Top 10 Critical Questions to Ask your MEAP Vendor

By Tony Rizzo, Editor in Chief — January 23, 2012

Following up on our series of articles and reports on the top ten mobile enterprise apps and the Mobile Enterprise Application Platform vendor landscape, we assembled the following 10 key questions to ask your mobile app vendor candidates before you sign on the dotted line to work with any one of them.
 
1. How extensive is your platform's back end connectivity capability? Can your platform quickly connect me to my back end platforms, such as, for example, Oracle, Microsoft, DB2, Sybase/SAP, and any number of legacy-based systems that may need to be dealt with? If a custom back end connector needs to be built, how quickly can it be integrated into your platform and our back ends?
The answers you are looking for here include those that indicate extensive pre-built connectors for a wide range of back ends, ease of multi-back end connectivity for integrated app design, and evidence of easy integration should custom connectors be required.
 
2. Does the vendor's platform offer a reliable and proven upgrade path with full backwards compatibility for the apps you are about to deploy?
Not all mobile apps platforms can answer yes to this question. With the rapid pace of mobile technology change, next generations of vendor platforms can easily require enough changes in the core platform that old apps (including those you may currently be building) might no longer run. Rewrites of apps will cost significant time and dollars. Look for a proven history of backward compatibility.
 
3. Does the vendor's platform require extensive third party code development and/or require the use of professional services to fully write any given app? Does this scenario change as your mobile apps become more complicated?
Most vendor platforms can handle the "easy stuff" without a great deal of professional services involvement from the vendor. However, it is possible if not very likely that as your apps become more complicated and complex (especially if they begin to require more back end connectivity), ease of use may disappear. Enterprises that may have initially been tempted to build quick and simple apps just to get something mobile out the door may later discover that as their deployments become more ambitious in nature complexity can become overwhelming and require costly professional services. The time to become aware of the possibility is before the very first app - no matter how simple - is deployed.
 
4. What does your vendor mean - exactly - when they claim that their platform offers "write once and deploy to any" capability? 
Any ten different mobile apps vendors will give you ten different answers here. Dig deep and make sure that you clearly understand a) how easy it really will be to only require one mobile app code base, b) what level of sophistication will be delivered by the "deploy to any" component. Will you be looking at a most common denominator approach for each platform you are looking to deploy to or will each version of your app take full advantage of the capabilities of the devices you are deploying to?
 
5. What levels of data encryption will your vendor's platform provide? How easy will it be to deploy data encryption? Is the vendor's data encryption capability sophisticated and well-integrated in the platform?
Mobile apps, whether employee or consumer facing, will deal with a lot of potentially sensitive data. The time to understand how deeply your vendor's platform can go with data encryption, and whether or not it has certifications for certain levels of security is before you sign up. Ensure that you have a detailed understanding of your data encryption needs up front.
 
6. Is HTML5 on your vendor's immediate road map?
HTML5 will handle a great many mobile app requirements. Not all apps need to be entirely native going forward, and HTML5 development will easily shave time and cost from your mobile apps. HTML5 is not an option - it needs to be a required feature (if not today, then at least over the next 6 to 12 months).
 
7. How quickly and easily can a deployed app be field tested, revised and then re-deployed?
Perhaps surprisingly, field testing of apps is not often considered an ongoing process, but in fact mobile apps are always being tested. If a serious flaw is discovered at some point post-deployment, how easily can an app be modified and put back out in the field? If you happen to own an application that was built using extensive professional services it may prove a lot harder to modify and re-deploy, and a lot costlier, than you might otherwise think.
 
8. How quickly can new operating systems and devices be supported as they emerge?
BYOD means users always want the latest and greatest. Do the vendors you are considering have a proven track record for rapid support of new devices or a reputation for significantly lagging in such support? The answers may surprise you.
 
9. What is the typical total cost of ownership for mobile apps that have already been deployed elsewhere? 
True TCO is an excellent measure of how questions 1 - 8 above are likely to be answered by any given vendor. Most vendors will have reference customers to address this question, but it is worth doing a little additional research to discover a broader range of answers from as many sources as possible. Quality vendors will help you find an answer through multiple reference customers that can demonstrate a real measure of TCO.
 
10. How well capitalized are the vendors you are considering?
It isn't all about technology. It is necessary to make a solid determination of your potential vendor's longer term financial health. Many vendors live from one customer to the next, and do not necessarily have the financial resources to deliver completely honest answers to some of the questions listed above. Do your homework!

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