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Retooling App Stores for the Enterprise

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Posted April 11, 2012 By Carl Weinschenk     Feedback

Mobile application stores like Apple's App Store and The Google Play Store (formerly the Android Market) are wildly popular with consumers, but do they meet the needs of enterprises? Not really, say experts.

Consumer-oriented application storefronts like The Google Play Store (the new name of the Android Market) and Apple’s App Store offer what they call enterprise-grade applications. Yet they fall short – at least in the eyes of enterprises -- in several key respects:

  • Apps generally don’t reach the “shelves” quickly enough
  • Billing procedures are not sophisticated enough to satisfy national and multi-national customers
  • Security may be inadequate
  • The availability of consulting services, such as helping enterprises integrate apps deeply into back-end systems, may be limited or absent

Put simply, a consumer marketplace is built for consumers. Slapping an enterprise label on top of the products and the mechanisms used to distribute and support them doesn’t change how useful or attractive they are to big corporations.

Enterprise app stores can do a number of things that their consumer cousins can’t. Perhaps most obviously, the BYOD (bring your own device) trend means many workforces will use devices built on multiple operating systems. While some consumer app stores are ecumenical and carry apps that use different OSes, the main players are focused on a single OS. In contrast, an enterprise app store can include all the operating systems that are used by the workforce.

Another area in which consumer app stores fall short is apps management. John Dasher, vice president for Products & Marketing for AppCentral, a mobile application management firm, said consumer app stores are not equipped to handle challenges that unique to the enterprise environment. He posed some typical enterprise issues: “How do I do updates? How do I get ratings? Assess feedback? Make an app available to sales but not to HR, or vice versa? How do I deal with employees leaving?”

App Store Evolution

The need for enterprise app stores is clear. It also is clear these entities are evolving quickly. They are no longer intra-organization affairs. It is increasingly clear that partners, OEMs, corporate clients and other groups tightly tied to the organization can benefit from using the same custom apps. Dasher shorthanded the change by noting that enterprise app stores now go beyond companies’ Active Directory or LDAP servers.

A second – and even more interesting – change is that enterprise app stores are no longer solely aimed at the mobile workforce. Increasingly, organizations are distributing applications to both mobile and desktop users. “In the SAP Store we have created verticalized departments, so to speak, that have the mobile apps that serve the wireless world, the cloud apps and core apps such as ERP suites that generally are used in desktop environments,” said Usman Sheikh, vice president of the Sybase EcoHub.

Indeed, a view is beginning to emerge of enterprise app stores as a touch point to organize the increasingly scattered and diffuse world of enterprise communications.

On the mobile front, some see mobile device management (MDM) as a way to tie together all the strings of managing a highly decentralized device fleet. It can be a limited and heavy-handed approach, however.

“[MDM] does have a place, but it is more of an inhibitor in the BYOD world because of its heavy way of controlling devices,” said Sam Liu, vice president of marketing for Partnerpedia, a firm that provides enterprise app stores and marketplace solutions. “Most users don’t want MDM. As a result the spotlight is on enterprise app stores as a universal approach to deal with those situations. They provide some level of control, but give users flexibility and choice so that they do not feel totally controlled. It’s less intrusive.”

To Dasher, meeting the BYOD challenge is a two-step process. MDM is employed for basic tasks such as securing devices and wiping data from those that go missing, while offering custom apps that work across OS platforms is key to drawing more productivity out of devices. This is where an enterprise market thrives.

Enterprise app stores are fundamentally different than the consumer app stores which they resemble in some ways. They have huge potential to help organizations better leverage mobile devices in the workplace – both those owned by employees and “corporate-liable” – and to build bridges across the wired and wireless infrastructures.

Carl Weinschenk is a freelance writer and the senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. His work appears frequently at IT Business Edge and other QuinStreet sites. He publishes his own site, The Daily Music Break.

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