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While application development has traditionally been an opportunity that many solution providers have had a difficult time realizing, a sharp spike in demand for custom mobile computing applications should push many of them to either acquire or sharpen their application development skills.

Eight in 10 technology decision makers at both large and small businesses said they consider mobile application development very important or essential for their business, according to a recent survey conducted by backend-as-a-service provider moBack. The poll of 200 tech decision makers showed that 40 percent plan to develop approximately 10 applications over the next three years, and nearly one-quarter are planning to develop 26 to 50 mobile applications over this same time period.

“The challenge with mobile applications right now is that it’s just too hard to build them,” moBack CEO Dev Gandhi said. “We’re trying to make that simpler by enabling developers to self-service their own backend needs.”

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those respondents said they currently rely on cloud-based platforms to build those applications. But the challenges those organizations face span everything from finding developer talent to the rate at which those applications are delivered and then continuously updated.

In addition, building the application is only half the battle. Seven in 10 said the total cost of building, delivering and then running mobile applications was a major concern as is all the security that needs to be embedded inside them.

The result, according to the study, is that 75 percent of the respondents said ease of use is either a very important or essential attribute of a BaaS platform and two-thirds said that needed a platform that could reduce their costs while enabling them to customize applications as needed.

Put that all together and it becomes clear that mobile application development is a tall order for even the most sophisticated enterprise IT organizations. Yet, given the rapid adoption of mobile computing devices, it’s not one that IT organizations can avoid.

The paradox creates a massive void for solution providers to fill. In fact, one of the main reasons Ingram Micro recently expanded its application development business unit was to enable solution providers to better address customers’ needs. When Ingram announced the move in April, company officials said application development represents an opportunity for solution providers to add value profitably.

Vendors, meanwhile, are tripping over themselves to help partners bring mobile applications to market. New research from mobile app development and deployment specialist Good Technology indicates that 62 percent of its top 100 customers have purchased third-party applications its partners have developed. While many organizations are building their own applications, there’s a larger appetite for mobile applications that address a particular use case in less time than an organization could develop that capability themselves.

Good Technology found that 46 percent of those customers are using three or more third-party applications and 28 percent are using five or more. Furthermore, 47 percent of the company’s 500 largest customers are using third-party applications purchased through Good, and 32 percent are using three or more applications while 17 percent are using five or more.

Even traditional mobile-device manufacturers, such as Lenovo, are getting in on the act. David Roman, chief marketing officer, said that the company made a special effort at the first-ever Lenovo TechWorld conference to recruit developers.

“We created a special track at the conference for developers,” Roman said. “We’re also looking at creating a special conference just for them.”

No matter the approach, the opportunities mobile application development represents for the channel are massive. Solution providers can either choose to develop applications, or they can limit their activities to selling the tools and infrastructure needed to deploy, manage and secure those applications.

Put it all together, and the development of mobile applications enables a raft of opportunities for the channel that go way beyond the price of the device itself.

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