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Central control over PCs gives IT organizations carte blanche to blast patches, antivirus updates and new applications, a practice that can make Monday mornings even more miserable as employees wonder where the heck the expense reporting app icon went.
If you expect to drag that model into the mobility age, think again. It's time to reset how we distribute and manage client applications -- think pull, not push. To that end, Gartner estimates that 25% of enterprises will have internal app stores by 2017, a surprisingly small percentage, in our view. Perhaps most IT teams figure, why bother when Apple, Google and Microsoft run app stores for free?
To that we say: Does your company want to reduce its number of unused software licenses and get lower prices through volume purchasing? Gain visibility into which apps company employees find most valuable? Consolidate distribution of multiple platforms -- iOS, Android, maybe even PC? Provide both public and custom private apps from a single distribution system? Integrate installation policies and recommendations with company directories and their predefined groups and policies? Improve engagement with business partners and customers via a branded app and content distribution portal?
Of course it does. And fortunately, building an app store isn't all that difficult thanks to software-as-a-service products that do most of the heavy lifting.
App stores aren't just about managing applications, says Genefa Murphy, director of mobile product management and user experience for HP Software. They're for brokering IT services and content. By offering users control and flexibility, app stores are a better fit with the bring-your-own-device ethos than with mobile device management, which Murphy says is often an all-or-nothing proposition that gives IT too much control over personal devices.
We agree. Don't make the mistake of thinking MDM takes the place of an app store. That's shortchanging not only users, but also the development effort that vendors, and maybe your company, are putting into mobile versions of enterprise apps. Three in four respondents to our InformationWeek Mobile Application Development Survey have already deployed native mobile apps or plan to by this summer, and the vast majority with existing mobile apps expect to build more in the coming year. Why make that investment then shortchange the distribution channel?
Here are six considerations when planning an app store. Find more detail in our full report.
>> Back-end integration: Just like in brick-and-mortar retailing, plenty of behind-the-scenes processes, analytics and management go into running a successful app store. One of the most important, and the major feature differentiating enterprise stores from their public counterparts, is integration with company directories as well as identity management and order processing/purchasing systems. An app store must be able to leverage existing user accounts, group definitions, job titles and organizational affiliations for building access controls, curated app recommendations and installation requirements.
>> Usage tracking: An important app store benefit is consolidated purchasing and software license management. Mark Sochan, CEO of Partnerpedia, which specializes in enterprise application marketplaces, says app store software must have usage tracking and license management features. The goal is to stop employees from buying single copies on their credit cards and instead get a volume discount wherever possible. The flip side of accurate tracking is avoiding overpaying for licenses your company doesn't use. Sure, mobile apps are much less expensive than their PC counterparts, but Sochan expects prices to rise, particularly for enterprise-specific apps -- where developers know buyers have deep pockets. Don't expect to pay $4.99 for mobile ERP.
>> Social elements: Ratings, comments and recommendations are now so familiar that they've become a baseline user expectation, Sochan says. Feedback from customers and engaged users familiar with a particular process is invaluable in helping developers isolate usage scenarios and the best ways to accomplish them with the fewest clicks. Make sure your store provides this visibility.
>> Deployment model: Unfortunately, the mechanics of setting up and managing app stores discourages many organizations from building custom mobile software. Fifty-five percent of those respondents to our Mobile App Development Survey developing or planning to develop browser-optimized custom mobile applications prefer the easy, familiar Web-based distribution model of browser-based apps over more-difficult-to-deploy native apps. This is where SaaS comes to the rescue. Murphy says that although HP offers both SaaS and on-premises app store software, the latter is of interest only to a subset of customers, typically those in highly regulated industries. John Herrema, senior VP of product management for Good Technology, adds that aside from the convenience and efficiency of SaaS, the model makes it much easier to offer custom apps to nonemployees.
>> Ongoing management: The main considerations in managing app stores are similar to those for PCs: selecting and configuring apps; building user profiles, roles and groups based on job category, position, organizational unit or location; defining policies for specific users, groups and apps; and (optionally) customizing the storefront. These considerations shouldn't be showstoppers.
>> User profiling and mapping: It's important to identify the target audience for each app deployed in your store, and this entails profiling along several dimensions: constituency (employees, business partners, customers); job classification (executives, customer support reps, marketing); organizational affiliation (sales, HR, logistics); client type (operating system and platform); and source (unmodified public app, customized third-party app, custom internal app). This last category is important because, as Herrema points out, if you're deploying a generic app, say a currency converter, it's inefficient to negotiate with the developer to license, repackage and redistribute it from your enterprise store. Just create a link to the public copy from within your store. Additionally, many app store services run their own app marketplaces to streamline distribution of generic apps under a common provisioning and billing umbrella.
Custom, branded app stores are a great way to build loyalty and brand identity with business partners and customers. And remember, all these app store benefits also apply to PC software distribution if you develop a universal store serving all devices and platforms.