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The Rise of the Enterprise App

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In 1993, a friend and myself sat in our respective apartments in Boston MA and started a company making application software that used this thing called the Internet for collaboration.

Three years later we sold the company and three years after that the market for new start ups writing and developing applications for the enterprise pretty much dried up. The incumbent software vendors to the enterprise wiped out innovation by zeroing any efforts to expand the corporate desktop by saying it's "a free part of the ecosystem". The smart money shifted from the enterprise to the consumer which was easier, more financially rewarding and was not strangled by the bureaucratic nightmare that filled the innovation void in the enterprise space.

Finally, after nearly 10 years, the poor beleaguered employee, confused over why his personal consumer experience was so much better than the dusty corporate one, decided enough was enough. After all, his personal smartphone, tablet and web-based CRM tool didn't cost the equivalent of the national debt of a medium sized nation and it worked well enough. The app was back.

In the past, the buyer was the IT guy, the gatekeeper and innovator all rolled into one. However things have changed. It's now the end user who brings the function in. The decision making unit is splintered, IT is outnumbered and in many cases has retreated to being a point of compliance and risk management.

Before we pine for the past, the benefits of this new approach are clear. It's sweeping away an unsustainable (unless you are a vendor or consultant) business model, which most companies simply can't afford that was allowed to proliferate for too long. Applications are now many and varied. They provide a utility which solves a task, be it time management like PayMo; personal cloud storage like ZettaBox, or Microsoft app rental from the likes of Nivio. There is a raft of new companies finally innovating again, competing on a level playing field for the enterprise dollar.

That level playing field comes from the great leveler - the "cloud" - in the shape of the Internet and technologies like ASP.NET, Java and HTML5, which have made delivery to the enterprise possible. These innovators had to work outside the restrictions laid down by IT. As I know only too well, small companies don't have the time or the deep pockets to fight a prolonged war with a funded incumbent. The inroads have been truly remarkable and the level of excitement is tangible. However, the current "in the cloud, don't care where" approach can be too much for many and rightly so. If you've ever had to explain to an auditor about data sovereignty or where a service is held, you'll know what I mean. After all, accountants are not known for their sense of adventure.

But the idea that this current wave of innovation will dry up because you can't conquer the enterprise desktop using the Internet, again forgets that innovation begets innovation. New delivery platforms are available that not only provide the elastic flexibility that developers need, but through network virtualisation can meet the demands of the enterprise for security and data compliance. The app is most definitely back and this is only the beginning.