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'New normal' emerging as software teams go mobile

As software teams go mobile, the new way of working includes shorter lifecycles, continual software updates and one tester for every developer.

When software teams go mobile, almost nothing remains the same. The lifecycle gets shorter. The pace of software updates picks up. The ratio of developers to testers evens out. And application security finally gets some attention.

These are some of the observations mobile experts made when they were asked how high-priority mobile projects differ from traditional Web and desktop development efforts. "Good managers realize mobile is completely different [from Web or desktop development]," Nathan Clevenger said.

Mobile isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.

Theresa Lanowitz,
analyst, Voke Inc.

Chief technology officer at Minneapolis-based mobile software maker iFactr, Clevenger said he works with organizations where mobile applications serve as the foundation for enterprise applications -- not the other way around. "They develop the mobile piece first and then extend the app to run on the desktop," he said.

Mobile isn't a luxury, it's a necessity, said Voke Inc. analyst Theresa Lanowitz. "Organizations are ­­tackling mobile projects first. Then they worry about everything else." The priority given to mobile projects -- as they edge ahead of other development efforts in their importance to the business -- means big changes to the application lifecycle. In this article, experts identify four key changes that occur as enterprise teams go mobile.

  • The development cycle gets shorter.
  • The pace of software updates picks up.
  • The ratio of developers to testers evens out.
  • App security finally gets some attention.

Mobile demands shorter delivery cycles

Delivery cycles for Web projects range from nine months to 12 months, according to Michael Gilfix, director of enterprise mobile at IBM. "Mobile projects run three to six months," he said. Independent software consultant Howard Deiner said two months is more like it. "There might only be 60 days from concept to cash." Deiner believes an Agile approach for mobile projects is essential because the compressed time frame isn't long enough to accommodate traditional handoffs between development and testing.

More software updates for mobile projects

IBM's Gilfix noted that enterprise mobile apps also speed the pace of software updates. "In mobile, you release continually," he said. A key reason for continual releases is the constant changes in mobile handsets -- not just new devices, but also new versions of the iOS and Android mobile operating systems. "Release managers have to wrap their heads around that," he said.

Another reason for more frequent updates? The need to deliver fresh content to product catalogs that now run on mobile devices, said San Francisco-based AppGlu founder and CEO Adam Fingerman. "Instead of carrying binders with outdated information, field salespeople rely on iPads for the most current information on products and pricing." Getting the latest versions of that data to salespeople requires continual updates to mobile applications, he said.

1:1 dev-to-tester ratio rules

Traditional development projects -- building Windows applications, for example -- typically require one tester for every three developers, according to Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at MobileIron, which sells mobile application management software. Mobile application lifecycle management efforts alter that ratio significantly, he said. "In mobile, you are 1:1."

One tester for every developer on the project is largely the result of the complexities of mobile testing. Quality assurance (QA) pros must take into account the multiple devices, mobile operating systems and versions of those operating systems -- as well as connectivity conditions that vary widely, depending on the mobile user's location, Rege noted.

IFactr's Clevenger agreed with the 1:1 ratio of developers to testers. "If management doesn't change it, we will end up with longer test cycles, where QA is working seriously and developers are twiddling their thumbs."

Mobile apps help software teams get serious about security

Enterprise mobile apps are ushering in new security concerns, such as protecting sensitive company data on devices that are easy to steal or lose, Voke's Lanowitz noted. That is bringing a new urgency to application security, and she, for one, sees that as a welcome change. "Software teams working on Web apps never embraced security wholeheartedly," she said. "For 10 years we've been having this discussion about who is responsible for application security, and we have not made a lot of headway." But now, mobile apps are driving the need for security testing. Maybe, finally, we'll embrace security in the enterprise, and that would be good for the security of all apps, she said.

Is your team going mobile? Let us know and follow us on Twitter @SoftwareTestTT.

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