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Given the demand for mobile computing applications, a massive number of custom mobile apps should, in theory, be in place for providers of IT services to manage. In reality, however, it’s proving difficult for businesses to build these apps. In fact, recent research suggests it takes an IT organization six months to a year to build a mobile app.

To accelerate the building of mobile apps, the AirWatch unit of VMware, along with IBM, JAMF Software and MobileIron have come together to promote the adoption of a standard method for configuring mobile applications. The App Config Community will make it simpler to run a mobile app across multiple enterprise mobile management (EMM) offerings by creating one standard software development kit to accomplish that integration.

Based on a project initially launched by AirWatch as the App Configuration for Enterprise (ACE) initiative, this newer effort is now independent of AirWatch, said Mimi Spier, senior director of marketing and strategy for VMware. But the AirWatch partners that joined that original effort are being grandfathered into the new organization.

In addition to having a total of 60 vendors participating in the AppConfig Community, Apple is being fairly supportive of the overall effort, Spier said, adding that as the community as a whole gains additional momentum, the now-independent community hopes to hear more from Microsoft and Google.

In the meantime, while many IT organizations were fortunate to build one or two mobile applications last year, many of them now have multiple simultaneous app projects under way, said Anar Taori, senior director of product management for the IBM MaaS 360 EMM portfolio.

“I would say that the number of mobile applications that IT organizations are building now is in the range of double digits,” Taori said.

But as much as partners might applaud those efforts, building and managing mobile applications is still a major challenge, said Jack Gold, principal analyst for J. Gold Associaties.

“There’s just not a lot of mobile application development skill sets inside IT organizations these days,” Gold said. “There are still a lot of blocks to be overcome.”

On the plus side, it will soon become simpler for end users to build their own mobile applications, and the management of these apps is being slowly integrated into mainstream IT management frameworks, such as Microsoft System Center, he said.

For now, however, existing challenges tend to create a lot of frustration, which often leads to line-of-business executives looking outside the organization for help.

For example, Mark Orrtung, CEO of Nexient, an IT services firm that specializes in application development, noted that while Nexient may get pulled into a deal by either IT or a line-of-business unit, the most important thing is to get all the relevant stakeholders to the table as quickly as possible.

“With mobile applications, you’re talking about limited screen real estate,” Orrtung said. “You need to be able to bring all the functional areas together to have the painful conversation about what to prioritize.”

Solution providers across the channel would be well-advised to exercise some patience while waiting for all the challenges with mobile app development to finally sort themselves out. Once they do, the opportunities surrounding the promise of mobile apps should finally manifest themselves in ways that provide much greater material benefit to solution providers.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.