Make Room for the Enterprise App Store

Mobile devices and applications are having an enormous impact on enterprises. What steps can businesses take to better manage mobile applications and develop their own versions of enterprise app stores?

The skyrocketing popularity of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets has on one hand energized users, but on the other hand, it has caused IT and business leaders and CIOs to scramble to support these new clients productively and safely.

In order to explore how enterprise app stores are part of the equation for better mobile management and overall mobility-enabled work success, we examine the trends driving enterprise mobility with a principal analyst from Forrester Research. Then we’ll hear from Partnerpedia on how enterprise app stores can be added to the usual mix of IT applications delivery and management strategies.

The app store trends panel consists of John McCarthy, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research; and Sam Liu, vice president of marketing at Partnerpedia. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Listen to the podcast (25:27 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Dana Gardner: How profound is the shift that we’re in? Is this iterative, or are we in a real sea change?

John McCarthy: It’s definitely the latter. We’re really at this rare moment in time for the technology sector, whether you’re talking about vendors, end-users, or CIOs who are trying to manage all this. It’s not just mobile. It’s not just cloud. Software as a Service (SaaS), smart computing, machine to machine, analytics, social — all these things are spinning up together to create an accelerating array of change in the marketplace.

Gardner: You mentioned cloud and SaaS. It seems to me that the mobility issue is almost accelerated in a virtuous cycle. That is to say, the more mobility, the more reliance on cloud, the richer and safer it is. The more confidence people have in cloud, the more they can do with their mobility.

McCarthy: These things are feeding off of each other. As soon as I start talking about deploying mobile, and increasingly, it’s not just deploying mobile to my employees, but deploying mobile to my partners and customers, whether it’s B2B or B2C, I am talking about a much broader network problem.

So the network architectures of the cloud solutions are becoming almost synonymous with mobile solutions. So the two innovation cycles are intersecting and feeding off of each other.

Gardner: What is it now that organizations need to do to get their very necessary mission-critical information out to these mobile devices? How does it compare to the past?

McCarthy: The analogy that I draw, when I have discussions with clients now, is that it’s like being the captain of the Titanic, if you’re the CIO. Everybody is focusing on those things that they see above the waterline — how am I going to design these applications and how am I going to deliver them? There’s this whole debate of whether I need to go native, hybrid, or browser-based.

But below the waterline is a huge broader part of the iceberg — how am I going to manage these applications, how do I need to rethink my security architecture, is SOA really going to be enough for the level of integration that I need? The skill sets that I need as an IT shop are very different in this world?

We are working from a current research point of view that mobile and all these other things that are being bundled up with it that we just talked about are going to drive probably an order of magnitude bigger shift in IT and the CIO’s organization than the PC did 20 years ago.

It’s the PC shift on steroids that we are going to be looking at over the next three to five years as mobile completely enables companies to rethink their business processes, and that drives rethinking of their technology architectures, management, and skill sets underneath that.

Gardner: Sam Liu, why does the app store model have applicability to the enterprise?

Sam Liu: [The app store model] is setting the bar in terms of the user experience in the enterprise, the fact that people who are both consumers and employees of companies are essentially buying the devices, bringing them into the workplace, and forcing the issue onto IT.

You have the mobile professionals and power users of the company taking what they’ve experienced in the consumer role and requesting a similar experience in the enterprise. The challenge for IT is that this opens up a whole new can of worms for them in terms of policies, procedures, security, and control.

If you look back maybe 15, even 10 years ago, a mobile device was somewhat of a luxury, used by a few people in the company for primarily email. Most of the time, it was a BlackBerry device. We’ve gone from a singular device and a singular application environment to this perfect storm of a combination of a multitude of devices, platforms, and apps, popularized by the consumer world. That’s a big challenge for IT.

Gardner: John, how confident are you that the app store is going to be an integral part of what the enterprise does vis-a-vis mobility?

McCarthy: Clearly the notion of an app store is an interface to this technology. The rate of change and the complexity of this environment basically says that I need more of a self-service module. I can’t go out there and hand-provision these applications like I did in the PC world.

Because people have become so accustomed to this app store model, as Sam just pointed out, from a consumer adoption point of view, that user interface paradigm is going to continue over. I think what’s going to happen is that, behind the scenes, the enterprise app store functionality, from a management point of view, will be much richer over time, and that’s where the divergence is going to be.

But as an interface and a way to get people the information and applications, there’s one school of thought that says these app stores will replace the old intranet as the paradigm for not only getting apps, but actually subscribing to information.

Using technologies like Flipboard where you subscribe to the travel policy and you ultimately get the most updated version of that. That it’s going to evolve pretty dramatically from where we are today. It’s going to be the user interface paradigm to all this management capability that IT will use, but also these additional capabilities that the end-user — whether that’s customer, employee, or partner — will access.

Liu: I agree with John on the point about the app store becoming the sort of mobile intranet paradigm. Today, I’m not seeing any corporate intranet that work even halfway decent on a mobile device. So if you extend the concept of an app to content, information, anything that is relevant in a corporation, the app store paradigm is a very nice interface and a very effective delivery model for a mobile intranet, for that matter.

McCarthy: The other thing Sam is that, if you think about these apps, they’re called apps, because they are not full-fledged applications. They’re much simpler and task-oriented, so there’s going to be more of them to manage.

The app intensity of the organization is going to grow geometrically, as we start to unbundle these big complex systems like SAP and Office and provide them in more digestible and more segmented experiences. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all world. The homogeneity of these applications and the PC as the end-user device is blowing apart as we speak.

Gardner: What is it that people need to do? Should they build, buy, partner? How are you seeing it manifest in the market?

Liu: You’re going to see a range of approaches. We’ve been talking to about a dozen or so enterprise IT organizations. The majority of them are in the early stages of trying to figure this out. They see the momentum coming. They’re not going to be able to stop it, and so they’re trying to figure out the right approach to dealing with all this multitude of devices and applications.

In most cases, they seem to be prompted by the influx of tablets and smartphones, but many of them are thinking beyond that. They’re actually planning ahead. They’re thinking about devices in general. It could be a mobile device or it could be even a desktop or a stationary endpoint. So they’re looking beyond the immediate issues.

Our advice to them is, look, figure out your near term and long-term objectives, and then scope a pilot accordingly. Start with a clear definition of what you’re trying to accomplish from a business standpoint, the objectives and the metrics, and then go about it that way. Identify the most pressing needs in terms of the users, apps, and devices and define your first project around that, so you can get a handle around what’s feasible and what’s not.

One of the challenges is that clearly the technology has changed a lot, but also just the lifecycle of hardware and software. It used to be anywhere between three to five years that IT could depend on. Now, you’re looking at one year for changes of the devices, platforms, and new apps. That rate of change is also a big challenge for them.

McCarthy: There are two things happening in parallel.

People are moving out of the renegade pilot phase, and as Sam laid out, trying to take an architected approach. How do we holistically look at what our strategy is around mobile? Not just developing the apps, but how are we going to manage the apps? How are we going to manage the fact that different constituents, both internal and external, need different amounts of functionality and different amounts of security is driving it?

The other thing that we’re seeing happening is, companies are now saying, “Oh my God, how am I going to manage the lifecycle of these apps? It’s relatively cheap and easy to build them, but how do I keep up with the endless releases that are going on and the operating system wars on these devices?” Apple and Google are doing four operating system releases a year that you need to manage to make sure your apps still runs.

Then there is the whole point, particularly in the customer-facing space, of how do I update my app so that it stays competitive, and we can really use that system of engagement with our customers to build that ongoing communication, which every company wants to get with their customers?

What we are seeing is that people are starting to look at how to manage the lifecycle of these apps and then, in parallel to that, I need to figure out what are my policies going to be and then how do I enforce or instantiate those policies That’s where people are turning to these enterprise app stores from the vendors.

It’s less of a selling and more of a management prerogative and design point. Then, of course, there is the complexity of the device environment.

Liu: The enterprise app store, is all about the app, how to procure and vet the app, so to ensure security and integrity, as well as distribute it to users, and controlling which users can have access to which apps. Also, it’s enforcing policies, such as mandatory installs and updates of versions. Those are overall key elements of enterprise app store.

That said, it’s not the end-all be-all. Enterprise app lifecycle management is much more than that. It’s another issues, from tools to the actual hardware device controls, but certainly when it comes to apps and managing apps on mobile devices, mobile users, the enterprise app store is a big component of that.

Dana Gardner

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: The Open Group sponsored this podcast.

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