secure and stable — and then focus on designing an engaging app that is both useful and keeps the users coming back.
When we start new app projects, we typically begin by identifying a key user problem an app is trying to solve. Can you distill the key problem that IBM is solving with the MobileFirst Platform?
Getting mobile apps right is hard. When the app is consuming multiple sources of data in a secure way, it gets harder still. When you are developing and maintaining multiple apps on multiple mobile platforms… well, it becomes a real headache.
So IBM stepped up and created a solution to those “under the hood” headaches that developers face. When it comes to dealing with and managing systems of record, IBM is tops. With MobileFirst we want developers to create the application any way they’d like – HTML, Hybrid, Native – while we provide the stable and secure foundation for supporting multiple apps, which could be consuming lots of disparate data sources over generations of mobile OS releases.
How do you expect the MobileFirst Platform and the surrounding ecosystem to evolve over the next year?
We just launched MobileFirst Platform release 7.1, which points the way. With that release, MobileFirst offers developers with advanced analytics, with the Cloudant database as a service supporting great DevOps and production scaling, and the integration of micro-location services via Presence Insights. In other words, MobileFirst provides the data-driven context that powers the app.
We really expect B2E apps to up their game over the next 12 months as developers start to deliver engaging, consumer-level experiences that workers are used to in enterprise mobile apps. As for the ecosystem, MobileFirst is now available on a pay as you consume model, living in the cloud, and available on demand.
What kinds of feedback have you received from companies and developers that are using the MobileFirst Platform?
It is interesting when I talk to IT managers and developers who have inherited MobileFirst. At first they wonder why they should be using such a robust platform for their internal enterprise apps when their consumer-facing apps are just fine without it.
And then they have to deploy a B2E app to a sales force with sensitive company information, or they need to produce an app being used by employees and contractors on a BYOD basis, or — dare I say it — they get hacked, or their consumer app ratings crash, or … when any level of complexity arises, the value of MobileFirst becomes obvious.
We’re big believers in leveraging platforms like MobileFirst to help our efficiency. But aside from efficiency, what are some of the other benefits your customers are experiencing?
Aside from being super efficient, probably the biggest benefit from using MobileFirst is when the app is out in the field. MobileFirst analytics provides insight into how the app is performing and how it is being used. That enables the developer to provide continuous improvements over the course of an app’s lifecycle. And MobileFirst enables enterprises to take control of the app without recourse to expensive and intrusive MDM platforms. MobileFirst enables rev control — and the app can be removed remotely in the event a device is lost or compromised. I have noticed that the built-in MobileFirst analytics and the ability to easily act on those analytical insights is a real eye opener for app managers and producers.