Last month I had the privilege of speaking at the IT & Enterprise Architecture Forum in Auckland around back-end system integration for enterprise mobile app development and I would like to share some of the key points of my presentation with you.

There are a number of possibilities out there when it comes to equipping your mobile employees with apps. You can go for off-the-shelve apps from the public app stores at $5 a pop. You can use the ‘silo’ apps or mobile extensions that your software vendors provide. They are a cheap and quick solution and certainly have their place in each organisation. However, these apps do not always tie in very well with your ideal business processes.

If you have a business process that gives your organisation a competitive edge, you will want a single mobile app that supports exactly that process and those mobile users. This calls for custom apps and here is where access to your back-end systems becomes important.

Which are the best back-end system integration approaches for mobile?
RESTful web service-based API’s specifically designed for mobile applications are the most desirable approach as it minimises cost of mobile solutions while maximising efficiency. An alternative is SOAP, mainly used for general enterprise integration. Although useful, SOAP API’s can sometimes be a bit heavyweight when it comes to mobile. A third option is direct database access, however this may cause vendor support issues. If none of the above approaches is feasible there is the possibility of screen scraping from existing web application UIs which can be surprisingly effective if done with the right tools.

It is important to optimise your back end system management software for mobile access because the efficiency gains tend to multiply. Business units are developing a voracious appetite for mobile apps and a sensible, re-usable approach to integration will help to ensure that the overheads of each mobile application are minimised.

Middleware
Rather than creating point-to-point integration for each app, a Mobile Application Development Platform takes the time and hassle out of the integration work in the long run. Many come with various ‘connectors’ or ‘adaptors’ for popular back-end systems and the web service layer runs on DMZ to secure the entire infrastructure. The integration between back-end systems and middleware is done only once and can be used again and again.

Conclusion
When you are looking to develop enterprise mobile apps, whether outsourced or in-sourced, it is vital that you optimise your back-end for mobile app integration. With a predicted proliferation of enterprise mobile apps that will be needing access to your back-end in the next few years, it will be money and time well spent.