The Rise of PWAs - Part One
The Rise of Progressive Web Applications and Their Impact on Mobile Deployment in the Oracle ERP World
By Dermot Murray, VP of Technology at Inoapps
A series of unconnected threads recently aligned on a customer project that’s led to a fundamental rethink of strategy here in the Inoapps technology team. It’s always interesting to reflect on those key “tipping points” in an industry—the point where you suddenly think "oh, that makes sense now," and never go back to the old way of thinking. This two-part blog considers just such a situation regarding mobile enablement, and the optimal tools to meet the needs of customers in a rapidly changing world.
Here in Part One, we’ll explore some background.
The Oracle ERP and HCM mobile app conundrum
The development of mobile applications to extend and augment the capabilities of Oracle ERP and HCM has long been a conundrum. Users will often assert "we need that on mobile" and demand the ability to carry out each and every business process in a fully optimized, mobile-enabled user interface. "We need to be able to do that in offline mode" is another frequent demand. This is valid in some contexts, but less so now with so many environments saturated with 4G/ 5G, and even the last connectivity-free sanctuary, the cabin of a plane, often offering Wi-fi connectivity in flight.
Faced with a demanding user community wanting mobile apps for their key business processes, the challenge then is the optimal platform to use to develop the solution. Oracle has had a number of technology solutions for this over the years, including Oracle Mobile Cloud Service, Oracle Mobile Application Framework, Oracle Mobile Hub and Autonomous Mobile Cloud Enterprise. But many of these have been short lived, and superseded by new offerings and platforms.
Over the years, Inoapps has developed mobile applications for our clients in non-Oracle technologies like SwiftX, ReactNative and Android Studio. We even built and delivered mobile productivity apps on the Windows Mobile platform (more on that soon). Each of these presented unique challenges when delivering solutions for an Oracle ERP landscape, and none were particularly easy to use or deploy.
The other key challenge has always been compatibility and how to cope with the ever-changing OS and handset landscape. Some years ago, Inoapps developed a bespoke mobile application for a customer to carry out field service activities based on an Oracle ERP instance. On the Windows Mobile platform. It seemed a perfectly sensible decision at the time. Windows were going “all-in” on mobile, and who would bet against Microsoft being successful? Only a few years later, the customer is still using the application (it was a great solution, and the users loved it), but it now represents a major issue when trying to source a Windows mobile device.
And of course the same challenges exist with Android and IOS. The myriad flavors of Android, the continually changing security demands of Apple, and the eternal problem of maintaining two sets of source code is an ever evolving quandary.
Finally, one of the other big challenges was package deployment: how to get your precious application delivered out to handsets. The Apple App Store is an inhospitable place. With myriad barriers and hurdles to deployment, and a reluctance to even publish applications that aren’t intended for general use, getting business apps onto the App Store is painful. What about an enterprise apps store? That comes with a huge overhead and price tag. MDM policies can be used to push builds to corporate devices, but in a Bring Your Own Device world, is MDM really the solution? Google Store is no easier, and the whole process is time consuming, expensive and brittle.
The Oracle mobile landscape
Oracle themselves have changed their strategy and moved away from investing heavily into many of their native mobile apps. Some still exist—Expenses, Oracle Project Portfolio Management Cloud and Oracle Analytics Cloud Service mobile are still widely used—but the strategy is to move away from native apps and instead invest in responsive themes for their SaaS applications, delivered in the Redwood theme.
And it is a good proposition—responsive themes work well, and navigating Oracle ERP and HCM on an iPad or Android tablet is an acceptable user experience. Data entry works well, screen navigation is intuitive, and the user interface is modern and fit for purpose.
So why bother with native mobile apps at all?
It’s a valid question—why even bother? All the screens and navigation in Oracle ERP are mobile responsive. And you could say that in our modern connected world, the need for offline capabilities is limited to edge cases. So has the world changed once again and native mobile apps for ERP are no longer required?
It's all about the process, the place and the person
The fundamental requirement remains the same. This is all about delivering a user experience that’s fit for purpose, to deliver the required process in the place appropriate for that person. If a user needs to capture a small amount of information relating to a highly specific business process, in a situation where a more traditional screen navigation isn’t possible, the case for a mobile app stacks up. If you can reduce training overhead through business process optimized applications delivered in a simple user interface on a mobile app, you reduce your cost of ownership, increase the quality of data captured, and improve productivity. If the needs of the user are better served with a business application optimized for a mobile device, there will always remain a need for mobile app development.
The rise of the PWA
The conclusion? There’s still a need for mobile native apps for specific business applications. But deploying them on traditional mobile development platforms is slow, expensive and hard to support and deploy. There has to be a better way.
And there is—in the form of PWAs or Progressive Web Applications. Find out more in Part Two