For those that were following, or (un)lucky enough to attend, the recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona it is obvious that the mobile market is diverse and booming. The plethora of devices and platforms that is now available to consumers is, however, still creating ongoing problems for the enterprise. Mobile is one of those areas that simply can't be ignored, largely because employees are ditching their cumbersome corporate phones and are bringing sophisticated smartphones to the workplace to use for their day jobs, but also because the agenda is being driven from the top down – CEOs want their most useful business applications available on their mobile device.
However, as everyone reading this will know, mobile not only creates huge problems for corporate governance and security, but also a challenge in integrating apps with back-end systems to make them easy to use and productive tools so that employees don't side-step corporate policy and opt for flexible cloud based offerings.
Oracle's new vice president of mobile, Suhas Uliyar, believes that there aren't many vendors out there that have solved this problem for the enterprise, but argues, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Oracle is on the right track. Interestingly, Uliyar has just made the move over from Oracle's direct competitor, SAP, where he was in charge of their Internet of Things division.
So why the move?
“I enjoyed Oracle more than SAP, although I can't get into the details. I've been talking to Oracle for a couple of years, but I've also been in mobile for the last 12 years. I've been CTO of Motorola in the past and in all those years of experience the most complex and time consuming part of a mobile app is not actually the front end, but is how you connect it to the enterprise. How do you integrate, how do you comply with security? That was very tough and very expensive.”
But that has changed...
“Why Oracle? I saw that opportunity and I thought Oracle was the most well suited to [solve this], I didn't see that opportunity at SAP.
“There are two companies in the world that have really figured this out – number 1 is Oracle, but also IBM to a certain extent. Every year has been the year of mobile, but it never really took off until the last couple of years. The reason for the that is because BYOD is really being adopted in the enterprise – customers are figuring out that they have to figure out BYOD paradigm.”
Oracle's integration strategy
Uliyar explained that Oracle's strategy is to simplify enterprise mobility by creating a 'mobile first' strategy for enterprise back-end systems. He said that for Oracle, it's not an afterthought anymore. This is largely being done, he said, by 'exposing' Oracle back-end systems into the common REST API format, which when integrated with Oracle's Fusion middleware and the mobile front-end, makes it easy for enterprises to get their applications mobile.
“On the back-end we are basically enabling all our existing customers to very easily take all this infrastructure and expose it into a very easy mobile format – the industry has created a new architectural format called REST, that really is the way mobile developers integrate apps into the back end infrastructure. We have taken our expertise in the back end and exposed it into this API format that can be consumed by a mobile app. That's what we call the mobile suite or mobile development platform.”
Uliyar claims that the simplest of implementations can be carried out in minutes, whilst those customers that want to build custom apps and don't yet have Oracle Fusion middleware, could take up to a couple of months – still a quick rollout in his eyes.
“At a marketing level our strategy is to simplify enterprise mobility. What does that really mean? Let's say you've got a Siebel infrastructure, you can just go out and buy the Siebel mobile app, and if that app fits your requirements, then you can go live in minutes. On the other end of the scale if you want to build a custom app, where none of our apps fit your requirements, but you have Oracle infrastructure in the middleware – so I have all the connectors and all the adapters – you can build a custom app in under 10 weeks.
“If a customer doesn't have any footprint and they just have apps, and they want the fusion middleware footprint – you're looking at a couple of months.”
Basically, Oracle wants to help customers get mobile into the enterprise, but through the use of existing investments in IT.
“In many cases the challenge for a company is not having that middleware infrastructure in place and so what happens is that many enterprises have taken a tactical approach to mobility – created a siloed approach of having IT for web and a separate mobile infrastructure.
“In a way, because of that, mobile has got a bad rap because it's not integrated. It's expensive. The expensive bit is because you're not leveraging any of the investments you have made. That's where the realisation is now – the barrier to entry used to be that, now it's more about how do I do it.”
Tackling security and BYOD with Bitzer
In November last year Oracle acquired Bitzer, a purchase that was very much seen as an attempt to tackle the security challenge posed by BYOD strategies. Uliyar said that security is the number one concern that every enterprise has when talking about mobility, and Bitzer's technology will allow Oracle to separate corporate content from personal content – using a 'container' – with the aim of making it easy for employees to carry out their work, whilst reducing the risk of exposing corporate data to unsecured locations.
“When I bring my personal device in I don't want you (the enterprise) to be managing my personal content. What I want to be able to do is get access to corporate information and if I leave, sure erase all that data, but without touching my personal information. That's what Bitzer did, it's given us this containerisation,” said Uliyar.
Oracle's strategy is to lock down the device so that when employees are carrying out corporate functions within the Bitzer 'container' employees can't move data to Dropbox or Google, whilst in parallel providing them with applications that are enterprise friendly and just as easy to use – according to Uliyar.
“What we do within this container is essentially wrap applications, so we secure applications within this container. What that means is that whether the app was built using Oracle technology or Oracle tools, or I just went to the app store and downloaded an app, or someone built an escort app for Apple – what we do is run it through this wrapping service and inject the single sign-on policies, inject security policies, device policies, network policies etc.
“These apps are now securely tunnelled to my back end infrastructure. I don't need to VPN the device, that app now just tunnels to my back end.”
“You may have some confidential information that comes via email and you want to share that with somebody - today what you do is put it in Dropbox, Google Cloud or iCloud – and that's pretty dangerous, that's pubic cloud. So what we do is prevent that access, we disable share access, and if you want to share you can either store it in your network drive or store it in the enterprise content management system. As soon as it's a business app your are living within this world and preventing any external access.”
Sales and Pricing
In most cases, when looking at pure enterprise applications, Oracle will be charging by the user – where it is predictable. So companies will be charged a list price of approximately $100 per user, per application, per month. However, in a B2C environment where an enterprise is creating an app for its customers and it isn't sure how many users will be downloading the app, Oracle charges approximately $50,000.
Uliyar said that Oracle is using its sales teams to gain traction in mobile, but is also benefiting from increased knowledge of the subject within digital agencies and management consultant firms.
“Last year our fusion middleware sales teams were saying lets talk about SOA or identity management and why that's important, but now we are having the same functional discussions about mobile. When you break down mobile you need these components, but let's not talk about the components, let's talk about how you solve your mobile problem.
“We will be gaining traction with direct sales, certainly, but more and more we are seeing opportunities from digital agencies, from our partner community, from system integrators – there are various doors that open up for mobile.
“Often customers will go to a company like Accenture and say 'I want to build an app', and Accenture will do the business management side, but they will say go to Oracle. It's coming from different directions.”
A mobile case study – TXI
Uliyar told me of a recent customer that had chosen to roll out a mobile application to its customers, but wanted it integrated to its back-end systems. TXI, a cement business in the US, needed to overcome a number of business challenges through mobile, but also wanted to ensure that it was keeping up with the next generation of technologies.
TXI has a challenge in that its customers, construction businesses, have to schedule when they require cement from TXI. However, the construction businesses were often finding that if TXI deliveries were delayed in traffic, for example, the cement wasn't right for use anymore and would have to be ditched – a cost to TXI both in the terms of the cement, but also having to deal with follow up calls from its customers.
“TXI has an Oracle infrastructure, a number of back-end systems that support a construction business, they wanted to do a mash-up of all these back-end systems for a mobile app, but they also wanted to add geolocation via Google Maps, as well as traffic. They had the Oracle Fusion middleware infrastructure.
“Now their customers are able to log in, see where all their orders are, see where they are all going. The app tells them the location of the truck, where the cement is in the manufacturing process, and they they can see what route the truck is taking and if there is traffic – so they can schedule everything in an almost real time basis.”
Uliyar claims that the application has delivered a clear return on investment and development times were minimal.
“They built the whole app in ten weeks. In my past if someone had said ten weeks to me, I would have said 'what are you smoking?' Everything was usually six months to a year.
“In fact, the developer told me that three weeks of those ten weeks was waiting for Apple to certify it – and that's because they had that Fusion middleware infrastructure.”
Disclosure: SAP and Oracle are premier partners at time of writing