Corporate App Stores: Why And Wherefore?

Corporate App Store

App stores are clearly a burgeoning trend in IT at the moment. In 2013 we learned from our own research that one in ten IT decision makers from large organisations were running a corporate app store. What’s more, Gartner has predicted that 1 in 4 enterprises will implement their own app store by 2017.

This trend is logical. Corporate app stores allow companies to ensure that applications are efficiently distributed, approved, tracked and managed. App stores help businesses to avoid organic increase in application ‘chaos’, thus helping to avoid issues with device performance, security and licensing.

The Case For Corporate App Stores

Over the years we’ve seen the rapid convergence of consumer and business computing. Workers have grown used to the model seen in Apple’s App Store, the Google Play store and the Microsoft App Store whereby users can quickly download any application they want to a variety of devices. Even non-technical board members commonly have a variety of work devices, including a tablet, phone, or laptop. The expectation that apps can be had ‘right here, right now’, exactly when they are needed, is driven from every level of the business.

Contrast this expectation with the traditional, yet tightly controlled IT model of rolling out apps ‘en masse’ ‘when we’re good and ready’, (with lead times of up to four months between the request for an app to be made available and its approved availability on the company systems). Such a system is slow, lacks agility-of-deployment-and-spend, and does little to empower the user or meet their increasingly ‘app store’-based expectations.

Unless IT provides users with the means to download what they want, when they want it, the danger is that users will go ‘off piste’, downloading unqualified applications to their personal devices, potentially putting valuable company data at risk. One solution is to combine the best of both worlds; the security and traceability of traditionally-provisioned apps, with the feeling that users can simply download “what they want, when they want it”.

The business case for app stores hinges on the rapid provision of easily consumable ‘chunks’ of technology that facilitate an agile and dynamic working environment. Moreover, implemented correctly, focusing on the provisioning, retiring and re-use of applications, this solution can dramatically reduce the IT spend on applications.

How Should Businesses Go About It?

It is clear that app store deployments require careful and up-front planning. Businesses need to be clear regarding the rationale behind their app store project, and plan carefully regarding approvals processes, and the range of destination device types/OSs. The process by which each application request is processed and then reclaimed, (potentially based on lack of usage), is also key to establish up front. Otherwise the same level of “application chaos” will result down the line.

There are currently reasonably limited commercial options for acquiring an app store framework. If you already have an existing intranet up-and-running, SharePoint of another intranet-style system can do the job. The new SCCM (12), for example, has a shopping cart feature, which can be used for this same purpose, whether you intend to ‘charge’ internally for use of your apps or not.

Since ‘convenience’ and ‘flexibility’ are the name of the game, businesses ideally need to package applications so that they will silently install in the one-click fashion that consumer-employees have become used to: No installation destination prompts, security prompts, or otherwise. However, before a company considers these tactical details of implementation, it is absolutely critical to undertake an up-front application rationalisation exercise.

There’s zero point in starting an app store project unless a business understands what applications it currently has, where, which it needs, how much they cost to support/license, which are critical, which duplicate functions, etc. This exercise is also critical to establishing a baseline by which businesses can measure improvements in application spend, deployment efficiency, etc. It makes sense for a business to include its employees in such an audit, in order to understand which apps they find really useful. As such, you can vet any external apps, and determine which you might allow ‘into the fold’.

Procurement, Licensing & Audit Reservations

Occasionally IT departments are reluctant to implement app stores, as they feel that it will create an audit and/or compliance risk. If the purchasing control moves away from IT procurement to the users, so the argument goes, it is harder to control. In fact, if implemented properly, a corporate app store can have exactly the opposite effect; freeing up IT time and ensuring more ‘granular’ and efficient spend.

Any level of application governance, which is recommended for all enterprises, should include usage monitoring of applications. Data collected from this process can drive incentives to rationalise the use of categories of “unused” or “barely used” applications from the estate. If applications can be delivered before your coffee gets cold, why can’t they be removed as quickly when you’ve finished using them? This paradigm of “usage when required” can significantly reduce IT spend on application licenses and enable a structured approach to ensuring compliance.

Similarly, when we consume applications differently, there will be a drive to purchase them differently. Business needs to drive this requirement from vendors, who have been traditionally reactive in this space. As a business if you chose to leverage a “concurrent” licensing model, you should be able to purchase your applications that way, or move to a competitor’s product.

Onward & Upwards

As app rationalisation/lifestyle specialists we have undertaken work in helping to enable various app store projects. Alongside employee empowerment, application rationalisation is, after all, both the path to, and the raison d’etre behind, corporate app store projects. Corporate app stores require much up-front work, but there is no doubt that they also have huge potential to empower flexibility, productivity and efficient app spend. Given the widespread benefits they can bring to businesses, I firmly believe that application stores should be considered a key part of every IT department’s toolbox.

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Simon Body is CTO at Camwood. He previously spent 15 years working in AstraZeneca, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, as well as various consultant groups. Throughout this career, Simon has been the architect of many large scale programs, developing new ways of working with BYO, App Stores, mobility, virtual desktops and cloud computing.