Why truly successful enterprise tablet deployments will leverage HTML5

February 11, 2012

The growth of tablets as a business computing platform has largely been driven by consumers bringing their own devices into work, almost always in violation of official IT policy.

But the days of BYOD—“Bring Your Own Device” and fight it out with corporate IT—are about to end.

Study after study indicates the enterprise is waking up to the usability, productivity, and cost-saving promises of tablets. The result is that we are rapidly entering the first major wave of corporate-sanctioned adoption of tablets in the enterprise.

In fact, by year’s end, the PC could end up becoming the alternative computing platform, as tablets and smartphones take their place as the preeminent device that both workers and consumers chose to use for their computing. Skeptical? Don’t be.

Apple says 90 percent of the Fortune 500 are now formally testing or deploying the iPad. A recent IDC study on enterprise consumerization found employees using mobile devices see a 38-day productivity increase. And according to a January study by Deloitte, 5 million of the tablets sold in 2012 will be a user’s second device. (Work/play, anyone?)

Clearly the suits are getting with the program. That’s the good news. The bad news: Many companies are approaching tablets as if they are neo-PCs. They’re using virtualization (services such as GoToMyPC, for example) to give their people access to desktop applications on iPads and Android tablets. Virtualization is fast and, compared to rebuilding apps, it’s cheap.

But PC apps and custom enterprise software are designed for a keyboard and mouse, not touch. The result is a suboptimal (read: ridiculous) user experience that virtually (no pun intended) guarantees organizations aren’t fully reaping the cost and productivity benefits offered by these exciting new tablet platforms.

Unfortunately, for IT leaders and CEOs alike, the alternative is far less attractive: reinventing their mission-critical enterprise software as mobile tablet apps.

It’s not just the time and cost associated with rebuilding or extending applications to a mobile app experience that concerns business leaders. Complicating that calculus is the fact that most IT shops don’t have mobile development skills in house.

In the enterprise, the talent and momentum is all around Windows Server; SQL database; and Web development tools and languages, such as Microsoft .Net, SQL Server, Oracle, Java, JavaScript, HTML, XML, and JSON.

Those organizations that chose to build anew for mobile are struggling to hire and train programmers skilled in the new languages and OSes tablets use: iOS, Android Linux, Objective-C, and Java. Fundamentally, this is not an attractive or cost-effective direction for IT. The new paradigm of rebuild and re-engineer runs counter to the traditional IT mentality of build once and use forever.

There is a middle ground between the kludge of virtualization and the challenges of rebuilding. And it approaches a panacea, a silver bullet, a one-size-fits-all fix.

That fix is HTML5, an open, next-generation version of the same HTML that powers the World Wide Web today. Where HTML was designed to make web publishing possible, HTML5 provides a comprehensive and adaptable application development platform for the cloud.

It doesn’t require Flash skills, Java skills, or Objective-C skills. It works on any OS that has a contemporary web browser, which is to say, all of them. It doesn’t require any browser plug-ins to work. And it consolidates and formalizes existing developer knowledge and coding methods.

In truth, HTML5 is the lingua franca of portable computing. With it, development teams can build an application once, and give it to users who can run it on the device of their choice.

This approach is increasingly referred to by savvy developers as “universal apps” or “responsive apps.” This describes cloud-based applications that know what they’re running on, and automatically adapt to give the user the best computing experience.

In this paradigm, an app that works well with a keyboard and mouse on a PC would work equally well with touch on an iPad. It’s the same app, the same code, the same cloud-based software, but multiple unique experiences.

And by “works well,” I don’t mean “meh.” I mean an app that gives tablet and smartphone users the rich experience they demand from the finest mobile software. It has full support for gestures and access to hardware, such as GPS, accelerometers, cameras, voice, video, and so on.

Organizations that standardize on HTML5 for their application development can now capitalize on the programming skills their development teams already have. These are the same people building and maintaining their websites and browser-based enterprise apps. No new hires required, no new investment in toolsets required, no new Macs or tablets required, no App Store approvals needed.

Just build it, test and perfect it on targeted devices’ browsers, and send the finished app’s URL to users. What could be easier, faster, more efficient, more manageable, or more cost effective?

Today, there are few if any good arguments for developing so-called native apps. Take your apps and your users to the cloud, and to any present or future device, with HTML5. And stop reinventing the wheel.

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