A brief primer to Mobile Backend as a Service

Tim Gibson
By Tim Gibson under Engineering, Insights 17 January 2017

Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) is a relatively recent development. It’s most closely associated with cloud computing, with the majority of BaaS (or Backend as a Service) startups originating after 2011. You can think about MBaaS as capability-rich ‘middleware’ - a multi-tool Leatherman, if you will.

Put simply, MBaaS acts as the bridge between the data, logic, and services which reside in the backend of what might be your Enterprise environment or external service, and the interface that your users interact with.

Although MBaaS can provide an important bridge to your existing data, it can also provide new computer logic services for processing data, connecting to messaging platforms or rendering video, to name but a few.

These services themselves are never seen by the end user, and are often not necessarily considered by senior, non-tech stakeholders as part of a full stack mobility strategy.

And while most tech acronyms are perceived as very dry subjects - sleep-inducing even - if you have serious mobile ambitions, MBaaS has to be an essential element of your architectural foundations.

For reasons which I am about to explain, in this primer post, I argue that MBaaS should be perceived as both a friend, and integral to your mobile ambitions.

Now, it might not be a friend you would invite to dinner, but it is a friend nonetheless - and one you really need in your life.

The role of MBaaS

In an ideal world, a mobile app and the remainder of the technology stack would be brand new, built from the ground up, and allowing the architecture to be created from newly commissioned platforms and technologies. And, whilst some tech teams certainly are that lucky, this is often not the case - particularly when you look across an enterprise.

In most organisations, valuable existing data or business logic is routinely found on legacy platforms that were never meant to be made available outside of the LAN (or WAN) desktop environment. This poses a particular problem: how can an enterprise leverage the value of this existing data and logic when the user base - staff, for example - is no longer tethered to the desktop environment, and instead has become ever more mobile?

Fortunately, all of that invaluable data can be transformed into mobile-friendly web services, thanks to MBaaS. With the inclusion of that clever middleware bridge, or multi-tool Leatherman, existing data from your legacy system is first optimised for mobile and then served up to an information-hungry audience, wherever they are, in a format that enables a fast, seamless mobile user experience. Without that optimisation, the experience instead is slow, fragmented and in some instances - impossible.

It’s also important to note that ‘mobile’ user experience doesn’t just refer to the smartphone. Compatibility across platforms and devices is essential and there is an increasing uptake in MBaaS-hosted APIs that provide secure, robust and efficient data connections to web, IoT and many other data-dependant platforms.

The API ecosystem - be it for B2C, B2B or B2E - is expanding exponentially, powered by robust and highly scalable cloud-based MBaaS solutions. An example of this is in our work with the Met Office. We collaborated with them to engineer a highly scalable, purpose-built platform that allows their complex data to be served up wherever the public wants it.

Today that means a smartphone, but tomorrow it could be anything from your car to your home.

The power and the flexibility of MBaaS

Embrace a cloud-based MBaaS solution, and you get a range of powerful and flexible toys to play with. These include: 

And this isn’t an exhaustive list.

In a nutshell, even if cloud-based MBaaS solutions don’t excite your stakeholders, they do have the power to make them very happy from a business perspective. Leveraging the immediate availability of both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), for example, means rapid prototyping and deployment of these services, reducing costs and going a long way to mitigating project risk.

The result is more efficient project delivery and - by extension - happier senior stakeholders.

There is also the notion of agility to consider. Even short, sharp projects can pivot in new directions as unforeseen change or different requirements surface during the development process. Cloud-based MBaaS platforms give the architect and engineers broad scope to rapidly adjust as the solution evolves.

The added value of MBaaS

Besides being acutely flexible and capability-rich, many MBaaS solutions make use of a wide range of programming languages. Be it C#, Java, Python, Ruby and many others, your enterprise can make best use of the most appropriate language depending on the available resources and need.

This can help ‘lean up’ your teams, essential in the ever-evolving tech environment of today. By building on the expertise already within your organisation, you will not have to start from scratch - instead, you can be more precise in the specialist technical input you need to procure, and you will have an improved ability to choose the right technology for the problem at hand.

MBaaS in action

Here at TAB, we have led the end-to-end delivery of a broad span of intelligent products and services across an eclectic range of business sectors - working with large organisations on their most pressing business challenges. Many of these solutions have relied upon, or benefited from, the services provided by MBaaS - enabling us to meet unique client requirements with critical needs across both AWS and Azure cloud services.

Our experience in this area is broad and, when used in conjunction with our agnostic and lean development approach, has produced timely, robust, and acutely secure solutions. Most recently, our MBaaS architecture has delivered significant reductions in data transport latency for an existing legacy document distribution system for a global retailer.

At the time of writing, another of our MBaaS solutions, this time in the public transport sector, is in the final stages of transition from development to production. Here, though it was no small feat, we adapted a legacy business logic layer to a highly useable phone application, solving a laundry list of challenges along the way.

Recap

So there you have it - a primer on Mobile as a Backend Service. MBaaS can, and I would argue should, be a pivotal part of your mobile strategy, helping bring your business quickly and efficiently into the hands of mobile-enabled users.

It’s a flexible and powerful friend that, if designed correctly, will help keep your business lean, responsive, secure and able to offer modern services to your user base.

MBaaS enables low risk, low cost prototyping from which robust enterprise-grade systems can be developed and deployed. In addition to this, it also enables in-house developers to utilise existing language skill sets.

In an ever-changing world, MBaaS is one of the most sensible approaches to future-proofing your business. And you can rest easy knowing that no matter what surprises may be waiting down that winding and unpredictable tech and business road, the future is a lot more certain than it might otherwise be with an MBaaS on your side.

If you would like to learn more about MBaaS and how it could help your business, get in touch with us today