You’ve gone digital and mobile — now what?

By Daniel Yellin, on


As enterprises progress on their digital and mobile journeys, they are increasingly ready to take the next step by customizing and optimizing customer and employee experiences to make their apps increasingly engaging and relevant. However, there is a major issue that needs to be resolved for them to take this next step.

To understand this issue, consider traditional web apps, where any change to the back-end server is immediately reflected in every client through the ubiquitous web browser available on every platform. This isn’t the case for mobile apps, especially for native mobile apps. Instead, there is a tight coupling between the back-end server and the code running on the client device — the mobile app.

The issue with updating apps

Consider what it takes to update a mobile app. First, the new back-end features are developed. In parallel, the changes the mobile app requires to make it consume these features are added. Then, the app is tested elaborately across a wide range of platforms before it is placed in all the different app stores. Finally, all of the app users — potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of them — must be cajoled into downloading the new app.

From a business perspective, this lengthy process means it is much harder to rapidly incorporate feedback into an app and respond immediately to market opportunities. It makes it difficult to customize and optimize each user experience. From an IT perspective, it means changes must be bunched together into a fixed release schedule and that new requests must wait until the next release cycle. It also means the number of app versions that need to be concurrently maintained quickly grows when creating highly personalized or optimized apps, increasing the cost and support burden. The negative effects can be more than just opportunity loss; in the case of discovered security flaws, it can translate into inadequate guards against security breaches. You see the dilemma.

So, what’s the solution?

In discussions with clients across a broad range of industries and with all types of apps, this problem comes up over and over again. Luckily, industry leaders are beginning to respond to this issue with new technologies — for example, IBM has developed a new technology called Live Update. In a nutshell, this technology will allow mobile app development to take on different “personalities” that can be controlled dynamically from a back-end management console. In this way, the app owner can turn app features on and off, customize the app per user segment and define rules that dictate how the app will behave.

There are many use cases where this technology can be deployed when organizations go digital and mobile. A very simple one is popularly known as the “progressive rollout.” Consider an app feature that a marketing team wants to roll out incrementally to different countries or population segments. A tool such as Live Update makes this easy to do. The marketing team just defines the segments and incrementally turns on the feature to different segments. These tools can simultaneously measure feature uptake and ratings using analytics, turning off the feature if problems are encountered. Alternatively, features may be turned on only during a marketing campaign to specific user profiles, or an app may provide specific features based upon the holiday season or weather conditions.

Another more advanced use case is leveraging the technology to dynamically morph an app based on new circumstances. For example, an airline app can grant new privileges — such as express routing, advanced ticketing or lounge access — as soon as a frequent flier completes a trip with enough miles for “Gold” status. Alternatively, a shopping app could change its capabilities whether the user is at home or in a store. Another popular use case involves security — this type of tool gives apps the ability to dynamically require heightened authentication when warranted, such as when suspicious behavior is detected.

As organizations go digital and mobile, Live Update will greatly advance the personalization and optimization of apps by enabling organizations to control when features become available based on business timelines, rather than technical timelines. This will move the control on app behavior from IT to app owners.

About The Author

Daniel Yellin

Vice President, IBM Mobile Platform Dev and Israel Software Lab

Danny Yellin is VP of Mobile First Development. Prior to this, he was the Director of the Software Technology Department in the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center after graduating from Columbia University with a Ph.D. in Computer Science.