Enterprises have spent the last several years learning that the consumerization of IT is an unstoppable market force that ensures that employees will bring their favorite mobile devices and applications to work, no matter the draconian policies that are put in place to try to stop them.
Rather than waging a futile battle against the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, some savvy companies are making efforts to accommodate employees’ desires to use their favorite mobile devices at work.
Some enterprises are supporting approved lists of devices and software. Some are implementing security and network access policies that allow their employees to use their devices at the office while trying to minimize the risk of data loss from unauthorized network penetrations.
Some others have gone as far as to establish corporate app stores that allow employees to shop not only for approved apps that conform to company standard, but also public apps that boost productivity.
But enterprises need to do some research and planning before they take big steps such as establishing a BYOD policy, let alone creating a corporate app store.
Research firm Forrester has advised CIOs to “build a very deep marketing understanding of who your employees are and what they use technology for” before prioritizing their device and application investments. Gartner, meanwhile, has dubbed the troublesome trend of workers downloading apps from public app stores for business use as BYOA, or bring your own app.
“Smart people will find interesting ways of solving their own problems. We have 100,000-plus smart people at Intel,” CTO Dave Goldman told eWEEK. “They’re going to find ways of solving their own problems. We would rather they work with us than go around us.”
Intel is among the growing number of companies to offer not only a liberal BYOD policy—Intel’s extends to PCs and tablets, as well as to smartphones—but an enterprise application store to complement its BYOD policy, security efforts and bigger-picture goals of improving employee productivity and ultimately growing Intel’s business through IT.
Goldman says that Intel started out by developing apps for tasks such as booking a conference room—apps that, if they didn’t work so well, wouldn’t have any serious consequences. Today, Intel has more than 80 applications for various devices and has other mobile platforms “in the pipeline.”
“We want to make them work on handhelds, tablets and PCs, so that I can have the same user experience, no matter the device I’m working on,” Goldman said.
Intel’s policy is so liberal that despite offering a sanctioned store, it doesn’t prevent employees from also downloading apps from public stores if they choose to in the name of productivity
Gartner expects that as more companies adopt mobile device management (MDM), and more devices come online—which will inevitably draw more people to the Apple App Store, Google Play and other app stores—more enterprises will set up their own app stores. The firm forecasts that by 2017, 25 percent of enterprises will have a store for managing corporate-sanctioned apps on PCs and mobile devices.
Having an in-house app store not only offers a business greater control, in terms of greater security peace of mind over the applications that employees are bring in from the outside, but there also are potential cost benefits. Employers proactively offering an app can negotiate a better price for a bundle of licenses (a benefit that increases with the size of the company).
Enterprise App Stores Help Users and IT Get the Most from BYOD
In-house stores can also help to lighten IT’s load—instead of pushing out applications, employees can help themselves to what they need, which is something they understand best, anyway.
How to deploy an enterprise app store
An enterprise can support its own store or have its MDM vendor host one.
“Today, most MDM providers have a simple way of extending apps to mobile devices, usually through a basic agent on the device, but many are launching more sophisticated app stores that can host enterprise- and third-party apps to be accessed by smartphones, tablets and PCs,” Gartner said in a February report. “This fits in well with the software management that many MDM providers include in their tools.”
Gartner analyst Phillip Redman, a co-author on the report, told eWEEK that while app stores are still new for many companies, there are nonetheless some best practices emerging.
First, said Redman, “Start small. Don’t try to move every app and every user to this model right away. Second, keep it simple. If you have a limited number of apps—say, under 15—don’t get complex. It doesn’t have to have all the social components like the commercial apps stores. And third, use what you have. There are specialized vendors, but you may already have some capabilities with your end-point computing, MDM or mobile application management (MAM) vendor technology.”
Redman’s baby-steps advice is in keeping with the report’s suggestion that any enterprise app store investments made in 2013 be treated as “tactical.”
“Enterprise app store options are evolving rapidly and the solutions available today may have a short usable life,” the report advises.
“I agree with that statement,” Dan Maloney, global vice president of eCommerce Mobile and Cloud Sales at SAP, told eWEEK. “It’s early in the maturation cycle,” he said.
Vendors from all areas are coming to the space from all angles, “and not one of them is wrong.” That said, in two years’ time you could have a store focused on what turns out to be the wrong thing, “and then you’ve missed the boat.”
SAP includes the option of an enterprise application store as part of the Afaria mobility management platform that it offers to enterprise customers.
It also has a public store that customers can visit to find and try out the applications that SAP offers. It’s currently building a store for its own employees that Maloney says has been shaped by its experience with its public app store.
“So many of our internal groups—sales, for example—started loving what we were doing for our customers and said, ‘can we do this for us? We want some of these demo scenarios.'”
The internal store that it’s building, said Maloney, has been a decade-long activity that started with what SAP called a “software corner,” which was a place for its now well more than 50,000 employees to find applications that many of them needed.
Today it includes a mixture of applications from SAP and from outside developers. If there’s an application that’s popular with employees, but that SAP has chosen not to stock in its internal store, it will still include a listing for the application and a link to where employees can go to download it.
Enterprise App Stores Help Users and IT Get the Most from BYOD
Enterprise app stores are “not your traditional IT-type deployment where you have complete control. … It’s not IT’s store, per se, where they say, ‘Here are the 10 or 20 or 30 apps that you can get,'” said Maloney. “This is more like a structure to bring your own app, where everyone feels there’s more value in it because they start seeing it as part of their core processes.”
SAP’s store ties applications to social networks and allows users to leave comments. When there so many similar applications vying for a user’s attention, it’s valuable for them to be able to see what’s the most popular among their peers and perhaps maybe see which one is working well for a colleague in a similar position in another country, who a user wouldn’t otherwise communicate with.
Gartner also recommends including a place where individuals can share apps they recommend and have found particularly useful.
“I’ve had conversations with customers [a car manufacturer, for example] who are saying they need a branded store and … then as we start talking, very quickly they start thinking ahead and saying things like, ‘Can I put this kind of store into my car, to allow my customers—the buyers of my cars—to pull down apps?'” said Maloney, explaining how a dynamic app store is about so much more than safe downloads.
“It can enable commerce to happen. It starts as a tactical discussion, and once you start putting the pieces together and seeing where it can go, and how it can affect your customers and beyond, it morphs from applications to the discovery of commerce.”
Analysts agree that for an enterprise app store to be successful, employees need to buy into the idea and visit it often, which they’ll only do if it’s constantly being updated with both applications and information.
“You’d be surprised the types and quantity of apps you can offer,” said Gregg Ostrowski, senior director of enterprise developer partnerships at BlackBerry, which also hosts stores for its enterprise customers. “Think of how you use the PC. You have apps for news, intranet stuff for things like vacation requests and expenses, airline stuff. You can make apps available for each of those.”
Ideally, once the premise for an app exists, developers will compete to improve on it, ultimately benefiting users.
Tech IT and consultancy WiPro advises that a mobile enterprise app store needs to, in true BYOD fashion, merge enterprise-like attributes with consumer app store qualities such presales support, where relevant, and pricing discounts. But users should also have the ability to try an app before buying it, have access to social inputs and have the ability to search and easily discover options.
SAP’s Maloney seconds the need to make private stores as incredibly simple and well-designed as the other app stores that users are accustomed to.
“Apple and Google are a real pain in the butt,” Maloney offered wryly, suggesting that they make downloading apps so simple and pleasant that if enterprises want employees to use their in-house store, they need to compete with that top level of ease and sophistication.
“It’s all about simplifying the discovery and evaluation process,” Maloney said. “It’s all about bringing that simple consumer experience to the enterprise.”