Enterprise Application Store: There's one in your future

Creating the mobile enterprise is one of the biggest challenges facing IT organizations. The benefits of supporting mobile users and building mobile applications are numerous and include increased productivity and organization flexibility.

Applications that run on smartphones and tablets are a key component of a mobile enterprise. One of the key parts in managing and securing apps is an Enterprise App Store (EAS). An EAS is basically the same as a public app store such as Apple's App Store or Google's Marketplace. It is a place where employees can go and get the latest and greatest apps they need. It also provides a way for IT to gain control over apps.

Mobile apps can be grouped into two categories. The first is generic apps created for the consumer market or generic enterprise apps created by vendors such as SAP, Salesforce, Oracle and Google for enterprises. These apps are not custom built or customized for the enterprise. They range from apps from airlines that help the traveling employee to apps that access SaaS applications.

The second category is custom apps developed for a particular enterprise. Enterprises create custom apps to support their particular business needs and to create a competitive advantage. Custom apps can be broken down into two groups. First are apps developed by vendors for a wide range of enterprises that are then customized for a particular enterprise. A company is interested in an app from Oracle but needs to modify it to fit the business's particular needs.

Then there are custom apps just for the enterprise. One example is adapting an existing business application to a mobile device. The smaller screen size means a desktop application needs to be broken up into smaller chunks and focus on displaying just the key information. The application may be broken into multiple apps with each app design for a different group within the business. The goal is to make complex and PC oriented applications work on mobile devices.

On the more complex end of the spectrum, entirely new apps are being created for the mobile environment. A good example is an app Daimler Trucks North America developed for their sales force. Daimler's truck are all custom built for an individual buyer. They built an app that allows the sales person to use a tablet to build the entire truck with the customer as they walk around the showroom or at the customer's site. Instead of looking at a truck and then going back to a desktop computer in a room and building a truck, the sales person can more easily interact with the customer. Businesses will increasingly find good reasons for developing their owns apps for their employees, business partners and customers.

The mobile app developer's dilemma: How to get paid without annoying users

Enterprises will develop a slew of apps, both generic and custom, that their employees depend on. This creates a problem. Enterprises need to figure out how they will distribute, secure and control the apps their employees use. This is not an issue that can be put on the back burner, it needs to be done before the apps get out of control. The key to solving this problem is an EAS.

Why have an EAS

There are several good reasons for an enterprise to have its own app store. First is to control who has access to the app. Many apps need to be limited to just employees or a select group of employees. An app built for senior management that shows the performance of the entire enterprise needs to be tightly controlled. An app for the sales force needs to be limited to reduce the risk of leaking competitive information. Even apps from outside vendors that have been customized need to be controlled. Only enterprises that have their own EAS can control who gets the app.

The next reason is that enterprises need to control what employees put on their smartphones. When an enterprise has its own EAS it can direct employees to get all their apps from the EAS. This is important from a security point of view and makes sure employees stay compliant with any rules or regulations. Public apps, such as an airline app that helps a traveling employee or a common one such as weather, can be included in the EAS.

Having the employee go through the EAS does not mean the EAS has to host all the apps the employees need. The EAS can also act as a pass through to the public app store. Going through the EAS has several advantages. It allows IT to check out the app and make sure it is safe. Next it controls what is available, making sure something that could embarrass the enterprise or cause compliance problems doesn't end up on a company-owned device. The company can also reduce the cost of apps by negotiating volume discounts for popular apps.

Another big advantage of an EAS is that it provides a platform to get the latest and greatest version of an app out to the employees. IT was able to make sure the employee's PC has the latest version by controlling the PC's image. This model doesn't work with mobile devices, especially if the enterprise allows employees to bring their own device (BYOD) instead of using a corporate issued device.

BYOD: there is no stopping employees' devices on your network

Smartphones are highly personalized, there is no one common image or set of apps, making pushing a common image down a bad solution. Also, pushing an image down can cause additional problems. If the push comes at a bad time it can slow down the device or run up cellular charges. An EAS allows for a better model. The employee pulls the apps down from the EAS when convenient or when they are using the Wi-Fi network.

An EAS also leads to a better experience for the employee. Telling the employee to go to a public app store can be a nightmare. There are millions of apps and the employee has to know the right key word to quickly find the right one. An EAS leads to a clutter-free experience.

An EAS allows the enterprise to avoid having to go through Apple's or Google's review process. Apple's iOS Enterprise License Agreement can be complicated to comply with, making it difficult to roll out new apps or versions.

Building an EAS

There are many vendors competing to help enterprises build an EAS. Solutions come in two basic forms, either a software/hardware solution or a service/outsourcing solution. The first category comes from two different sets of vendors. First are vendors that provide the software and tools that help enterprises build their own storefront. Their solutions range from providing tools to build key parts of the EAS to providing a more complete software solution. They differentiate themselves from Mobil Device Management (MDM) vendors by calling their solutions Mobile Application Management (MAM) solutions. Examples of vendors providing this class of solutions include AppCentral, Apperian, Mocana and Nukona.

The second category of do-it-yourself vendors include support for an EAS in their Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution. They can provide a more complete solution especially if they have agents on the device that can perform the installation functions. MDM vendors also provide policy based management and a security framework. Vendors that provide this class of solution include Good Technology, McAfee, MobileIron, Sybase/SAP and Zenprise.

If you don't want to build or run it yourself, you can always outsource your EAS to a vendor that will build and run your EAS for you. One example is Verizon's Wireless Private Applications Store for Business. Some MDM vendors are also providing into this option.

Layland is head of Layland Consulting. He can be reached at robin@layland.com.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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