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Service Enablement of Enterprise Data through Mobile Devices

Leveraging Service Architecture in extending enterprise applications to mobile devices

It's well known that in recent times that consumption of data or a service through mobile applications is increasing exponentially due to the increase in the mobile customer base and the increase in the number of mobile devices connected to various systems disproportionately(1). That means in most of the cases, consumers of mobile devices are increasing more than traditional desktop browser based service model of consumption. These end users use a large number of different types of devices starting from standalone desktops, laptops, and tablets to mobile devices. It is expected that applications keep up the data or service while they move from one system to other, for example, if someone starts reading a book from Amazon Kindle and continues to read the same book from an iPad. So the continuity of the service or data is achieved and this is possible only when all the systems are connected with some sort of loose coupled integration. While it is possible for standalone systems to make it easier to get data or service connected, mobile applications also have to be ensured that the same data or service is provided and integrated. In this article, we are discussing the various ways of service-enabling the enterprise applications data in the mobile devices.

Before we discuss about service enablement (2, 3) of enterprise data through mobile devices, the following factors are considered when mobile enabling the enterprise data applications:

  1. Desktop services are accessed through http, while mobile devices predominantly follow WAP (Wireless application protocol).
  2. There are several device vendors in the market each with their own proprietary operating systems
  3. There is plethora of device models with wide range of form factor and screen sizes, hence GUI design to fit to all models is arduous task.
  4. Data security is big challenge, client side security validations are difficult to achieve on memory constraint mobile devices
  5. There would be significant increase in load on the servers.

Technical parameters considered for Service Enablement of Enterprise Data through Mobile devices
The following options are considered when building mobile-enabled services (4), each with its pros and cons.

  • Accessing the enterprise services through mobile browsers
  • Using mobile client by native application or through a framework

The complete application can be developed on the server side and mobile browsers can be used to access selected services. Which services are the best fit for mobile access depends on how critical the data being exchanged is. Unless strict security measures are enforced, sensitive data cannot be exchanged over the mobile network. The data needs to be exchanged through secured network (SSL) with access to authorized users only. This needs seamless integration with identity management systems.

Data such as the product details of inventory, promotional activities, special offers, etc., can be shared across mobile network as this is not security sensitive data. All financial transactions, personal data of users should be transmitted under careful security measures.

Lengthy operations like filling order or feeding sensitive data are not good candidates for operating with mobile browsers as they need a live connection to the server. In all such critical scenarios, mobile clients are best suited as they can operate in offline mode as well.

The JSF technology can be used to develop a presentation tier as it has protocol flexibility. The GUI developed (Component tree) for desktop access can be re-used to render on wireless mobile devices provided a WML (wireless Markup Language) render kit is available. There are some third-party render kits available such as myfaces that can be plugged-in. GUI development with JSF is very fast as most of the standard IDEs (RAD, MyEclipse, NetBeans, JBuilder, JDeveloper, JBoss Developer Wtudio ) support JSF drag & drop (WYSIWYG ) editors.

But there are some serious challenges while developing browser-based applications. The high latency and low bandwidth of networks in mobile environments affects application responsiveness for mobile users. Screens refresh slowly, diminishing the mobile user experience. Hence mobile application development should use Partial Page Rendering (PPR) to display only dynamically changing data without going for complete page reloading. Browsers that do not support AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) use full page rendering instead of PPR, seriously choking the network bandwidth. The other important parameter is to take into account form factor and widely differing screen sizes while developing GUI for accessing through mobile browsers. While JSF stack provides a good toolkit for the faster development of GUI, one common opinion is that JSF components are heavy thus leading to slower loading of a requested page.

The other option is to access enterprise services through mobile clients. Mobile clients are small client-side applications hosted on mobile devices. But what is the right technology to develop mobile clients and how they communicate with the server side enterprise applications? As discussed, there are many vendors in the mobile market, each with their own operating systems and SDK. Developing mobile clients for every vendor is not only tedious but not recommended from a cost perspective. There are few mobile frameworks that  abstract the common functionality of different mobile operating systems, some of them are open source and others are proprietary. These mobile frameworks mostly operate using simple HTML, JavaScript, JQuery, JQuerymobile to develop mobile clients and support the SDK of all leading mobile vendors in the market.

Except for some device specific functionality, mobile frameworks can be used to achieve standard enterprise functionality. This promotes "Develop once and deploy on any device" concept of mobile application development.

But how will these mobile clients access enterprise data? Some of the selected services can be exposed as web services, which can be consumed by mobile clients. There are two options, one is SOAP based web services and the other is RESTful web services.

SOAP-based services need client-side stubs to consume services by a mobile client. The client-side stubs take the responsibility of de-marshalling and marshalling data while consuming the service and sending requests to the server. But this needs a SOAP engine to be installed on mobile devices. SOAP-based web services often exchange data using XML, which will have header and footer overheads. There are many tools available to generate WSDL given the details of Java classes whose methods are exposed as web methods. The client application can use WSDL to generate client-side stubs to consume web methods exposed by a server application.

On the other hand RESTful web services are simple and easy to develop. They exchange the data in the JSON format, which can be encoded on the server side while transmitting over the network. The mobile client can use JQuery calls to decode and manipulate the JSON object. The JSON objects are simple and lightweight and hence easy to transmit over the network. But RESTful web services are not meant for stateful transactions.

While mobile clients facilitate an online or offline mode of communication with a server-side application, mobile browsers only work with the online mode.

  • Decide which business processes available for mobility
  • Redefine needed business processes offline/online mode
  • Decide which functionalities should be available on mobile
  • Design a GUI for mobile devices
  • Service enables the functionalities for mobile
  • Create a framework like JSF enabled for java apps, azure developed for Microsoft etc
  • Communication middleware and processing

Service Enabling Framework for Enterprise Applications
The following framework provides the service enablement (5) of enterprise applications.

The simplest option is compatibility of mobile device browser for enterprise applications. However, with the increase of demand for mobile application installations on devices, integration takes significance and it can at web server layer or Application layer or at database layer as shown above. Layered approach of the applications is used for achieving the service enablement.

While the above describes about service enablement of enterprise apps for mobile applications, the following diagram describes various ways of application integration with mobile apps which will make mobile enabled applications.

Integration using APIs:
Mobile applications are driven by open APIs to expose the functionality and most are REST-based APIs, stateless APIs running over HTTP. The significance of Open APIs for integration comes with lot of opportunities in terms of creating visibility of the products for business. For example, The Facebook Auth API is being used by several applications for access of applications.

Conclusion
The mobile enabling of enterprise applications and data is significant with the number of mobile devices increasing every day. Web browsers and mobile client installations are increasing their usage of enterprise data. The integration of web apps to enterprise applications is significant in terms of WAP integration, wireless extended integration, peer-to-peer integration, and web-based integration, and API integrations are gaining significantly. However, going forward, with the advancement of technology, new ways of accessing enterprise data is considered.

References:

  1. http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats
  2. http://clouddataanalytics.ulitzer.com/node/2112881
  3. http://sreekusumanchi.sys-con.com/node/837728
  4. http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/it-novcc00/
  5. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb972953.aspx

More Stories By GVB Subrahmanyam

GVB Subrahmanyam an Application Developer, Lead, Project Manager, Development Manager and Delivery Manager in a wide variety of business applications as part of an IT service provider. He focuses on Development, Delivery and Sustenance of IT Applications in Supply Chain/Insurance/Banking/Finance. Albeit most of his projects are Java-based assignments, he is technology agnostic.

In his current role, Subrahmanyam is working as a solution provider for Commercial Healthcare, Insurance, banking and Financial systems with Mahindra Satyam. He is also TOGAF certified Enterprise Architect and IBM certified Ratioanal Software Architect.

GVB Subrahmanyam has an M.Tech. and Ph.D. from IIT Kharagpur in the area of Chemical Technology, India and MS in Software Systems from BITS Pilani. He is also a PMI certified PMP. He attended one year of the Executive Program in Business Management(EPBM) from IIM Calcutta.

More Stories By Sriramachandra Murthy C

Sriramachandra Murthy C is a senior Solutions Architect at Java Competency in Mahindra Satyam. He can be reached at Sriramachandramurthy_C@mahindrasatyam.com