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Reinventing the application for IoT and beyond

Jason Bloomberg President, Intellyx

Do you think you know what an application is? Well, think again. Back in the day, "application" was simply another word for computer program. It ran in one place, either as a monolithic mass of computer code, or perhaps as a carefully architected set of distributed components on a handful of servers.

Welcome to the twenty-first century, folks. Ask any teenager about applications and they'll look at you funny, hold up their smartphone, and say, "You mean, apps?" Today, mobile apps are leading the reinvention of the application, filtering down from the consumer space into all corners of the enterprise. The world has changed. Applications have changed. And enterprise IT itself is undergoing rapid reinvention. Digital transformation represents an end-to-end rethinking of what it means to put an application into the hands of customers.

Beyond the rise of mobile

The democratization of IT has upended the notion of an enterprise application, as digital transformation initiatives drive the assembly of increasingly complex, distributed, mainly cloud-based apps that deliver enterprise value to technology consumers—within companies of all sizes and among the public at large.

Today's technology users might use their phones, tablets, televisions, or IoT-enabled touchpoints, ranging from automobiles to factory equipment, with new form factors rolling out every day. And everyone expects always-on connectivity and blisteringly fast performance—even though today's apps may depend upon a complex web of interconnected services across multiple cloud and on-premise applications.

Such applications are far from simple and rarely monolithic. Even a simple web app has multiple pieces, ranging from front-end web server code interacting with application code on the middle tier, which in turn talks to the database underneath.

In the enterprise context, multi-tier web apps are more the exception than the rule. And yet, even older enterprise applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP) run on multiple servers, leveraging various data sources and user interfaces and communicating via some type of middleware.

Today's modern digital applications, however, are far more complex and dynamic. They typically include multiple third-party applications, from the widgets, plugins, and tags that all modern enterprise web pages include, to the diversity of third-party SaaS cloud apps that support the fabric of modern IT.

The modern app's challenges

Distributed applications have had many components all along, of course. What's different now isn't the sheer number of those elements—although such numbers have unquestionably skyrocketed—but rather the fact that modern applications are subject to such rapid, never-ending change.

With the dynamic complexity of today's applications, the boundaries of the cloud itself are becoming unclear. Code may change at any time. And there is no central command and control that encompasses the full breadth of such applications. As a result, new tooling is necessary for enterprises to meet customer demands, maintain adequate security and compliance, and obtain the business insight they require to succeed in today's fast-paced, ever-changing digital environment.

Traditional IT management tools, whether they're designed for managing applications, infrastructure, or the network, are largely static and hardwired to the technology they manage. Such traditional tooling is no longer sufficient. Instead, modern, cloud-based digital applications require a never-ending, adaptive approach to management that maintains the performance and security of these complex enterprise applications. Without such proactive, adaptive management, the customer experience will suffer—and with it the bottom line.

Furthermore, monitoring the complex modern application environment presents a big data analytics challenge that raises the bar on what it means to have insight into application performance. For some enterprises, the challenges of application management are their first foray into big data. But regardless of whether organizations are leveraging big data solutions today, modern application management will drag them into the big data fray.

Security and compliance breaches also become increasingly likely as the complexity of each application grows. Hackers are always looking for weaknesses, and the more diverse, distributed, and dynamic an application becomes, the greater the chance of opening a door for an attacker.

Modern applications also raise the bar on regulatory compliance. With traditional applications, annual or semiannual compliance audits are sufficient for ensuring compliance. Today, however, applications may change on a daily basis and include third-party elements that complicate the compliance challenge.

Preparing for the IoT

While most enterprises are still getting their heads around the impact mobile devices are having on their organizations, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly advancing. Adding the full spectrum of devices, sensors, and other IoT elements to the application mix blows the lid off of the notion of the modern application once again.

Making the transition now to a fully distributed digital application environment is therefore in many ways the price of admission to the IoT. The price of failure is to fall even further behind. Our remarkably turbulent business environment is fraught with risk, to be sure. But never forget, the greatest risk is in missing out on the opportunities that technology innovation offers to the enterprise.

The reinvention of applications for the digital age, therefore, is more of a business than a technology challenge. "There has been a seismic shift in preferences in how people do business and what their expectations are," says Key Bank Chairman and CEO Beth E. Mooney during her discussion with PwC CEO survey about her bank's move to digital. "These are things we're going to constantly be monitoring, constantly making trade-offs, because the future is going to look different."

Different to be sure, but just how different is anybody's guess. Try something, and if it fails, chalk it up to experience and move on.

But fail to innovate and watch your competition steal your customers as you fade into irrelevance.

Image source: Flickr

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