As enterprises struggle to cope with the exploding demand for mobile applications from both internal and external users, many are forgoing formal testing in the rush to go live with apps. Experts warn that these organizations must build better QA into their mobile development processes if they're to ensure the performance necessary to keep users happy and the security essential to keeping corporate systems safe and user data private.
"Enterprises seem to have been caught by surprise at the speed by which mobile application adoption has taken place," says Murat Aksu, VP and global head of HP Alliance for Capgemini. "We're finding enterprise quality assurance teams are falling behind. They're not carrying out an end-to-end process that includes testing for functionality, usability, performance and security concerns."
Last week, Capgemini, Sogeti (its in-house consultancy) and HP released the "World Quality Report," which quantified how far behind these organizations have really fallen. The report showed that among a global group of more than 1,500, fewer than a third of enterprises test their applications before sending them live. Particularly troubling is the fact that among those that actually do have a QA process in place for mobile applications, fewer than 18% tested for security issues, Aksu says.
"Especially when you couple this with the fact that security risks as they relate to mobility have been turned inside out," he says. "Enterprises had been accustomed to having full control over the applications that are being leveraged. Most of the applications, if not all of them, were behind secure firewalls and the devices that were accessing the applications for the most part were devices that were provided by enterprises."
Though mobile app adoption has entrenched itself in the enterprise enough to drive organizations headlong toward development, its novelty has not worn off enough to get them to pay attention to security and privacy issues around their apps. Not even most regulators are pushing them do so. But that could be changing soon.
Just this month, the Federal Trade Commission issued a new publication for mobile developers that offers guidelines on honoring privacy policies, collecting sensitive information only with consent and generally minding the privacy rights of app users. The guidance is what Craig Mathias, analyst and principal at Farpoint Group, calls "a motherhood and apple pie kind of rule" because it lacks the teeth of enforcement. Plus, it's also largely aimed at B2C applications, rather than enterprise-focused apps mostly geared toward internal users.
But it could be the finger pulled from the regulatory dike. The FTC's move and its spotlight on these issues could precipitate further regulatory scrutiny of mobile apps in the future. And given the intermingling of business apps on employee-owned devices with the device owners' personal information, privacy rights issues could still potentially be at play within enterprise apps.
Without some sort of testing, applications become a bit of a black box, Mathias says. This opacity would make it hard for them to offer users or auditors assurance about the security of the application or the privacy of the data passing through it.
"You never know: Even if it is nominally up to snuff but has a bug in it, data could go to the wrong place," Mathias says. "Or you might have an app that's up to snuff and then some nefarious individual inside the organization decides to insert some code that hijacks user data."
This is where testing comes in, as it could help offer visibility into potentially dicey application behavior that might pile risk onto the typical enterprise's plate.