As part of the larger consumerisation trend, the movement towards bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is forcing IT departments to look for new ways of managing mobile computers and supporting business systems on a wider set of platforms.
Take this together with a growing preference among consumers for the app store model, and you can see why many organisations are having a close look at the new enterprise app store (EAS) model as a way of serving up a large number of applications to an employee base running a variety of devices.
It’s been clear for quite some time that some kind of platform is needed for wide-scale deployment of mobile software in an enterprise.
It’s relatively easy to manage the initial deployment of a single application, and the first users are eager to download the software.
But over time, users lose track of versions and fail to install upgrades. As soon as the company wants to deploy other mobile applications, the task of managing the software becomes complicated.
While mobile device management (MDM) platforms or mobile application management (MAM) systems have been used in the past to solve these problems, the app store model offers greater flexibility in supporting a variety of devices and software.
Vishal Jain, mobile services analyst at 451 Research, says that 43.5 per cent of enterprises it surveyed were deploying a corporate app store, and a segment of about a dozen vendors is developing around the approach.
Gartner has placed EAS at number five on its list of the top 10 global IT trends for 2012.
EAS of deployment
The app store model, invented by Apple as a way of distributing applications, lets subscribers browse a catalogue of applications and download the ones they want.
Download and installation are easy, as is the payment process.
Apple’s original App Store was released in 2008 as a modified version of iTunes. Since then, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and other vendors have developed their own app stores and millions of applications have been deployed.
App stores allow users to download off-the-shelf business applications, but consumer app stores don’t work well for enterprises, since IT departments can’t control the software, which might contain malware that threatens other business applications running on the device or that reads company-sensitive information.
There’s also no way, using a standard consumer model, for companies to buy site licenses and track compliance. Moreover, a public app store isn’t a suitable channel for delivering custom software to a closed population.
To address these problems, several vendors (including Apple) have developed a similar model to help companies manage software for internal business users.
Instead of having workers pay for each download, enterprise app stores check user profiles for permissions to download applications, and verify compliance with company-wide license agreements; they might also provide variations on software versions depending on who the user is.
Sales managers could get a different version of an application than sales reps, for example.
As the market for enterprise app stores has grown, so has the variety of offerings. The best ones support different devices, providing services for Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Windows mobiles.
Leading systems also manage all the applications you might need: those developed in house, those purchased under a company-wide license, and those available to the general public.
The advantage of offering public applications through an enterprise app store is that a company can retain tight control over what goes on devices by restricting the set of applications available to those that have been vetted by the IT department.
Organisations can set up and operate their own enterprise app stores either in house, by buying a platform which they customise or by subscribing to a cloud service which they can configure to offer a unique set of applications serving a limited user population.
Strategy before silo
Something to avoid when setting up an enterprise app store is the silo trap.
If a particular business unit is the first to express a need for mobile application management, the IT department might select an enterprise app store based on the needs of that business unit.