7 Key Phases of Mobile Application Lifecycle Management

Eric Klein

Enterprises are actively engaged in providing their employees and customers access to applications and data behind their firewalls; this has predictably shifted the focus from managing devices to a more strategic approach of developing, managing, and securing applications, writes VDC Research's Matthew Hopkins.

For this reason, augmenting mobile application lifecycle management (MALM) capabilities is more important than ever. Market diversity has made using multiple tools an attractive way to manage different elements of the mobile application lifecycle; however, maintaining these solutions is not only a challenge, but it frequently consists of disjointed combinations of legacy software, that are unable to address all of the nuances and requirements of today's fast-moving mobile landscape. Download are latest exclusive report on how to manage your mobile app development project here.

While 'platform unification' efforts are underway at Apple and Microsoft, development teams must be capable of using multiple development environments that feature distinct programming models and testing frameworks. This significant challenge has many organisations recruiting and retaining expanded development and QA teams with varying skillsets.

Several overarching themes, which dominate the mobile application lifecycle, can be broken down into a number of smaller stages. First, the process of development begins with identifying a workflow or business process that can be made more efficient through a mobile device. Many different development models exist and can vary to the point where development occurs initially or over time in iterations.

Despite the differing strategies, the process requires that care be taken to ensure applications are delivered on budget and on time. Following deployment of the application, monitoring of the app will help ensure that the application works as intended and is used by the target audience. Monitoring may also identify bugs or design flaws that should be fixed. In addition, firms do not have control over the OS upgrading cycle, thus forcing operators to constantly update applications to remain compatible with more advanced systems. Given the rapid pace of OS upgrades, especially with regards to Android, application governance must also be considered throughout an application's lifecycle.

The application lifecycle can be compared to an assembly line in which the careful following of several steps will result in a reliable and effective product.

VDC has identified seven key phases in MALM:malmimage.jpg

  1. Identification: Identifying important components such as people (customers and employees), processes (operations and control), technology (systems and assets), and the business requirements.
  2. Specify: Defining app requirements, style (custom or pre-packaged). Determining whether to buy, develop, or integrate and identify the app.
  3. Develop or Acquire: Specifying the target development environment; integration and synchronisation with the back-end data, quality control and testing.
  4. Secure: Limiting data access, and identifying the audience with access to the app and its associated data.
  5. Install: Select the mode of distribution; fulfillment and analytics.
  6. Manage: Tracking and monitoring app usage and enforcement of compliance policies.
  7. End-of-life: Identifying applications that are no longer in use and maintaining a log of whitelist and blacklist apps.

As applications evolve in tandem with OS updates, testing becomes an integral part of the MALM process. The critical role that many applications play in business operations is highlighted by a recent incident in April 2015, where American Airlines was forced to delay roughly 74 flights due to an application software malfunction on pilots' iPads. The company introduced the application to eliminate the use of heavy (35lb) flight bags that included information such as flight plans and airport maps. The transition from paper to electronic 'flight bags' comes with cost savings of about $1.2million in fuel per year, and eliminates 24 million pages of paper documents. However, American Airlines faced losses when a duplicate chart was present in the application's database, thus forcing the delays.

In this way, applications rushed into use and not properly tested for glitches may impede rather than enhance business processes. In fact, VDC's research has found software failures to be a top-three source of Enterprise Mobility solution failure. The need to test applications thoroughly before deployment, and monitor their use thereafter to detect bugs and other issues, is crucial to ensuring effective lifecycle management.

Other important considerations in the development and management process involve ensuring the security of personal data present in applications, and enhancing integration among mobile platforms. These concerns are especially relevant if the target audience does not use homogeneous devices. In fact, a 2014 VDC Research study found that 42% of developers considered the lack of standardisation of the mobile platform a key challenge.

Through the monitoring process, operators will learn whether their target audience is using the application and how they are using it. If the application does not gain support among the target audience, then it will be unable to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Given the expense of creating an application, efforts to monitor its use must be undertaken to maximise the firm's return on investment. If the metrics disappoint, then steps to add new features, change the design, or fix bugs may remedy issues and increase traffic.

Training for - or marketing of - the app may prove necessary to ensure that employees adopt the more efficient method of completing a business operation. Furthermore, important insights regarding employee preferences and behavior may also be taken from the monitoring process. For example, with an expense reporting application, a firm could learn which demographic or employee segment lagged behind others in filing expenses. From this finding, the firm may take steps to increase compliance among this group and increase efficiency while reducing costs.

In the constantly evolving technology space, the need for effective lifecycle support of mobile applications is increasing. However, today, relative to other functions, too little time is spent on these capabilities - according to our developer research, approximately 13% of mobile developers' time is spent on lifecycle support.

Successful application development can provide firms with a competitive advantage, which can translate into increased efficiency and cost savings. For this reason, firms should ensure they receive the most from their applications by monitoring and testing performance throughout the entire lifecycle.

This article was written by Matthew Hopkins, Associate Analyst, and co-authored by Eric Klein, Research Director, VDC Research.