Why would enterprise apps be non-starters (for now)
Apps are the IN thing: here and now. Apple’s “There is an app for that” commercial says it all about the ubiquitousness of apps. With the huge success of apps stores for consumers, one idea that every app store is mulling around is extending the “app store” concept to enterprises.
Consumers love Apps because it allows them to find, purchase, deploy, use and maintain applications in an amazingly easy way. And because the consumers are searching and buying, they’re likely to frequently use and buy more applications. The concept has been wildly successful for Apple, and now it’s being extended to people with other brands of smartphones. This success has raised an obvious question from consumers who are also users of enterprise software: Why can’t it be this easy at work?
Most organizations have more applications than they know what to do with. Wouldn’t this conceptual model help us organize, deploy and maintain apps more easily? And wouldn’t being able to track downloads and usage help us plan better for the apps in which we should invest more, perhaps even the ones we should be sunsetting? It’s a very compelling idea, one that software vendors and service providers are thinking about to help sell more software and/or services.
However, the field realities for a consumer versus enterprise app store are vastly different. There are a few hurdles that must be overcome to make this idea work which stem from the differences between how the consumer app-store model works and the reality of enterprise apps for most organizations:
The issue of Homogeneity versus Heterogeneity
Much of consumer app popularity is possible because one company (Android, Apple, Ovi, RIM) controls just about every aspect, except for the actual code development. Unfortunately, enterprise software doesn’t work that way — companies have a wide variety of platforms and technologies underpinning their app portfolios. The first hurdle is to try to replicate the app-store usability in a heterogeneous environment without breaking the bank on development and integration costs. It would also require a level of cooperation between vendors that, to say the least, has been difficult to achieve.
Independent versus Integrated Apps
While there is no necessity what so ever to integrate apps for consumer use (why to integrate Calorie Count with TV times?), in an enterprise environment, it is very important to combine apps much the same way as different parts of an ERP chain. So the app store must accommodate the need for information sharing across discrete applications and maintain it seamlessly for end users. Maintaining integrations between enterprise apps is hard enough when IT controls the release cycles.
How to aggregate and deploy the content in an enterprise app store? The mobile app-store model has a very controlled deployment model, where the provisioning, billing and maintenance are handled by one vendor. Most organizations today, are likely to have a mix of apps that are on premises and in the cloud. Those wanting to pursue an enterprise app store must develop a standardized approach for provisioning these apps to end users when the apps may reside in distributed locations and have very different license agreements. Keeping track and ensuring license compliance will be critical to make sure your app vendor doesn’t come knocking at the end of the year with a huge bill
The goals and intentions behind an enterprise app store are good ones: Make software easier to deploy and consume for end users. The reality of making this work is another matter entirely. Many software vendors are using platform as a service (PaaS) as a way to deliver their and their partners’ apps in a consistent and structured way. Service providers are exploring what some call “service marketplaces” to deliver more choices and easier consumption for customers. It is expected that vendor and service provider communities to drive some interesting innovations in the next 12 months to start clearing some of these hurdles. However, in the current scenario there is little or nothing to drive Enterprise apps and its adoption, very unlike the consumer apps.