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Mobile back end as a service is behind seamless mobile experiences

Users expect a seamless, engaging experience on mobile devices. Enter mobile back end as a service -- which users don't see -- for personalizing the interactivity.

Responsive Web design can take you only so far. Yes, the content that you organize and elegantly present on your...

company's website also looks great on tablets and smartphones. Publishing is a breeze. You create content once and distribute it across multiple devices. Brand marketing is consistent. Your customers are getting the same messages and offers regardless of their viewing environment.

But mobile experience design needs to involve more than varying screen sizes, battery lives and processing speeds. Context matters. Mobile workers and customers are out and about. They are engaged in tasks. They are untethered from fixed locations and sometimes even disconnected from networks and information sources. They are likely to encounter distractions as they do their work, and have shorter attention spans as they contend with floods of Web content.

Designing task-oriented experiences

In fact, enterprise mobility does not just augment familiar desktop environments. It brings digital experiences to a whole new level, enabling connections among people, places and activities in new ways. Mobile workers and customers interact with businesses and with one another through their smartphones and tablets, consigning PCs to the legacy of tethered workplaces. Moreover, mobile users are particularly focused on getting things done and concerned about their immediate tasks at hand. Mobile experience design must support and expedite these tasks.

Responsive Web design can take you only so far.

But the ability to present this data to mobile devices on the front end requires some deft development on the back end. Joining various applications and data as a seamless whole requires the "invisible hand" of mobile back end as a service (mBaaS), which can help knit applications and data together by calling on this information through Web services. While this sounds complicated -- it really isn't. It simply leverages the "magic" of Web-wide standards. With mBaaS, companies can bring disparate applications and data together without the user ever knowing what it takes to stitch these items together.

How do you mobilize content for task-oriented experiences? Consider how brokers at Pacific Union, a San Francisco real estate firm, engage with prospective sellers to build relationships and win property listings. When they meet with sales prospects, they use an iPad app to present targeted information about comparable properties and market conditions. Brokers can drill down to answer questions and rapidly retrieve related real estate data, photos and maps. They can leave prospective customers with sales presentations that are accessible over the Web or as printed documents. The information is tailored and personalized. Brokers assemble content from both public and private sources within the firm. With tablets in hand, they present digital experiences designed to demonstrate their expertise, establish the firm's credibility and secure selling opportunities.

"You need to think about the total experience and then create a back end that can manage the experience," advises Robert Balmaseda, senior vice president at Epsilon, a marketing services and custom application development company that built the digital experience for Pacific Union. "We relied on a CMS that took a platform-oriented approach, that defined content as objects and that separated the presentation layer from the back end."

This approach to mobile experience design requires flexibility in content management, mashups from remote data sources and the customer-friendly presentation of digital experiences -- in Pacific Union's case delivered by the Sitecore Web content management (WCM) platform.

A content hub with back-end services

Notice how this third-generation WCM system functions as a content hub for structuring and mobilizing digital experiences around predefined tasks. With content management capabilities embedded in the underlying platform, real estate brokers use browser-based tools to create and manage content on their PCs, prepare presentations for prospective sellers, and publish results to multiple devices. And they do something more. Brokers also access relevant real estate information, provided by third-party publishers, as part of their presentation preparation tasks. They are working within a consistent and customized environment designed to support their selling activities.

To deliver these capabilities, developers integrate external data sets by weaving together disparate strands of information through standardized Web services. They rely on the WCM system to automatically generate the RESTful APIs that provide read access to the data sets, manage the security for authenticating access and optimize the information exchanges. Developers also rely on this content platform to manage the presentation and navigation of information within the iPad app, to deliver the digital experience.

In short, the back-end resources drive the digital experiences. The server-side features and functions make the mobile experiences possible. This content hub is a good example of an essential layer within the enterprise computing cloud frequently referred to as mBaaS -- mobile back end as a service. These are the application-level programming services designed to support mobile experiences and deliver the right information, to the right people, at the right time, and on the right device.

Three steps for mobile experience design

Empowered by mobility, next-generation digital experiences are going to blend managed content, produced within an organization, with access to remote information sources. These experiences will weave together WCM and business applications, and present the results across both tethered and untethered work environments. This raises important questions about the direction of the organization's digital strategy.

If you have already begun your digital journey and invested a lot of time and energy in a WCM system for a great website, how can you extend this journey, add mobility and channel great digital experiences? How can you incorporate the needed mobile back end services? When does your WCM system become a platform?

Here are three steps for continuing the WCM journey from a platform perspective.

First, make sure your content management capabilities are in order. There's a discipline to your WCM investments. You are going to define your information architecture. You are going to leverage editorial workflows and the related review and approval cycles to simplify publishing processes. You are going to develop meaningful sets of content categories and define the taxonomies for structuring information into relevant chunks. These content components are essential building blocks for digital experiences.

Second, model the essential tasks. Consider how your target audiences are going to consume the content you publish. Yes, search engine optimization is a worthy objective -- you want to make your content findable and actionable. But this is only a beginning for any number of digital experiences you expect to deliver. Identify the top three or four tasks -- and then sketch out the steps you'll need to include in the underlying business processes to produce the results.

Third, define the mobile apps and back-end services needed to deliver these task-oriented experiences. Pay attention to the content flows and connections required to support these tasks. Certainly, content presentation on mobile devices is going to be important. But just as important are the back-end services required to mobilize the digital experiences. Of course exploit your WCM investments for mBaaS wherever possible; with mBaaS, you can reduce the time-consuming work of coding so that mobile devices can access an array of applications. Assess the platform-level capabilities of your existing WCM system to access remote data resources over the Web, and to mash up the results for task-oriented apps. At the same time, be prepared to make additional technology investments to support mBaaS capabilities that your existing WCM system is unable to address.

Done right, a third-generation WCM system provides a key pillar for next-generation digital experiences. Nevertheless, managing content is only going to take you so far. A second pillar is the application environment needed to access data, record results, and support the interactivity of task-oriented apps. The digital journey continues by combining managed content with smart investments in mobile back end services.

Next Steps

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This was last published in April 2015

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