Fool me Once – The Truth About Enterprise Mobility and “Platform Lock-In”

LockIn_SmallIn the world of enterprise software, there’s a little known term called “Lock-In”. If you’re someone who has been involved in the purchase of enterprise software, you’ve undoubtedly become aware of the term at one point or another, likely as a result of learning the hard way.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “lock-in” has historically been defined as a state where switching vendors by customers is virtually impossible. More specifically, lock-in would occur when customers incurred costs upon changing vendors, making it less costly for them to stay with their current vendor. This was a common practice for vendors offering ERP, CRM and other software solutions.

Unfortunately for the enterprise, lock-in took a turn for the worse with the explosion of mobility. The global proliferation of mobile devices led to a surge in mobile app development, and in parallel, a surge in vendors offering mobile app development solutions. These vendors brought with them a new form of lock-in: Platform Lock-In.

The high cost of native app development, coupled with a scarcity of mobile developers eventually gave rise to MEAP vendors (or Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms). MEAPs offer a unique “Write-once, Deploy Everywhere” technology that allow clients to define an app once and deploy to various mobile platforms like iOS, Android, etc. But these solutions are typically very expensive, have limits on app UI development, and include proprietary technologies that literally lock-in clients for the life of their apps. Want to walk away from your MEAP vendor and take mobility in-house? You’ll have to start from scratch with your apps, essentially re-investing to build the same functionality a different way.

It was the restrictions on app UI development within MEAP platforms that led to the more recent rise of MBaaS vendors (or backend-as-a-service) within the enterprise. MBaaS vendors offer quick and easy integration of back-end databases through pre-built APIs, allowing mobile app developers to reduce the time and cost of building mobile applications. These solutions allow developers to quickly build out the back-end of their mobile apps, and then edit that app code to manually design a more complex front-end / user-interface. Simply put, MBaaS players offer much of the back-end capabilities of MEAPs, but provide more flexibility on the front-end. But once again, customers are typically locked into the MBaaS solution, as they cannot take on ownership and maintenance of the app server code.

Most MEAP and MBaaS vendors claim to offer no platform lock-in, but what they’re really saying is “you own your data, and you can export that data at any time and go”. Having a vendor tell you that you own your data is disingenuous, especially in enterprise cases where the data is already in an existing system or database.

Here’s the scary part. A recent survey conducted by AnyPresence of professionals involved in mobile app development revealed that nearly 60% of respondents were either locked in to their mobile development platform, or didn’t even know if they were locked-in.

When considering a mobile development platform, enterprise developers MUST consider IP ownership of their mobile apps and ensure they are not locked-in to the platform or technology their apps will be built on. It’s a given that you own your data. Enterprise developers need to ensure they own the run-time components of their mobile apps as well. Otherwise, taking mobility in-house won’t just be difficult, it’ll be virtually impossible.

As the popular saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The time has come for enterprise customers to stop getting fooled.


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