Q&A with Verivo’s Steve Levy
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Verivo CEO Steve Levy for 5 years. Steve is a sharp executive and has consistently built his businesses through creating new revenue models, extending product offerings, and identifying new market opportunities.
It’s no surprise, then, that Verivo is considered an emerging enterprise mobility leader. Verivo helps businesses simplify the complexities associated with building, securing, and managing enterprise mobile apps. Under Steve’s leadership, the company has reported strong increases in license bookings, revenue run rate, and customers since he became CEO in 2010.
Steve graciously agreed to join me in a discussion about the current state of enterprise mobility, the challenges organizations have with building mobile apps, and the future of the industry.
Brian Girvan: Steve, to start off, at a very high level, how would you frame where we are with enterprise mobility today?
Steve Levy: We are still in the early days. For most firms, Enterprise Mobility means using a smartphone for e-mail, contacts, clumsily browsing the web, and of course, having phone conversations. Some organizations are using off the shelf apps to empower their employees, partners and customers. Fewer still are building the apps they need. There is still a huge, untapped opportunity to make organizations more effective – whether in reducing costs or capturing more revenue – through the use of enterprise or transactional apps.
BG: It seems that opportunity is based largely on the fact that building enterprise apps is not easy, a sentiment you expressed at our B2B IT Forum in March. What are the most challenging aspects?
SL: There are four key challenges associated with building these apps. A key problem is that the apps, while easy to create on the front end (nice user interface, cool features) need to interact with back-end corporate systems, and there is no easy way to do this. To make matters worse, these apps usually have to operate even when the user is offline and out of coverage range with no signal or accessible Wi-Fi. And once they come back into coverage, they need to automatically sync up with the back end systems, i.e. they need to update those systems with the data they have captured, as well as get any updates from the back-end systems while they were offline. Combining all this into one key challenge, I summarize it as “Creating Offline Transactional Apps is very difficult.” But it shouldn’t be.
Without going into a lot of detail here, the other challenges stem from the fact that (a) these apps, and the systems behind them, need to be secure, protecting corporate data, for instance, even when offline, and ensuring proper authentication of users and authorizations (or permissions) for the actions they are taking; (b) these apps need to be easy to administer and support once they go into production – the organization’s help desk needs to be able to diagnose and correct problems with these apps once they get into users’ hands; and (c) these apps need to build built on a variety of device types (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry) and using a variety of technologies (native apps, HTML5/Hybrid apps, mobile web, and cross-platform tools such as Appcelerator’s Titanium). Combining the difficulty of creating an Offline Transactional App with these further challenges really makes it hard for a business to take a slick looking app (front-end) and turn it into a full-functioning solution for the business.
BG: Have we moved beyond the BYOD discussion? Is it now an accepted part of the business culture?
SL: BYOD is still at play, but not everywhere. I think this will be an issue that ebbs and flows. The initial driver here was cost reduction – allowing businesses to avoid the cost of new voice and data plans, as well as many devices. But there are significant costs as well, and these go up as the devices and platforms diverge and become more complicated. Many businesses find that standardization has been key to controlling costs, and it would not be a surprise to find that some businesses enforce standards, possibly even through the issuance of corporate-owned devices. In the end, it does not matter, since businesses will not be able to control the devices that their partners and customers use, and transactional apps often include these groups as their users. So app development will not be able to avoid the multi-device problem – that is, unless, a truly dominant player develops in the marketplace.
BG: Much of the BYOD debate has centered on security. What, then, about the challenges in securing apps? How do you see those challenges evolving in the next five years or so?
SL: There are a number of challenges in securing apps. The most obvious relate to authentication (making sure the user is who they say they are) and authorization (making sure they are allowed to do what they want to do or view what they want to view). Offline complicates these matters immensely, as offline operating requires that data – potentially sensitive corporate data – be kept on the device. If they device is lost or stolen, the data must remain protected. And offline operations often require that users are allowed to log in while offline. If implemented poorly, this can be another security risk. Finally, in order to interact with back-end systems, enterprise apps need to interact with back-end servers. These servers must be hardened and secured to ensure that they are not access by unauthorized parties.
BG: So thinking about enterprise mobility as a whole – if we could fast forward to 2018, what will it look like at that point?
SL: I think enterprise mobility with look like enterprise web apps today – apps that businesses create to support customers, partners and employees, which are tailored to meet the organization’s needs. Only mobile enterprise apps will get there faster, since we’ve been through this once before with web technologies, and people can see it coming.
BG: Let’s talk about your new product Verivo Akula. How does it help developers meet the challenges in enterprise mobility today and tomorrow?
SL: Verivo Akula is a brand new type of enterprise mobile app platform – an open platform that is designed to make the “Enterprise” part of creating enterprise apps easier, while letting organizations use the tools and technologies they know and are familiar with today. Akula provides software capabilities that (a) make it easier for a mobile app developer to create an offline app without having to build all of the “offline” and “back-end integration” capabilities, (b) make the app, server and entire infrastructure secure, (b) make it easy for the Help Desk to control, manage and diagnose the apps once they are in the hands of the users, and (d) do all of these things across a wide variety of platforms and technologies, in each case in the way that is expected for that platform/technology. All in all, it lets mobile app developers build the apps they want, and helps add the “enterprise” capabilities and requirements quickly and easily.
BG: Can you leave us with some words of wisdom? What’s the most important piece of advice for today’s enterprise app developer?
SL: Enterprise mobility is the next wave of disruptive technology. It’s making a difference and is here to stay. Therefore IT management, along with business leaders, should identify ways to use mobility to accelerate their business results, giving their company a competitive edge. The team should also leverage the right mobility infrastructure so they can develop and manage apps quickly, securely and easily – which in turn will significantly reduce time to market and positively impact the company’s bottom line.