Mobile Velocity and the Data Problem

Across the mobile landscape, companies run the spectrum from “leading edge” to those who find themselves just struggling to keep up. But what exactly sets the two groups apart? In our most recent Mobile Trends Report, we examined the habits of nearly 6,000 mobile developers to identify what’s causing the gaping chasm between those excelling at mobile and those that aren’t.

Velocity is in the Driver’s Seat

One of the starkest differences is in release velocity, or the speed at which companies are able to push out changes. Release velocity is a crucial benchmark because it is the best determinant of agility and whether companies are equipped to stay ahead of the hyper-evolving technology and user needs.

Mobile is moving at a clip never before seen with traditional development. And developers must deliver across an unprecedented array of OS and device combinations. Still, the leaders have found a way to keep pace. More than 40% of leaders report a weekly or bi-weekly release cycle. For laggards, this number sinks to less than 10%. The contrast is just as stark at the other end of the scale—fewer than seven percent of leaders have average release cycles of a year, contrasted to more than half of laggards.

Interestingly, this velocity gap is widening. From 2014 to 2015, the percentage difference between leaders able to deliver weekly or bi-weekly versus the laggards grew by 7.5%. Those on the forefront have discovered how to reinvent the traditional development lifecycle for the breakneck pace of the app world.

The Data Problem

In the early days of mobile, the first-order problem was figuring out how to build an app. Once companies cleared this hurdle, they quickly ran into the next bottleneck—getting easy access to the data needed to fuel those apps.

The marquee finding from the survey was that nearly three quarters of devs said that the single greatest challenge they face in developing for mobile was data access. When asked about the level of effort spent getting data from the backend, the results were eye-opening, with 40.5% indicating it consumes anywhere from a quarter to half their time. For a full third of developers, the time spent on backend integration is more than half of their total development effort.

The velocity mismatch between legacy systems-of-record and modern systems-of-engagement (read: apps) is no doubt one of the prime culprits. Great apps need access to great data to be useful, but a dependency on backend releases or external teams is a sure-fire velocity killer. On top of this, there’s the work to optimize data formats and payload sizes for mobile consumption—a painful and time-sucking process. And frankly, it’s boring stuff! The reason most devs got into mobile was to create compelling apps, not to spend their days cobbling together backend data sources.

An API layer is the answer. Done right, it erases these dependencies and provides fast, simple and secure data access. APIs sever the tight dependencies between systems of record and mobile apps allowing each to be updated independently and at different cadences by providing a layer of insulation and abstraction. More importantly, a solid API strategy lets dev teams spend less time worrying about the minutia of each layer of the traditional stack—the plumbing—and focus instead on creating great user experiences.

A Bigger Prize?

There’s no question the right API approach can boost velocity. There’s an even bigger game at play though, which is positioning yourself for the future. Mobile continues to undergo radical change with new innovations and capabilities popping up almost weekly. Even the term “mobile” no longer just refers to “when you are on the move.” It’s now shorthand for ubiquity of experience—seamless, universal access regardless of location or device.

The digital world increasingly is less about any specific device target, and more about supporting a hive of endpoints for an omnipresent experience. A world where:

  • Screens can no longer be assumed—notification-style micro-interactions will proliferate as the network of connected “things” explodes.
  • App boundaries dissolve—siloed apps will blur into to a mesh of microservices that can be dynamically composed to perform complex user tasks.
  • Data volumes overwhelm—managing and securing the growing volume of interactions and resulting data will be a mounting challenge.

Properly considered, the more strategic role APIs can play is to insulate your organization from these looming changes and those we haven’t yet anticipated. By abstracting away systems-of-record from the client, APIs enable you to easily plug in new channels, devices, and interaction models as needed. This allows you to prepare for a future of continuous business and technological change.

It is not quite future-proofing, but it’s close. And with it, comes a higher velocity of innovation you’ll get by untethering your developers and allowing them to ignore backend complexity to focus on crafting multi-channel experiences that will impress your users.

Looking to become a mobile leader? For more insight on how to deliver at the pace mobile demands, see our e-booklet primer, Preparing for the Flood: 6 Steps to Build Apps at the Speed of Mobile.