Mobile devices are being used to do more and more complex IT tasks these days. In the past the lowly “Data capture” device was built to do just that, capture data be it a barcode or small piece of scanned information but today the rugged mobile device is being used to do all kinds of business logic. The problem of getting the data no longer seems to be the issue, with even the smallest businesses now understanding what they can do with a mobile device. However most businesses are still server focused with years of investment in systems that need to be integrated with their new mobile strategy which means one thing hasn’t changed all that much for many… namely how you get your mobile data into your company systems and this is still something I see businesses struggle with, a lot!
Now, building a fully integrated solution that syncs the data is fine, however this kind of solution needs to be tailored to the client, it also requires string database expertise and that means they’re often expensive and out of the budget of the smaller business.
I spend a lot of time explaining to clients about the various strategies and methods you can move data from the mobile device to the business and one of the fundamental reasons we have the Raptor Toolbelt here is to try and address this but this week I thought i’d write a blog that gives anyone a bit of a layman’s head start when it comes to understanding the types of application they can have.
The first question I ponder is whether you need any data at all? Odd it may sound but these are apps that literally don’t require any connection and don’t even pass any data at all, unyet they are can still be very useful to a business. An example of this would be a marketing type application, a demo app or even an app like our Flashlight that is really handy but doesn’t need to present or integrate any data at all.
Easy to write, quick and inexpensive to build and above all they tend to do 1 thing very well. Often we write something like this for clients that just want to see what a device can do for them, with the intention of coming back for a more complex solution.
However for a mobile solution to be really business effective you need to get the information out of it and there are various ways you can do this on the cheap by spitting out a file of some nature! We can often write an app to spit out a CSV file export of the data it produces and this can be done very easily with very little effort. if you can then find a way to pick this file up within your business and import it manually then that can work like a charm.
Android is especially great at sending email and texts so if you need to send any kind of data from your app to an email that can be monitored by a person or automated then this usually means an inexpensive app to have written.
Ditto with the above however in this case the file can be passed over to a PC or server when the dveice is connected via USB or cradled.
Basic Cloud storage
In the old days we would use FTP to get files from A to B, but this was frought with issues. Today we can simply use the API’s of well known cloud services like DropBox to get a daily file in the right place.
We’ve also built systems where we used Bluetooth to share files with other devices or a main hub. These tend to be more specialist type apps where devices in closer proximity need to talk to each other but essentially we’re still able to move files or information easily and quickly this way.
So these options often work best when you have an excel or database person in your business that can take a file and import it when needed and whilst they sound like a pretty basic way of doing things, many businesses are doing things this anyway integrating other systems and it works really well for the right business.
But what if you simply need to sync in a more complex manner? Maybe 1 import file daily is just not enough to keep your customers updated or you need something more live than a file import? Well despite adding to the complexity a little bit there’s still some options to think about that could be the answer.
There are some new innovative solutions to storing data into the cloud that go beyond the normal Database to Database ideology that can work very well indeed. Parse.com was a much loved service that did just this. Despite announcing it will be closed down this week, another Facebook purchase that’s then just closed down, there are other similar services that can store key-value pairs and non-indexed data into the cloud and we have had great success in using this style of data storage to sync data efficiently and where it needs to be more live in its nature.
Cloud data storage
Where data can also be separated completed you can also think about using using classic live data strategies where you must upload data to a live online database that can then be handled by your own database admins. Again where data on each device is largely separate or where syncing can be removed from the equation, this can help make the app being written way more basic.
There’s no doubt about it, the data and information part of any mobile solution is where a lot of the budget goes due to the sheer complexity of these types of apps. However the above basic strategies can hopefully help some of you understand that there are other ways to approach the problem that can work really well.