Serverless backends have become the topic of much conversation, providing businesses with a more scalable, low-code solution for building their apps. So, what exactly is a serverless backend and what can they do for your enterprise mobile apps?
Unless you’ve been living in a deep hole, you’ve probably heard something about “serverless backends.” Maybe you’ve even heard about how cool they are. Regardless of what you’ve heard (or haven’t heard, for that matter), this blog will start at the very top to explain what a serverless backend means for your apps, and will recommend a best-practices enterprise approach to adopting this new technology.
First, let’s answer the obvious question: Does “serverless” mean there’s no server? Not at all. Surprising as it may seem, a serverless backend still involves a server.
Rather, “serverless” is a new way to approach a modern problem using existing technologies. The difference lies in the ownership of the various layers this set of web services provides.
Nearly every organization has an IT department, the size and scope of which depends on the size of the company: smaller organizations might employ a single “tech-savvy” employee while large organizations require dozens (if not hundreds) of employees to support their day-to-day IT operations. A serverless backend helps companies large and small by answering the question: “Why does my company need to understand every layer of server-side technology when our business has nothing to do with servers?”
As it turns out, serverless backends are not a new need, a new question, nor even a completely new solution. Remember platform as a Service (PaaS)? Backend as a Service (BaaS)? Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)? Or low-code backends? Well, serverless technologies include all of the above, plus a new service we’ll call Function as a Service (FaaS). But even with all these features, that’s still only a small portion of the benefits that this new architecture provides.
Serverless solutions let companies focus on business processes and enable them to stop worrying about infrastructure, servers, ports, provisioning, etc. With FaaS capabilities, companies literally don’t even have to know where their code is running, or under what OS. An IT team is simply provided a URL their apps can consume and interact with, along with the great advantage of being able to write a bit of logic once and make it reusable across all client apps with less code.
Most likely, no. Oftentimes, a company’s technology is as complex as its business needs and requires a variety of approaches, depending on each specific use case. On the bright side, when implemented properly, a serverless backend gives your organization a big boost and will solve a lot of problems.
It may help to take a look at how a serverless backend might operate in the real world. So, let’s consider the practical use case of a field service app.
Field service apps provide a tremendous opportunity to add value, reduce costs and increase productivity. Smartphones enable companies to deploy innovative new technologies in their apps in ways never possible before (e.g. AR, VR, geolocation, Bluetooth, etc.). Serverless gives these apps the backend API services they require.
First off, connectivity is a big deal when working in the field—here’s a cheat sheet I wrote some time back on how to approach this. I would now add that you should be sure to choose a serverless solution that also supports these issues as elegantly and as simply as possible.
Imagine your company provides onsite agricultural machinery services, including acquisitions and maintenance. What is your ideal customer experience? Perhaps your top priority is making sure nothing gets broken. Machine learning may be used to predict when some parts will require maintenance or replacement and would enable you to reach out to customers using push notifications. The customer sends a picture or the serial number of the part, triggering the necessary action: a worker is sent to pick up the part or perform the maintenance onsite. Ongoing engagement is achieved by sending pictures and constant updates on where the part is and what’s going on with it.
Think about how many apps would be needed to support these processes: the field service app for your driver, the app for the customer, the web client for the warehouse, the corporate client app for quotes and invoices (and probably a few more apps thrown in for good measure). Now multiply this by 50,000 customers. Maintaining an infrastructure at this level becomes less of an inconvenience, and more of a nightmare.
Serverless solutions free up your company to focus its efforts on customer experience and the logistics of satisfying 50,000 customers instead of worrying about supporting all the behind-the-scenes infrastructure and systems required to deliver the experience.
Start with envisioning what you want your business to become, and keep researching how serverless can help you and your organization achieve that vision.
Find a solution that offers a mobile REST interface lightweight enough to deliver data quickly, with offline support to ensure field personnel know what’s going on. It should also include notification systems to engage proactively, with hooks to other relevant systems (e.g. your machine learning server, your CRM data, etc.) along with some storage for saving images and other attachments. With all this covered by the serverless backend and low-code cloud services, app users and IT staff can focus more on solving customers’ issues and less on dealing with app issues.
Lastly, be sure to choose a serverless solution that can evolve as your business evolves and scale alongside your business needs. You won’t need to migrate everything at once, but having this architecture in place will enable you to be flexible and let your success drive the next change.
Business change is inevitable. The best way to deal with this change is by embracing it and trying to evolve by adopting new serverless practices that provide solutions that old legacy systems just can’t touch.
Propelics is proud to be a Progress partner. Among other technologies, we rely on the Progress Kinvey serverless backend to power our mobile apps and services. Kinvey is an amazing platform for anyone to work on, which is why we chose it to build our custom solutions, focusing on enterprise mobile field services modernization. To see the difference of building on serverless platforms, request a quote.
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This blog was written by Cesar Cavazos, Chief Architect and Technical Lead at Propelics. You can reach Cesar on Twitter at @Propelics. To learn more about apps for field services, visit the Propelics website.
Cesar is Chief Architect and Technical Lead at Propelics. With a decade of mobile development experience and over 50 apps under his belt, he has helped countless companies across all industry verticals improve the lives of their customers and employees with high-quality enterprise and consumer apps. To stay at the top of his game, he constantly evaluates new mobile technologies, including mobile development tools, IoT and cognitive services.
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