The emergence of the app-based network

By Christian Lanng
31 Jul 2014 View Comments

In business, we are beginning to see the rise of platform-based enterprise applications that, following the lead of Apple and ecosystem models, centre on highly specific app development, designed to take advantage of underlying platform and ecosystem elements.

Employees have been at the heart of this revolution, blending personal and business technology to help make both themselves and their businesses more productive.

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Forrester claims this now gives us a landscape where nearly a third of the global workforce is using three or more devices. Just over the past year, the number of internet pages accessed from mobile devices worldwide leaped from 14 to 25 percent. And video consumption on mobile has ballooned since the rollout of 4G.

It's a well-trodden cliché, but mobility and the consumerisation of IT have totally changed the face of business. And a significant side-effect of both is that the world's biggest social and professional networks are becoming app focused.

This move is vital for success on mobile. As social networks and enterprise software have become more feature-rich, it has become increasingly difficult to replicate the desktop experience on a mobile device, requiring functionality to be split into silos.

As a result, we have seen a wave of announcements recently from the big social networks, moving fast to demonstrate they are ahead of the curve.

For example, at the beginning of May, LinkedIn announced its "multi-app strategy", splitting its core desktop service into a selection of specialised apps for mobile. This is to address the fact that 41 percent of its users are on mobile, and it is aiming to reach 50 percent by the end of the year.

Facebook also recently revealed it is decoupling its Messenger service from its flagship app in order to go after a younger, privacy-focused audience. It also bought WhatsApp earlier this year, in a move designed to bolster its application offering.

This year, Google released standalone Google Docs and Google Sheets productivity apps for iOS and Android, removing document and spreadsheet editing from the Drive app for the first time on mobile devices.

And finally, never one to duck out of any trend, Apple's iWork suite is app based. It brings together applications like Keynote, Pages and Numbers, and integrates with Aperture and iPhoto.

The social networks have certainly grabbed the headlines with these moves, but the shift of focus to apps is also gathering steam in professional networks. This is exciting because it is a shift with the potential to facilitate businesses much more broadly than simply improving usability for those who prefer mobile.

This ability to build apps and customise on a platform, within an ecosystem, helps increase the productivity of a business because it frees up companies from expensive, time-consuming implementations.

This takes the concept of apps to a whole new level, and is an exciting view on the future of business software. It suggests that more and more, companies will select and build technologies as much on underlying platform, ecosystem and app communities as the core functionality in business apps and networks themselves.

In a short space of time, the consumerisation of IT has led to an environment where mobile is king. In turn this has made social media networks app focused, and the knock-on effect is that business is now taking this concept and seriously running with it.

We're only at the beginning with app-based professional networks, but what is sure is that it is already offering a glimpse of how business will be done and run in the future.

Christian Lanng is CEO at Tradeshift

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