Built.io is a Mobile Backend-as-a-Service provider and app development platform that’s laser focused on the enterprise market. With MBaaS in general undergoing a shift toward enterprise, and with the Internet of Things looming on the horizon, we caught-up with built.io’s CTO Nishant Patel to ask a few questions about what companies really want out of MBaaS and what the future holds for the sector. Read on for the full Q&A.
Q&A: Nishant Patel, CTO, built.io
Built.io promotes itself as built from the ground up for enterprise. Why exactly is this important for enterprises looking for an MBaaS provider?
At the core, all MBaaS offerings provide mobile backend services designed to accelerate application development. However, there are many different flavors of MBaaS, with a significant portion of vendors focused on and / or with roots in the consumer and gaming market. Requirements around security, integration and scale are typically very different for an enterprise than they are for a game developer.
Some of the early MBaaS vendors have been trying to expand their addressable market beyond consumer apps into the enterprise. But it’s tough to pivot technology that wasn’t architected with enterprise requirements in mind. How do you retrofit a fundamentally different security architecture? How do you add on analytics for business users in a meaningful way, if it comes as an afterthought?
Built.io was designed from its inception to help accelerate app development for Fortune 1000 companies and reflects over a million hours of enterprise mobile development experience gained by the built.io team.
Would you say that, when it comes to business models, the focus on enterprise has proven to be the correct path to take for MBaaS providers?
One important lesson that MBaaS vendors have had to learn is that amassing a large community of developers doesn’t necessarily translate to commercial success.
We found a sustainable business model early on that is both profitable and growth-oriented. Focusing on enterprise has allowed us to build our company without having to rely on external funding. We see validation of our focus as more and more MBaaS vendors attempt to pivot their business and technology to address the enterprise market.
That said, being a successful enterprise vendor takes much more than just sticking the word “enterprise” on your webpage and marketing collateral. The engagement model is very different than with consumer apps or games. Enterprise is in our DNA, with our company’s leadership having spent decades working for and with enterprises. It’s difficult to shortcut this experience.
Overview of built.io’s secure on-premises enterprise solution
What are the kinds of concerns and requirements do you most commonly see from enterprises looking for MBaaS?
Time to market – enterprise buyers typically don’t go shopping for platforms. Instead, they look for solutions to their business problems. Consequently, when there is a need to build an app, it’s often tied to a specific goal or event, such as a mobile app for an upcoming conference. Time is always of the essence, and this is where MBaaS can offer a lot of value by enabling aggressive time to market. Preferred enterprise MBaaS technology will do this without undermining the IT department’s policies.
Security – Whether an app explicitly deals with confidential data, handles personally identifiable information (PII) subject to compliance laws, or integrates with a mission-critical on-premises system of record, as a general rule of thumb, application data is always sensitive and always has to be secured. Having an MBaaS that provides fine-grained security controls is a must-have for enterprises.
Scale – Perhaps unintuitively, enterprise scale can be multiples higher than consumer scale. When thousands of users use an app simultaneously to do the same thing (e.g. conference attendees exiting a keynote and checking their schedule in the app all at once) API calls can spike dramatically over a short period of time. Most consumer apps see usage distributed much more evenly. Depending on the use case, an enterprise app with a few thousand users can cause more load on the backend than a consumer app with a million users. There are exceptions, however, the point is that scale – and ensuring the system can handle usage spikes – is a key consideration for enterprises.
Integration – Enterprises have a lot of legacy IT. For anything but the simplest of use cases, integration with existing systems – such as an old Oracle database, Salesforce CRM or Salesforce ERP installation – can be a key requirement and potentially add a lot of value.
Add-on Services – This comes back to enterprises looking for a working mobile solution, not just cool mobile tech. Few MBaaS vendors offer professional services, application development services, or mobile architectural consulting to complement their backend offering. We have found tremendous value in being able to guide our clients to success with a portfolio of mobile technology and related services.
The Internet of Things is a hot topic now, what are you guys doing to cater for these market and what are the challenges around adapting your platform for IoT?
IoT is something we are very passionate about and investing in heavily. From an enterprise perspective, IoT is probably where mobile was 3 years ago. Most people today primarily get excited about the latest IoT gadget (the actual “Thing” in “IoT”), however, the resulting consumer adoption is making IoT commercially viable more broadly very quickly.
For enterprises, it’s much less about the device. What matters more is what you can do with the “Thing” once it’s connected, which from a technology perspective is facilitated via APIs. This is why conversations with our enterprise clients quickly evolve from being about the promise of IoT to being about the promise of an “Internet of APIs”. How can you make sense of the vast oceans of data that gets generated via a plethora of networked devices, beacons, sensors etc.? What workflows might you be able to orchestrate across such a connected ecosystem that can provide value to an enterprise? What processes can be automated and made more efficient? The Internet of APIs (aka “IoA”) is where we spend a lot of time architecting the future.
Behind the scenes, we’ve been working on the IoA for a while, flying drones powered by our platform before most people had ever seen one, building apps for Google Glass before the masses knew what it was, and building a connected campus with environmental automation before Google bought Nest. Our engineering team is in the final stages of creating some revolutionary technology that we think will shake up the enterprise IoT market.
Just as with mobile, we see our role as an enterprise enabler for IoT and IoA, ultimately helping enterprise accelerate use cases with concrete ROI and facilitating the convergence of Business and IT goals.
How do you see the MBaaS market maturing? Do you think we’ll see more consolidation in the market and merging of MBaaS, app development platforms, app analytics/marketing platforms?
Short-term, we see MBaaS and MDM (Mobile Device Managment)/EMM (Enterprise Mobile Management) becoming much more tightly integrated. Simply put, the former enables rapid mobile innovation while the latter provides the controls and management capabilities to secure the mobile environment. For enterprises, this is a match made in heaven and we anticipate some consolidation to happen in this direction.
We’re also observing a convergence of MBaaS and PaaS offerings. PaaS vendors realize they need to be mobile-first to remain relevant. Meanwhile, leading MBaaS vendors are adding powerful platform capabilities. For built.io, we created built.io Extensions which allow developers to extend mobile apps and create custom functionality similar to what a PaaS offers. A year from now the difference between PaaS, BaaS and MBaaS will be largely academic.