Cathal McGloin, CEO of FeedHenry, an Irish company that makes an enterprise-grade mobile software platform, sat down with Wireless Week to talk about how a new software distribution model (app stores), a BYOD culture and the cloud have combined to radically change the way companies create, deploy and manage the apps that connect to the enterprise.
Wireless Week: First things first, where does the name FeedHenry come from?
Cathal McGloin: The company was actually founded as a research project in one of the colleges over in Ireland called the TSSG [Telecommunications Software and Systems Group] and the student who starts the project gets to name the project. It was originally about feed technologies, so RSS and Atom feeds, and the student who named it lived in Kilkenny and the college is in Waterford and Kilkenny and Waterford are archrivals in the old Irish game of hurling. So this student named the company after this man named Henry Shefflin, who is the captain of the Kilkenny team.
Americans, when I tell this story, don’t often get it. And then I tell them, ‘It’s like this, if you set up a company in Boston and you called it FeedJeter [referring to New York Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter],’ and then everybody gets it!
WW: With the BYOD trend on the upswing, give us a little insight as to how FeedHenry’s solutions enable IT departments to securely deploy apps and services across different devices and platforms?
CM: When I got involved with FeedHenry, it was around the time that bring your own device was really emerging. We’re seeing more and more that the two key disruptions in the market today are: one, data is being consumed on smart devices and tablets and so on, and secondly, data is coming from or being hosted from the cloud. So those two big disruptions are changing IT departments and they’re changing the cost of software and the deployment models of software, and they’re also bringing costs way, way down.
But they’re also bringing heartaches for CIOs because nobody wants to be told they have to use a BlackBerry anymore. They want an iPhone or the new Samsung Android. So IT departments in my opinion are just beginning to grapple with the first problem, which is how do you control which devices connect to your network or rather how do you control what’s on those devices. But they haven’t even started to think about how those applications connect into the enterprise and that’s actually an area we see as huge opportunity for FeedHenry.
So think about it this way. The CIOs, in the same way they haven’t been able to control who has what device, I don’t think they’ll be able to control how people build these apps. You will have marketing departments wanting to build everything for iOS. Operations are going to say HTML5 is the way. You’ll have all these different ways in which to build apps, but ultimately what the CIOs will need to control is the connectivity of those apps back into the enterprise. And we believe that will be done through a mobile application layer in the cloud called a mobile application platform. That effectively will act as a DMZ between the backend systems and the apps or the consumption of data on devices.
The cloud offers a number of opportunities there that we’re targeting. One is we have this server side engine that runs NoJS, which essentially allows you to do very tricky and ugly and complex stuff in the cloud, getting at the data, but offer a completely different experience to the consumer as they’re getting at that information and they end up getting an app-like experience. You know, the app won’t do a million things but it will do a few things really well and it will offer a really, really strong customer experience.
This combination of app on the client and server side technology in the cloud offers a great way for companies to control their security, access old legacy systems but offer a really crisp, clean experience on the device.
WW: What are some of the top concerns you hear from IT departments as they begin supporting more devices, while simultaneously moving applications to the cloud?
CM: Above all, I think the security is the number one thing. How do they ensure that these apps that are being built by all these different departments, that the connectivity of these apps into backend systems are really secure? We’re seeing more and more of the security companies develop mobile strategies.
Two weeks ago at the RSA Security Conference, RSA announced their initial bunch of partnerships in the mobile area. We were very proud to be one of those partners, but they’re obviously identifying that mobile is going to be way people access their data. The endpoint of security is moving from the laptop to the mobile, so we expect security strategies to adapt in the same way.
So that’s on the IT side, and I’m having this played back to me by the cloud vendors, like VMware and the Joyents of the world and the EMC and the HPs. They’re saying the same thing, that more and more a good strategy has to be able to deal with security but it has to be able to fit in with an existing IT architecture and security architecture in particular.
WW: FeedHenry just recently partnered with Telefonica Germany; can you tell us a little about that partnership?
CM: As you probably are well aware in the States, both AT&T and Verizon have gone massively into cloud services. Verizon with their acquisition of Terremark and AT&T has been doing the same thing. It’s interesting to see that the Europeans have lagged somewhat offering cloud services but Telefonica has been at the forefront of this and they’ve obviously identified this as a core area to make up for their declining revenues in voice and messaging. Even the data levels are stagnating.
We got involved with them on a local basis in Ireland. Our customers wanted to know how many iPhones were out there, should they start with Android or iPhone. So they were calling out their Telefonica sales guy asking him to come out and talk to them about these apps and these smartphones. Telefonica was in the great position to be able to say, ‘Hey, can we help you with that. We know mobile. We know devices. We know connectivity.’ And so we went to Telefonica and offered them a proposition that we thought would help their enterprise customers.
We said, you can forget about the consumer and trying to control the app stores or anything on deck. You’ve lost that whole game. But what you really want to take care of is your enterprise customers. We said, we can enable you to offer these customers this service to build safe, secure app solutions and integrate them securely through a Telefonica cloud and then back into the enterprise. And that seemed to resonate with them.
So we’ve launched Ireland, and in the U.K. formerly. Germany launched last week. And we’re seeing huge demand from the Telefonica cloud people, who are saying, ‘This is a value added cloud service that we want to offer.’ And that’s perfect for us because we see this as being a cloud service rather than about the mobile app. We see this as sitting at the interface of how clouds will manage mobility and manage the connectivity of these mobile apps to get back into the enterprise to get data and so on.
WW: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges going forward for enterprises looking to manage an increasingly mobile workforce?
CM: I don’t think it’s simply about the mobile workforce anymore. If you think about enterprise two or three years ago, you talked about mobilizing sales forces and field service teams and you went to a company like Antenna or Sybase and most of them you paid millions to actually mobilize one part of your organization. And that was when we talked about mobilizing the workforce.
I think what’s happened today is something different. It’s led by the consumers but now moving into the enterprise, people’s habits of where they consume information is changing. And so it’s not just about mobilizing a mobile workforce. It’s actually about responding to the change in behavior by consumer and partners and employees of where they’re consuming data. And they’re consuming data on these smart devices and tablets, whether they’re mobile or not, whether they’re part of mobile sales team, it doesn’t matter.
The one thing that I think has been radically changed, which the software companies have been very slow to catch onto, is that software distribution has radically changed. The price of software has come way down and one of the biggest problems a software developer had, which was how do you get your product into the marketplace, has been solved. The whole concept of apps and app stores has not only changed the mobile industry, it’s actually changed the software industry. I’m talking to IT departments who are now saying that they used to have a project that was ten million dollars to roll out a brand new X, Y and Z, and now we talk about an app that’s going to cost a hundred thousand dollars and we can roll it out in 10 or 12 weeks.
That’s actually what’s going on. It’s not just about the mobile workforce as a new toy. It’s about IT departments no longer willing to spend multiple millions of dollars on software applications that are supposed to do everything under the sun. Now people just want an app and they only want it to do two or three things but they want it to be the best customer experience ever, and they’ll happily have five or six apps rather than one big Web application that can do everything. And that, I think, is the future.