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Enterprise App Stores: Give Employees the Bling Without the Sting

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The "consumerisation of IT" movement is exploding - fueled by the rising expectations of employees who want access to the same types of technology at work as they get at home. We're in the early, 'wild west' days of this trend, however, which is worrying many IT professionals who are concerned, among other things, about costs and the loss of control over IT assets.

Nowhere do the hopes and fears associated with consumerisation of IT come into clearer focus than in the app store. Apps make the world go 'round. "There's an app for that" has become the motto for every aspect of waking and sleeping life. And enterprise apps run our businesses.

The app store - iTunes, Google Play, Windows - is emblematic of the ease with which consumers have been enabled to quickly find, download and implement an app to accomplish a goal or task. The ease and ubiquity of the consumer app store provides a stark - and often frustrating - contrast for employees in enterprises, who usually are required to follow a slow and complex IT request process just find and get enterprise apps needed to do their jobs.

The Sting

With everyone from the CEO on down expecting IT Management to deliver a more consumer-like experience to employees, companies are increasingly rolling out enterprise app stores to employees - to make it easier and more intuitive to find and download business apps sanctioned by the company. But companies have a lot more to consider if they're going to move forward with an enterprise app store.

Consider the following:

  • Cost: Most consumer apps are free or cost about a pound. Enterprise apps can cost hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds per user. How do you contain costs? What do you do if a manager needs to approve an expenditure before an app can be downloaded? How does the cost get tracked back to the appropriate office or department?
  • Complexity: Consumer apps are designed around the devices that will be downloading them. So you know an iTunes app will work on your iPhone. But employees have apps running on multiple devices - (desktops, laptops, mobile devices, in SaaS or virtual environments, etc.). The enterprise app store needs to be a lot smarter to get the right app to the right device so that it will work.
  • Environments: Consumer app stores also only need to contend with one or so operating systems - IOS 6, Android 4.2. Most companies run in complex environments - Windows, virtualised environments, private and or public clouds, SaaS. How does the app store know who the user is and what that user needs?
  • Compliance: When you pay for an app and download it in iTunes - as long as you don't try and hack into the app and resell it - it's hard to fall out of compliance. Generally you have rights to use the app perpetually, and you have access to upgrades when they come out. But businesses generally buy licenses in bulk for groups of users - and the terms of how those licenses get deployed and used are complex. How can an iTunes-like app store manage that complexity?
  • Managing the Software License Lifecycle: Consumer apps are fungible... you can forget about them or delete them without a meaningful economic downside. But because of the cost and complexity of implementing enterprise apps - they have to be kept track of, used, and re-used. If the employee who downloaded an app leaves the company - what do you do with that license? If the employee doesn't use the app she downloaded, how do you return it to the license pool so the investment isn't wasted?

The Bling

Given how expensive enterprise software is, failure to consider all of the above issues can create an unbearable pain for companies trying to implement enterprise app stores. So how can companies deliver the "bling" without the "sting?"

Companies need to think about Application Usage Management as an overall strategy to maximize the value of their software assets across the entire license lifecycle. This includes implementing an enterprise app store environment that is tightly integrated with organizations' essential Software License Optimization and Application Readiness systems. These back office systems are implemented to ensure companies derive the most value and efficiency from their software licenses - by ensuring continual software license compliance, optimization and by providing automated application migration, compatibility testing, packaging and deployment capabilities.

Smart companies have already implemented these systems to manage the software license lifecycle. So finding an enterprise app store that is tightly integrated into those systems makes sense. According to Gartner:

"Software asset managers lower administration overhead and drive accountability and efficiency through automation... Enterprise app stores can also lower application adoption barriers by reducing the friction involved in finding, sourcing, installing and updating an application... Where a new app store is required, integrate it with internal software asset management and IT procurement systems."*

Investing in an enterprise app store that is tightly integrated on the back end with these systems will provide the familiar, intuitive, iTunes-like experience employees want when accessing the enterprise apps they need to do their jobs. But doing so will also provide CIOs, CFOs and CEOs the confidence of knowing that the organization's strategic software assets are still being managed cost effectively and efficiently.

*Gartner, Inc., Enterprise App Stores Reduce Risk and Improve Business Results, Ian Finley, Feburary 1, 2012.