Enterprise App Stores for Mobile: Prepare for the Grand Opening

With more smartphone users in the enterprise and email access a fairly standard application, many users are interested in using mobile versions of corporate applications.  Now that corporations are starting to develop more mobile applications, how do they distribute them to their users?  What about managing the applications (updates, decommissioning, etc.)?  The same would apply to media tablets, since typically their OS is derived from smartphones.

The answer in the mobile world: there’s an app store for that.  Application stores for smartphones have become very popular with consumers.  Gartner estimates that there were 8.2 billion downloads in 2010.  Juniper Research believes that there will be 25 billion downloads by 2015 and ABI Research is predicting that there will be 44 billion downloads by 2016.  A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real downloads.

However, there are a number of challenges with public app stores for enterprises:

  • There is no ‘private partition’ to put applications specifically developed for only your company’s use.  Once it’s there, it’s there for everyone.  Apple doesn’t seem to be too interested in offering this feature, and it remains to be seen if others will implement this capability.
  • Even if they did, do you want to send your employees to multiple app stores?  Would you have to put your Android app in Android Market, Amazon Appstore for Android, AndAppStore, or many of the multi-platform app stores like GetJar and Handago so your uses will find it in their favorite place?
  • There are a dizzying array of public apps and app stores which makes it difficult for enterprise users to find the useful ones.  Distimo, a mobile applications store analytics firm based in The Netherlands, lists over 50 app stores containing hundreds of thousands of applications.  Although there are some very useful ones for business productivity, wading through them can be exhausting and, for fee-based apps, expensive. Even at the low price of $2.99 a pop, you could evaluate so many apps that you might have to skip Starbucks for the week.

A new product to solve these problems is known as an enterprise app store or private app store.  It provides a centralized application clearing house for both enterprise-specific and recommended apps from public app stores.  These products can also manage the applications: who can have access, manage updates, etc.  Forrester research expects 10% of enterprises will open a private app store in 2011.  As you can see, it is a emerging area but the list of offerings is growing.

Enterprise app store products seem to be originating from two areas:

  • Pure Play – These are companies that offer a storefront experience similar to a consumer app store.  Cloud/SaaS-based solutions reign supreme for this group.  Examples of products include Apperian EASE, Ondeego AppCentral, and Partnerpedia Enterprise App Store for Corporate IT.
  • Mobile Device Management Products – Their main focus is to secure and manage mobile devices, with many of them offering support for multiple mobile OS platforms.  Many have the ability to push out mobile applications.  These capabilities are morphing into more like a consumer mobile app store experience.  Some companies offering products in this space are Accenture (Mobile Application and Device Management), AirWatch (Enterprise App Catalog), Fiberlink (MaaS360), Sybase (Afaria), and Zenprise (Enterprise App Store).

Some of the capabilities that you should explore about enterprise app store offerings include:

  • A centralized ‘storefront’ for all mobile apps.
    • Central repository for enterprise-developed mobile applications.
    • A window into recommended apps in commercial app stores.
  • The mobile OS platforms supported – Most start out with one or two, with the promise of more to come.
  • App store application – Do the offer native app for the store, a browser-based version, or both?
  • Administrative capabilities – Can you allow only certain groups to see and download selected app categories or individual applications?  For example, you may want a select group of individuals to download an executive dashboard application.  By the same token, the manufacturing community may not want to wade through a number of marketing-related applications.
  • Integration with your authentication system – integration with your AD schema/groups.
  • Application management – The ability to maintain versions, decommission applications, etc.
  • Support for native features – e.g., the ability to leverage iOS notification services for updates.
  • Built-in workflow for application publishing approval process.
  • Cloud/SaaS-based model or on-premise solution.
  • Reporting functions – problem reporting, statistical information (number of applications downloaded, etc.), inventory, etc.
  • Features that users have come to expect from consumer app stores – search, reviews/ratings (although the truth may hurt), include associated pictures, descriptions, even audio or video files, etc.
  • Billing models – Costs per user or per device.

As mobile enterprise apps stores take off, other platforms may also leverage this model.  Apple has already started down this road with the Mac App Store.

With the demand for more mobile applications from users, it seems like enterprise app stores have the potential to provide a win-win for many businesses.  Just save me a spot in line at the grand opening.

Explore posts in the same categories: Mobile Applications, mobile thick client

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One Comment on “Enterprise App Stores for Mobile: Prepare for the Grand Opening”

  1. This is a good list of issues to consider. A few more things to consider relate to features for enterprise application developers:

    (1) SDK Availability. Is there an SDK available that extends the platform features? For example, an app developer needs authentication, authorization, and the ability to check the version of the app that is running, with the option of “self updating”. Also, does the system provide integrated reporting/tracking from the app level.

    (2) App Templates and Libraries. Are there “ready to run” sample applications, and templates to build on? On of the challenges is how to get started, and apps such as video push, PDF file push, corporate directory, and other apps can be very helpful in getting you going.

    Systems like Apperian EASE (www.apperian.com/ease) are more focused on “applications” and developers, and the user (role based), rather than “devices” which are typically the focus of MDM systems.

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