There’s no doubt about it, micro apps are on the rise. In the approximately two years since joining the DreamFactory team, I’d estimate I’ve conversed with more than one thousand companies about their API-based projects. These conversations provide a great opportunity to peer inside the IT operations of organizations large and small, not to mention pick up on emerging technology trends. Regarding the latter, over the course of the past year or so two trends have become strikingly clear: the first is that companies of all sizes are gravitating to identity and access management service provider Okta. Second, a titanic migration to Microsoft Azure is under way.
Speculative reasoning behind both of these trends is probably worth a blog post unto itself, however there is a third and arguably far more profound trend that could have major reverberations across the enterprise software industry: growing interest in micro apps.
What is a Micro App?
Techies are renowned (although reviled might be a better descriptor) for our ability to churn out new industry jargon. Therefore, it is entirely possible you’ve never heard of the term “micro app”. In a nutshell, a micro app is an application that does precisely what a particular employee or department requires. They perform custom and specific tasks without having to enter a monolith application. It typically consists of three components:
- An authentication layer that plugs into the organization’s identity and access management service provider (e.g. Okta, Auth0, Active Directory, etc.)
- A CRUD (create, read, update, delete) interface that interacts with a data source, typically a database, and one or more other available APIs hailing from SaaS, legacy, and homegrown applications, such as employee time tracking software.
- A notification layer that alerts one or more members of a designated team whenever a certain criteria has been met. One example of such a notification might be alerting a manager about an expense that requires approval.
Further, these applications are UI-responsive. This is paves the way for convenient interactions whether the employee is seated at the desk or walking through the airport with phone in hand. Also, interactions with micro apps tend to require less than one minute of an employee’s time. A typical interaction often initiating as a result of the employee being alerted to a pending task.
Why Is This Trend Important?
This trend towards micro apps seems to be driven from two ends of the software spectrum:
- Employees’ disdain for monolithic enterprise software. This has caused IT departments to consider alternative approaches to empowering employee productivity.
- Departments seem to finally be coming around to the facts. – Excel spreadsheets aren’t always an ideal solution for tracking company metrics.
This struggle to replace the timeless Excel-as-a-database solution was made apparent during a recent visit to one of our customers, a global chemical manufacturer. This particular company really seems to be on the forefront of micro app development. They use DreamFactory (more on this later) to build and manage a microapp generation framework. One of the first micro apps they created was for the network operations department. Company policy requires that network engineers formally sign in and out of the NOCs (network operations centers). For years this was done using an Excel Spreadsheet hosted on a network drive.
Finding a New Solution
Using a spreadsheet for this purpose is a simple yet painful solution. Data input wasn’t uniform, and network engineers often neglected to update the spreadsheet. This happens because it requires them to remember to open their laptop both upon entering and departing the facilities. Reporting was difficult and required manual effort (the manager’s background is after all in networking and not Excel wrangling). So upon learning of the micro app generation framework they quickly migrated to a simple mobile application. The app authenticates employees using Active Directory, and allows for NOC checkin and checkout with a push of a button.
The data is managed in a Microsoft SQL Server database, and a simple dashboard allows the manager to review weekly reports in an instant. This micro app is apparently working so well that the networking department is currently working on a similar solution for streamlining another aspect of their operations.
How DreamFactory Enables Micro App Development
DreamFactory is an iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) solution that can automate the generation of APIs. It does this for a wide variety of data sources, including databases such as Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, and MongoDB. Additionally, it supports automated API generation for file systems such as AWS S3 and SFTP servers. It can also handle e-mail delivery solutions such as Mailgun and SMTP, and can even convert an Excel spreadsheet into a JSON stream.
Further, DreamFactory supports a wide array of authentication solutions for restricting API access. Naturally API keys are supported. However, DreamFactory developers can optionally layer additional authentication atop the API infrastructure. You can choose from Active Directory, LDAP, Okta, AWS Cognito, Auth0, OpenID Connect, and many other authentication service providers.
DreamFactory auto-generates the API and authentication layer. Users can use API orchestration to weave responses from multiple APIs into a single output. Because of this, developers can focus the majority of their time and efforts on building responsive and snappy interfaces. Adding to the productivity are off-the-shelf UI libraries such as Tabulator (http://tabulator.info/). It integrates with DreamFactory APIs in literally minutes:
You can view a live demonstration of this interface at https://tabulator.demo.dreamfactory.com/.
DreamFactory’s Upcoming Micro App Generators
A forthcoming DreamFactory release will unveil a series of micro app generators that generate UIs for your authentication and data APIs. You’ll select the desired authentication service provider, choose your data set(s), and DreamFactory will generate a fully-functional and responsive CRUD interface. These capabilities will allow your team to deploy micro apps with a speed and agility previously impossible.
If you’d like to join the beta group that will have early access to these exciting new capabilities, or if you have questions regarding how micro apps can transform your organization, please e-mail us at [email protected].