Mobile Backend-as-a-Service: A Promising Premise

Published on: January 21, 2013

Perhaps the biggest challenge in developing mobile enterprise apps is integrating them to backend systems. That’s why any technology that can simplify that challenge—including mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS or simply “BaaS”)—is a technology worth watching.

Like a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP), BaaS uses middleware technology to allow developers to link to backend systems like enterprise resources planning (ERP) without extensive coding. But with a BaaS solution, the middleware runs on the cloud as a service, rather than as a platform you can deploy in-house.

The other key difference between MEAP and BaaS is one of scope. With BaaS, developers can use various mobile front-end environments to create apps, whereas a MEAP typically includes some front-end tools. Though some MEAP vendors have moved to embrace other development avenues such as HTML5, today the difference is most MEAPs include a front-end environment.

Perhaps more significantly, a MEAP typically has a greater range of utilities to secure and manage apps, such as data encryption, remote wiping of enterprise data on lost devices, app analytics, and other reporting and monitoring functions. In a blog post in April 2012, Forrester Analyst Michael Facemire summarized some of the key BaaS functionality, and notes the availability of some analytics. However, it’s generally true that BaaS is not meant to be as broad platform as a MEAP.

So while the BaaS market is rapidly evolving, and some research predicts strong growth for the space, its more narrow focus means that by definition, it’s less of a complete solution than a mature MEAP. Yes, Baas may take the heavy lifting out of many integration challenges, but as far as having an overall mobility platform at your disposal, some assembly is still required with BaaS.

Of course, vendors within a market will vary in their capabilities. For some mobile apps, especially those that focus on collaboration with existing social media resources, a BaaS might be a highly effective solution. It’s also worth noting that we are seeing a divide in the BaaS market, with analysts such as Forrester classifying some offering as “enterprise-class” BaaS.

So while BaaS has potential and may be a sound choice in certain cases, potential users have to dig through the hype to see what really fits into their mobility strategy.

Are there other tools for functions such as security that they are going to have to assemble while using BaaS for the integration piece? Does the BaaS provider offer pre-built middleware “plug-ins” to all the major systems like ERP or customer relationship management? Will the cloud-based integration allow for offline synchronization of massive amounts of data that enterprise users need when they are working outside of wireless coverage?

Finally, because BaaS lives in the cloud, will ongoing communication with on-premise, backend systems require workarounds such as use of a site-to-site virtual private network?

These are the types of questions that companies considering BaaS should dig deep into. Meanwhile, the core drivers for BaaS—simplified integration and more freedom on the front-end—reflect true market needs that frankly, deserve all the attention they can receive.

Chris Garber is the director of Product Management at Verivo Software.