Mobile computing to shake up back-end systems

The take-up of mobile technology by businesses to engage with customers and enable remote working will have a dramatic effect on back-office IT

The take-up of mobile technology will have a dramatic affect on back-office IT systems, with hidden costs and disruptions possible for companies that do not redesign systems and processes, according to Forrester Research.

Businesses are using mobile technologies to serve customers and and at the same time are providing staff with better remote working capabilities.

The IT analyst firm’s latest report: Mobile’s Ascendance Will Accelerate IT Services Restructuring, suggests that systems in the back-end will have to become more focused on engagement rather than transactions only.

Forrester analyst John McCarthy said businesses have to prepare for major change: “The mobile era ushers in a variety of hidden consequences, including a huge spike in back-end activities and transactions, the need to re-architect how firms handle data and security, and the complete reworking of back-end systems and processes.”

The report says that mobile projects have huge hidden costs, and potential disruptions because businesses are “utilising infrastructure ill-prepared for exploding activity volumes, and antiquated business processes designed for transactions, not engagement.”

The report says a new market for mobile-related services with large growth potential will emerge with the adoption of new types of systems and projects, and the need for a broad ecosystem of suppliers with a combination of skills.

The unintended consequences of the growth of mobile, according to the Forrester report, include:

1 - Multichannel coordination quagmire: 

“The Rubik’s Cube problem of coordinating data, access, and applications across multiple channels gets more complicated as firms pursue mobile engagement. For example, one multichannel retailer built a mobile app that handled basic shopping tasks well enough, but it wasn’t coordinated with the web and call centre channels for marketing, customer on-boarding, or customer service activities.”

2 - Business processes designed for transactions, not engagement:

“People expect to accomplish simple chores very quickly on their mobile devices. This task orientation forces what we call the ‘atomisation’ of business processes, breaking them down into the tasks people want to accomplish. This also happened with ATMs in the 1980s. Instead of needing the full bank branch experience, customers used ATMs to rapidly accomplish simple tasks like checking a balance or withdrawing money, thus forcing a redesign of the middleware and access architecture. Mobile apps will drive a similar atomisation of business processes across every engagement channel, forcing a rethink of every process interface.”

3. Servers and infrastructure ill-prepared for exploding activity volumes.

“The anywhere, anytime convenience of apps and the atomisation of processes lead to dramatic increases in activity volumes. Much more quickly than we saw with ATMs - where the volume of transactions skyrocketed from 41 million in 1978 to 11.2 billion in 1998 - a similar spike is happening in the mobile world. Box, Pandora,, and Twitter already get more than half of their traffic from mobile devices. USAA found nine times more demand for its mobile banking services than it had initially planned for. Networks, middleware, and databases designed for occasionally used PC applications and networks will grind to a halt under the exploding volume of mobile activity.”

4. Middleware, application, and security models poorly constructed for engagement:

“The atomisation of business processes will cascade down the entire technology stack. Aggressive mobile innovators have already been forced to rework their service-oriented architecture (SOA) to reduce message traffic and overhead for services originally designed for PCs on high-speed networks. One airline was forced to rethink its approach when the web middleware couldn’t handle the mobile flight status app. IT will also have to move beyond perimeter security to a layered security model that protects data and applications at every step on the data path, including the source. Lastly, the innovation in systems of engagement will make mobile into 'Y2K: the sequel' with a relentless requirement to rationalise the back-end systems of record. For example, Deutsche Bank replaced 250 custom banking applications with a single instance of SAP in order to support its financial planning system of engagement.”

5. Design, development, and governance processes misaligned with mobile requirements:

“Great mobile apps are architected from the user experience in, not the database schema out. One bank learned this design lesson the hard way: It spent millions building a mobile app that weakly mimicked the web experience only to find it savaged in the app store ratings and slammed in the call centre. The diversity of mobile platforms and time-to-market requirements will also dictate a slew of organisational and process changes: mastering multi-platform development, implementing agile processes, adopting a release-centric product mindset, administering new app store processes, and investing in ongoing supplier oversight. Do firms have the vendor management skills to coordinate all the moving parts across this burgeoning mobile ecosystem?”

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