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Mobile app dev drives another bring-your-own trend: BYOT

John P. Mello Jr. Freelance writer

The proliferation of mobile devices spurred the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement in the workplace. Now the demand to supply those mobile devices with applications is driving another BYO trend: bring your own tools (BYOT).

The idea behind BYOT is that development environments should support a wide assortment of tools and protocols for creating applications. Not only does the approach cut down on the learning curve for an organization's in-house developers, but it also makes it easier to bring in outside help when it's needed.

"Bring your own tools is a way of telling an enterprise that your developers can bring their methodologies, and they don't have to learn a new methodology, a new workflow, a new tool chain to be productive with a development platform," says Steve O'Keefe, director of Red Hat's mobile product line.

The rise of BYOT means it's time to adapt, again

Old-school development platforms took a stovepipe approach to creating software. They defined the tools used in the process and developers had to accommodate the platform. But just as mobile workers turned their back on IT and started using their own devices to boost productivity, developers began to work with the tools of their choice for forging code. And just as organizations had to adapt to the new world of BYOD, platform makers began to adapt to BYOT.

For example, application development platform FeedHenry, recently purchased by Red Hat, supports native software development kits (SDKs), hybrid Apache Cordova, HTML5, and cross-platform toolkits from companies such as Sencha Touch, Xamarin, and Appcelerator.

While BYOT support may be a current trend, some of those tools harken back to the early days of computing. For example, Red Hat's platform has a command line interface. "Pretty much everything you can do in a graphical UI you can do through a command line interface," says O'Keefe. "For a lot of developers, that's their power tool. That's how they're most productive so we wanted to make sure that was part of our bring-your-own-tools approach."

"It's our strong belief that enterprises are best served by getting value out of mobile development as soon as they can," he adds. "The path to get them there is for their developers to use their own approaches and not dictate one or another to a developer."

Front-end mobile application development isn't the only beneficiary of the BYOT approach. The trend today is to construct back-end systems and front-end apps independently, says Al Hilwa, program director for application development software research at IDC. "This tends to drive an approach where different folks use different tools and languages," he says, noting that back-end systems use different programming languages and frameworks than mobile devices and front-end systems. "This has meant that tools have to be combined in interesting ways and developers have to bring different tools to the job to accomplish a task."

Even organizations that have standardized the tools their developers use can benefit from BYOT, especially when deploying a new application development platform. That's because if an organization's developers are standardized on a set of tools, they should be able to use those tools in any development platform they adopt. "You want to make sure that standardization doesn't preclude them or shut them out from mobile development," explains Red Hat's O'Keefe.

How big should your tool belt be?

However, just as BYOD created problems for support staff in organizations, BYOT can create problems, too. "The natural evolution is for teams to latch on to point solutions initially until there is sufficient point-solution sprawl that it becomes unmanageable, inefficient, and lacks the power that comes from a standardized tool set that consolidates the functions that were present in the individual tools," says Stackify's COO, Craig Ferril. "We often see companies come to us after they have gotten tired of logging in to four different tools, struggling to correlate data between them, and want to see it all in one place."

Having a standard environment can make sense for hiring, training, and education purposes, but there are drawbacks, too, says O'Keefe. "Mobile app development tends to bring in a lot of third-party developers. If you want them to be able to use your platform, it's important to allow them to use the workflows they're used to."

He cites that as an advantage. "You can hire third-party developers, and they don't have to train on your standardized tool chain in order to be productive."

Mobile development is the catalyst

Because so many organizations are hot to develop mobile applications, what happens in the mobile space can influence how things are done throughout the development community. "BYOT is one of the trends that mobile is catalyzing in the industry," says O'Keefe. "Because there are so many ways to develop a mobile app, it's forcing the issue to the fore."

There's another reason why organizations can't ignore BYOT—they need to hire mobile developers. "They are in high demand and demand is outstripping supply," he says. "What that means is if you try to hire someone and say to them they have to spend three months learning your tool chain, that developer has the option of going elsewhere."

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