Salesforce aims to bypass expensive mobile app dev

Profile picture for user mbanks By Martin Banks January 16, 2019
Summary:
The mobile form factor, with its convenience, speed, intuitiveness and a dozen other attributes, is set to make a major impact on the way staff work across most businesses.

Face in space with lightning © rolffimages - Fotolia.com
There is a large, and growing, problem facing a large, and growing, number of businesses. Mobile devices, and the apps that run on them, are increasingly the flavour of the times. The reasons are clear to see: the apps are fast to load and intuitive to use, and the devices are more convenient to use than anything else so far invented.

The trouble is, according to the second annual State of IT survey from Salesforce, almost half of IT organizations lack the resources to develop the mobile apps that they are likely to need. What is perhaps worse, another third of the total surveyed feel they will reach the same point over the next two years. And that is hardly surprising, for statistics generated by Kliener Perkins for its Internet Trends 2018 survey show that the typical mobile user spends 3.3 hours a day using a mobile.

What makes this situation more important for business is that many of those users are not staff skiving off on Facebook or Twitter, they are working, and the chances are their productivity is improving because their mobile allows them to work where and when ever they need to. They don’t even have to take the time to fire up their laptop: something needs doing? They are on the case……..but only so long as the right apps are available to them.

Writing

Helping companies write those apps is, therefore, an objective of some importance now, and even more importance in the not-too-distant future. This reality is what has pushed Salesforce to enter this market itself. It has just launched a package of tools and services, Lightning Platform Mobile, that aim to short-circuit the app development process so that Salesforce users can build new mobile apps that work with their existing Salesforce-generated business data.

This extends the scope of the whole Lightning Design family of applications development tools first introduced by the company some four years ago.

In her latest blogpost, the company’s Executive Vice President and Head of Salesforce Mobile, Leyla Seka, scoped out the problem her team is aiming to solve:

Why aren’t more companies delivering engaging experiences on mobile? The answer is simple — it’s hard. Building user experiences for iOS and Android and enhancing them with backend services requires heavy development work and can become costly and time-consuming……. And whether it’s fair or not, consumers today expect every mobile experience to be just as immersive, intuitive and easy-to-use as the likes of Spotify, Google Waze, or Instagram. That’s a high bar.

The tools and services her team have come up with fall into three main groups. The Mobile Builders group use a low-code development environment coupled with some 180 pre-built JavaScript components. Together these provide the building blocks for a wide range of mobile business apps. One obvious target here will be the ability to rapidly turn existing applications, such as spreadsheets, into mobile versions that can be used anywhere and sync with the main applications and data.

According to Seka, most applications can be constructed with a `few simple clicks’, a factor which could open up new opportunities for company staff to become 'citizen developers'. The Builder components are all available on the Salesforce AppExchange.

The Mobile Services group provides tools for such tasks as adding mobile push notifications from existing backend services. These can include specific workflows, Einstein’s declarative AI services, and integration to third party data.

Finally, the Publisher group provides the way to disseminate the new apps across a business by publishing them directly on the App Store and Google Play, managing the entire packaging and submission process. This should resolve some of the tiresome admin issues that can lie at the end of any app development process.

Apps can also be published to private, internal AppStores run by a business if that is the required option.

One assumption here would be that, though the total of 180+ components is by no means small, it could still provide limitations on what app developments might be possible. Seka, however, suggests that this is an unlikely possibility:

The number of design and layout alternatives, as well as use cases, are fairly broad already if you consider that the 180 pre-built components can be configured in myriad ways. Additionally, with Lightning Web Components, in-house development teams can build their own components using standards-based JavaScript for admins to deploy and reuse however they see fit. Lightning Platform Mobile can be used for both employee and customer-facing apps.

She also covers off the possibility that it might be rather easy for someone to develop an app that was an insecure threat to a business:

Trust is our number one value and we have security features built in at infrastructure, network, and application layers. All of these features extend to the applications built on Salesforce.

My take

It is fast becoming one of the `givens’ for the future of business applications that the user interface now has to become much more like any snappy app that kids take for granted. And it makes a great deal of sense, for within a few short years those self-same kids will be the next generation of staff and budding executives, and they are not going to feel happy being forced to learn how to work with the antediluvian applications user interfaces that the likes of me grew up with and take for granted.

So launching a set of tools for rapidly developing such applications is an obvious next step for the likes of Salesforce, and given its size and position in the mindset of many business managers there is room for a little praise in being prompt to provide the tools rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into the market by upstart businesses muscling in on its patch.