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In less than 20 years, mobile devices have evolved from a luxury item and emergency resource to an enhancer of consumer and business life. Mobile phone subscriptions today are estimated at over 5 billion worldwide, up from 12.4 million two decades ago.1 Gartner Research predicts that the sale of mobile devices will grow from 1.4 billion in 2011 to 2.2 billion in 2015—an increase of 57 percent.2

Mobile devices are evolving at an exponential rate. Enhanced features (camera, accelerometer, GPS, multi-touch, Proximity sensor) and applications are adopted as fast as they are introduced. The mobile applications trend, in particular, is on the rise. According to TEKsystems research, 54 percent of IT leaders plan to implement mobile applications.3 Mobile is the channel for communicating with customers now and into the future. That’s why a close partnership between IT and marketing and operations is critical for the success of today’s mobile initiatives.

The Challenge – How to Build a Mobile Strategy that Makes Bottom Line Sense

Many of TEKsystems’ clients view mobile applications as more than new, hot technology. They see mobile applications as an opportunity to increase productivity and revenue opportunities. They also recognize that this level of accessibility is a demand of their current workforce and client population.

However, many are not sure how to build a mobile applications strategy that delivers tangible results. Our research with IT leaders shows that 78 percent are neutral or not confident in their company’s mobile application strategy.4 When asked why, respondents say they lack confidence due to an absence of a fully developed enterprise-wide strategy (66 percent) and believe they have an insufficient workforce to execute the initiative (52 percent).4

Similar to the dawn of the dot-com era, when businesses knew they wanted an Internet presence but didn’t know what to include on their Web pages, today’s enterprises are rushing to create mobile functionality that benefits customers and employees. However, they are not clear on what applications will produce the greatest benefit, which resources to use or how to measure success and create manageable goals. That’s where TEKsystems comes in.

Of people with smartphones, 33 percent download applications at least monthly. Forrester expects a 51 percent CAGR in tablet sales between 2010 and 2015.5

The TEKsystems Point of View

TEKsystems deploys 29,000 IT applications professionals every year to manage and support clients’ applications initiatives. Our mobile application development practice was formed by selecting the best and brightest consultants available in the marketplace and hiring them as permanent members of our TEKsystems Global Services Mobility Center of Excellence. Our mobile staff consists of a team of seasoned mobile developers who are well-versed in different mobile platforms. The team also includes experts who specialize in database backend development, business analysis and technical architecture and testing. These consultants can be called to action when the need arises. To bring maximum value to our clients, we aggregate our collective experiences, using lessons learned from each project and applying them to subsequent engagements. In this way, we are able to help clients validate and execute their strategic mobility goals.

Specifically, TEKsystems assists clients in getting the most out of their mobile applications by:

Sharing common pitfalls and best practices around going mobile. TEKsystems communicates with over 100,000 IT professionals every week. And we provide services to 82 percent of the Fortune 500. Our massive reach, combined with our market intelligence, provides us with real-world knowledge about what works, what doesn’t and what’s emerging in IT. We share examples and best practices with our clients, ensuring they reap the rewards of lessons learned elsewhere. This effective knowledge transfer helps our clients avoid common pitfalls associated with mobile applications initiatives.

Helping organizations understand their development options and choosing the right ones. Not only do companies need to assess their current mobile applications goals, they also need to strategize for the future. TEKsystems works with clients to implement a scalable mobile strategy that takes all considerations into account, so we can advise our clients on when to select a mobile site option, a native application or a hybrid approach. To ultimately create an integrated and seamless user experience, we recommend using the basics of fluid and liquid design in which the website can be viewed on different screens (desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone) the same way that liquid takes the shape of the container it fills.

Ensuring a sound approach to workforce planning. As clients begin to define their mobile applications strategy and develop a project plan, it is important to carefully address skill gaps and build new capabilities. Our core competency in IT human capital management helps clients determine and implement the best workforce planning models spanning training, staff-augmentation, full-time hiring, project-based managed staffing or full-fledged outsourcing.

Sharing the Wealth of Lessons Learned. At times organizations get caught up in the general “coolness” of technology or bow to pressure from fervent employees. We have witnessed firsthand how rushing into a seemingly great idea can result in less than great outcomes. To avoid this, TEKsystems works with clients to pinpoint business outcomes that mobility can provide. After helping our clients engage the appropriate stakeholders to define business goals, we work collaboratively to build a mobile applications strategy that achieves each goal while addressing common challenges. Proactively understanding potential roadblocks helps our clients work around them and meet mobile objectives.

Common Challenges

Disconnect from business goals. In our experience, it’s critical to have clear enterprise-wide business goals tied to mobility initiatives. We’ve found that IT leaders feel most confident about their mobile strategies when they are closely aligned to business needs (59 percent) and supported through an enterprise-wide strategy (56 percent).6 In order to properly develop an implementation process, IT leaders must begin by envisioning the large-scale implications of mobile development and the subsequent benefits. Does the organization intend to benefit internal employees, external stakeholders, or both? Are you looking to improve your brand? Introduce a new revenue stream? Acquire market or customer data? Bolster customer loyalty? Enter a new market? Increase productivity? Where do you want to be next year and five years from now? What else is the business doing that may impact or reinforce your mobility vision?

User expectations. Mobile developers must ensure that user interfaces and designs are straightforward and intuitive. That’s why TEKsystems adheres to vendor best practices that provide coding standards and UI design guidelines. We also work with usability experts to ensure we’re meeting industry best practices around user interface design and development and the best layout for different screen devices and sizes. Given the importance of a high-quality user interface and user experience, we are constantly improving our QA and testing capabilities.

Content loading. Mobile users are less willing to wait for content to load, which further complicates and challenges developers. In addition to performance-based code audits, TEKsystems conducts performance testing with limited bandwidth in mind. Further, we work with clients to help them pinpoint the main features they would like to highlight and remove the extra information that could potentially add to load times.

Security. Maintaining security outside the corporate firewall requires careful attention. TEKsystems works with clients to define security standards at the beginning of a project. We conduct audits within the development process to meet all security requirements and utilize a formal security review process at the end of the development phase to ensure that the final application meets security standards.

Mobile QA & Testing. With mobility, there are some unique QA and testing issues because of the variety of mobile devices, device-specific features and API level test execution. We understand that each client, mobile application and initiative has distinct testing considerations or constraints. Our approach is designed to assess, adapt to and address client-specific concerns. During the development process, we make a representative sample of devices and browsers available to developers to run their unit tests on. At the same time, our QA teams ensure that what has been developed works on all required devices.

Skills. A critical focus on the overall user experience and the unique combination of skills necessary for mobile development pushes many businesses to use outside specialists to develop mobile applications. This is mainly due to the challenge of hiring and maintaining individuals with diverse skill sets and diverse salary levels on their permanent staff. TEKsystems’ relationship with 81 percent of the North American IT workforce ensures that we are able to assist with workforce planning around mobile initiatives. Our proprietary Staffing Quality Process® enables us to source, screen, onboard, develop, deploy and manage skills for every phase within the project lifecycle.

Know the Options

As a part of the strategic development process, we help our clients address key technological decisions. In terms of mobile applications, options include creating a mobile-friendly website (mSite) or a native application built specifically for a particular type of smartphone or tablet. Other considerations include whether to build the mobile application for one or multiple platforms and how to address the data security risks for any combination of these technology choices.

Utilizing the mobile-friendly method allows users to visit a website via a mobile device, essentially viewing the same information as they would on a PC. This method requires minimal changes to make a website compatible with mobile browsers. Properly developed mSites allow content to be viewed on a smaller screen and maximize processor speed for the mobile device. However, businesses fear that users may shy away from using mSites on mobile devices because they find the differences in look, feel, speed and functionality less attractive than their PC-friendly website counterparts.

A native application is a technology built for a specific device on a particular platform (operating system). For example, if a company wants to offer a mobile application that works on the Apple and Android operating systems, it must develop each using different programming languages. Native applications offer all of the functionality of an mSite, but a few key differences exist. Unlike an mSite design, a native application allows smartphones and tablets to integrate functionality like cameras and GPS receivers with the mobile application to enhance user experience. In addition, businesses can push updates to its users via downloads, ensuring that users have the most recent and relevant mobile applications.

A hybrid application uses both native and HTML 5 components with a native wrapper and HTML 5 content. The native part is a downloadable application, but the content is usually embedded in a browser. To a user, a native application and a hybrid application look the same except that the native application might be faster and might demonstrate better performance. Hybrid applications usually mitigate the need to redeploy parts of the applications to the App Stores (this mitigates the issue of waiting for the submitted App to be approved by the platform vendors, since the HTML content can be changed external from the native Application).

The TEKsystems Approach

Our main goal in guiding clients through technology decisions is to move them toward a direction that sets them up for current and future success. Technology changes too fast to commit to an approach and an architecture that isn’t flexible and scalable (which can be problematic for enterprises down the road).

Regardless of whether clients decide to build mSites or native applications, TEKsystems uses sound methodologies to build leading-edge mobile applications. Utilizing a proprietary iterative-based process, TEKsystems’ approach is split into three phases:

  1. Inception: Defines the foundation, direction and vision of the final product.
  2. Construction: Periodic delivery of working software to the client. The goal of each development iteration is to produce working software that was previously tested and contains completed business requirements.
  3. Ownership Transfer: Transfer the complete solution to the client for continued use and maintenance.

Within the construction phase, TEKsystems utilizes various tools to ensure that we build sound applications, regardless of whether they’re mSites or native applications. Tools include:

  • Write, Test and Code Tools: IDE, Eclipse, Xcode, Visual Studio.NET
  • Unit & integration testing: Junit, TestNG, OCUnit, Nunit
  • Mocking frameworks: Jmockit, Mockito, OCMock, RhinoMock
  • Static analysis: Checkstyle, FindBugs, Ndepend, Xdepend
  • Source Control Tools: Git, SVN, TFS
  • Automatic Build and Test Run Tools: Jenkins, Bamboo, Team Foundation Server, Cruise Control
  • Reporting Tools: Cobertura, Emma, Clover, ncover

TEKsystems keeps pace with new automated mobile testing solutions that are emerging every day, including Jamo, Selenium, Robotium and UIAutomation Framework.

mSite Development

Within the iterative development process, TEKsystems utilizes several technologies that enhance mSites’ look and feel, design, user interaction and layout. TEKsystems’ mSite approach allows clients to choose from an elastic design, where sections are proportional to text size, or a fluid design where percentage widths are used to adjust to different screen resolutions. TEKsystems works with clients to help them choose the approach that best suits their requirements.

TEKsystems’ developers employ HTML5, CSS3 and CSS Sprites as they build out the design of the mSite. Tools like jQuery and JavaScriptMVC are utilized to build and enhance user interaction features, and Modernizr, Fluid and Elastic Layout, Sencha and Sproutcore are used for layout.

Native Application Development

TEKsystems maintains expertise in a wide variety of development tools to build applications that support Apple, Blackberry, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets. In addition to our development expertise within operating systems, we are able to address the needs of clients interested in creating native applications that can run across platforms. By harnessing the power of cross-compiler tools like Kony Solutions, Sybase and Pyxis Mobile, we are able to write code once and have it cross compile to multiple devices. Cross-compiler tools provide a look and feel that is very close to native applications. The code is written once but the tool uses platform-specific SDKs to generate platform specific code. This will bring down the cost of maintenance for multiple platforms while mitigating the need for keeping staff with different skill sets.

The Right Skills to Get the Job Done Now and into the Future

We believe that people are the most important component to any IT initiative, and that access to qualified IT talent can make or break a project. A defined human capital management strategy is critical to getting the right people when and where you need them. TEKsystems collaborates with clients to evaluate a baseline of existing skills and competencies. We then help identify skill gaps in the plan, build and run phases of mobile applications initiatives. Depending on each client’s particular needs, we will design and implement options for addressing gaps that may include training, staff augmentation, managed, project-based or full outsourced services.

A Note on Sourcing and Recruiting Mobile Applications Skills

Mobile applications skills are in high demand. Professionals who possess these skills often have the upper hand in compensation negotiations. Given the relatively low level of maturity in the mobile applications market and the general ambiguity of long-term mobile strategies, outsourcing or contingent labor models often make the most sense when addressing mobile needs. These models also circumvent some of the difficulty in finding and attracting needed talent.

A growing percentage of IT professionals with mobile application development skills are members of the millennial generation. In addition to an interest in flexible schedules and collaboration, this generation wants to work on multiple projects on varied devices within a range of industries. Therefore, most top mobile applications developers prefer to work as consultants rather than in-house. When clients hire consultants, it’s critical to specify knowledge-transfer expectations so they can continue to manage and optimize mobile investments. TEKsystems’ best practices ensure that decisions related to architecture and processes are documented and knowledge-transfer goals are met.

Conclusion

Creating a sound mobile strategy requires three interwoven components. First, it is important to define business goals and learn from those who have ventured before you. Second, a technology solution must not only meet current needs, but also be flexible enough to grow as needs evolve. Lastly, organizations require a well-thought-out workforce strategy that equips them with the right skills for each initiative within the mobile strategy. TEKsystems addresses each key requirement for success by combining our practical experience in building mobile applications with our human capital management strengths.

Examples from the Field

Innovation that increases efficiency. An insurance company wanted to provide a mobile application for its car insurance customers that would simplify and streamline its accident claims process. TEKsystems engaged the client by understanding business requirements, building a proof of concept and delivering user interface best practices. Based on specific client requirements, TEKsystems recommended a native application utilizing Apple’s operation system.

The client now has an application that allows the insured to download and complete a claims application and checklist, take photos of the accident scene using the smartphone’s camera, get the exact location of the accident using the smartphone’s internal GPS, retrieve contact information for an agent and send the claims package before leaving the accident site. These are competitive differentiators that can drive revenue and margins and increase customer satisfaction.

Responding to customer demand. A university wished to respond to students and faculty members who wanted to make its online courses and other administrative features accessible to iPad users. However, all of the online content was built using Flash, which Apple’s operating system does not support. The university asked TEKsystems to assess the conversion of online content, so it could be usable on the iPad.

TEKsystems completed an architecture assessment and gave strategic guidance by considering and recommending how this new application could be leveraged with other tablets. TEKsystems also delivered a proof of concept.

Attracting new talent. A client wanted to create a mobile option that extended the full functionality of one of its existing applications to allow prospective employees to search and apply for open positions.

TEKsystems created a mobile application for iPhone and iPad users that allows prospective employees to build a profile, apply for positions, contact the nearest recruiter and forward open positions to colleagues.

About TEKsystems®

People are at the heart of every successful business initiative. At TEKsystems, we understand people. Every year we deploy over 80,000 IT professionals at 6,000 client sites across North America, Europe and Asia. Our deep insights into IT human capital management enable us to help our clients achieve their business goals – while optimizing their IT workforce strategies. We provide IT staffing solutions, IT talent management expertise and IT services to help our clients plan, build and run their critical business initiatives. Through our range of quality-focused delivery models, we meet our clients where they are, and take them where they want to go, the way they want to get there.

TEKsystems. Our people make IT possible.

1“The Global Mainstreaming of Smartphones,” Forrester Research, September 15, 2011

2”Forecast Analysis: Mobile Devices, Worldwide, 2008-2015, 3Q11 Update,” Gartner Research, November 29, 2011

3 “IT Executive Outlook Survey, Q1 2011,” TEKsystems, December 2010

4 “IT Executive Outlook Survey, Q2 2011,” TEKsystems, March 2011

5 “The State of Mobile Investing,” Forrester Research, Inc., February 16, 2011

6”IT Executive Outlook Survey, Q1 2011,” TEKsystems, December 2010