Mobile computing is a must for IT. Customers want it. Employees want it. Executives want it. And people with an information technology degree need to know how to develop, implement, and maintain it, if they want IT departments to retain whatever influence they have.
The development side is critical. According to the 2012 InformationWeek annual survey of IT departments, delivering mobile applications to customers and employees are two top priorities for corporations. That should involve IT, but increasingly it does not. Business units retain consultants and outside developers to get work done far faster than IT can manage. That makes sense from the view of the business unit. Executives want fast action and see no reason to involve IT since they think the process takes too long.
They don’t understand the need for control over data, testing products with complex infrastructures and intricate suites of software, and enforcing compliance with corporate standards and regulations.
IT must deliver the goods, which means finding ways to get properly designed apps finished faster. Given the wide variety of mobile platforms in use, and the growth of the bring your own device (BYOD) trend, creating applications for all the necessary devices at the same time is tricky.
An important decision is to choose the right tools. For example, writing software for Android typically involves Java coding. Writing for iOS the way Apple would have to do requires you to learn Objective C, an object-oriented version of the popular programming language.
What you really need is to move toward a cross-platform solution that won’t require learning multiple languages to support. One possibility may be C++, a powerful language that could help deliver fast applications on a number of platforms, including Android, iOS, Windows Phone and RT, and even BlackBerry. There are other choices, as well.
A number of companies make development frameworks that offer multi-platform support, though they are proprietary systems, which could reduce their effectiveness for IT departments that would then have to get developers up to speed, because finding people who already have experience might be difficult.
Perhaps HTML5 could provide an answer, depending on the devices you support. But the results would be slower apps. The choice involves trade-offs and the particular needs of a given company. Identifying basic development tools is only a first step.
Then come other aspects of managing cross-platform projects, such as a single repository for data, an architecture that will work on all platforms, and version control and code repositories for the project. You’ll also need a user interface design that will work effectively across all the specific platform interfaces. It is a complex dance, but one that, if you prepare well enough, can support our career and put you far in front of many others in your field.