This year is looking like the year enterprises execute a radical shift when it comes to mobile strategies to keep up with the consumerization their employees are forcing. This means organizations of all sizes, from small shops to multi-national behemoths are adopting mobile in all sorts of new ways they have never conceived. The days of a closed system that made RIM the dominate tool for enterprise mobile solution are numbered. Today employees want the device they want and to feel like they are in control of their very personalized experience. This raises quite a few challenges for today's IT departments surrounding application provisioning, data access and other security and device management.
The consumer application stores popularized by Apple, Google, Microsoft and others have created a model that many enterprises are considering as a way to manage their line of business application provisioning.
Its been several years since Apple introduced the first mobile app store, yet the needs of enterprises have not been met very well. iPhone and iPad application distribution still requires an organization to negotiate through Apple's censorship and other barriers to a smooth experience. Android by and large requires a corporation to setup and manage their own on-premise application store or go through a third party. Windows Phone still does not have a viable enterprise story after 2 years. Even if you can setup these native application store solutions you still need to develop custom native clients for each platform.
So what does a good enterprise mobile application store look like? What features should it offer to make the IT department's mobile application management as easy as possible, yet engaging and easy enough for employees to use it?
Lower IT Costs
As with any project the enterprise App Store should lower overall IT operation costs. Opening the doors of anything new, especially on the scale of a corporate wide mobile application store has costs associated with it. In the short term there is going to be an understandable burn rate. But over time the long tail effect should be an overall reduction in costs. I often get a little put off by statements like that because there is no real way to measure the cost savings or increases. Would not having an app store at all save money? Is that an option at all?
Not adopting a viable mobility solution/policy will ultimately cost your organization by making it company less competitive through the chaos that ensues?
So to that point, any good enterprise mobility plan should foster application adoption. The corporate app store should be a tool that makes employees want to see out applications, functionalities and cool things your organization has created. It should be a fun, enjoyable experience. This should help squelch any poor political arguments like I presented in the previous paragraph.
Must Be Homogeneous
The reality of a consumerized IT department means any enterprise app store solution should provide a nice homogeneous experience for a very heterogeneous environment. In other words the store should be consistent across all platforms as well as being accessible from all platforms. This means that everyone in your organization can have their iPhones, Nokia Lumina's or Galaxy S's and not be left out in the cold.
Decide Application Class
Another question the IT department must settle is what class of applications are they going to offer? Do we limit things to platform specific native applications? HTML5? Both? Does an organization limit the type of business applications allowed to go mobile? Is there a certain quality an application must have to be accepted in the company store? If so what are those qualifications? Does it have to meet certain aesthetics, security guidelines, performance, etc? Does an application's licensing terms make a difference and how are you going to manage and track the required deployment information regarding any terms?
How are you going to handle application updates? What sort of update cadence are you going to allow? Does an application submitting and update require a full IT department review as if it were a new application? How will you notify users of application updates? Does and HTML5 app and a native app need the same update and deployment rules applies?
While not an obvious app store feature the overall mobile application architecture should provide several levels of feedback. The first level is allowing end user feedback such as ratings, reviews and direct feedback to developers and IT administrators. While real user feedback is invaluable to make improvements, actual raw data can't be beat. Real-time telemetry and usage data available to both administrators and developers can help improve applications at many levels before users report issues.
Providing an easy way for IT Admins to manage application access and distribution is one of the driving forces behind enterprise app store adoption. IT should have the ability to manage application deployment, access. This can take the form of controlling when an application becomes available as well as its updates. But it also includes control over what types of employees have access to each application.
The company's app store should also foster an environment that encourages developers and departments to produce good line of business application experiences to solve problems and add tangible value to employees work life. Mobile is the hot commodity for technology right now. I think I have given over 20 talks about mobile development in the past 15 months and every single one of them had a large percentage of developers wanting to figure out where to start. They all wanted to do something mobile and when I asked a lot of them they were planning on doing it nights & weekends. What that tells me is there is a large number of developers, many just sitting in the walls of enterprises all over the world just itching to start doing something in the mobile space. Why not tap that energy to make something useful for your organization.
Just as there is a lot of potential mobile energy inside the corporate development programs, there is just as much if not more pent up desires in the rest of the work force. Employees are anxious to be able to work on their iPads, smart phones or just anything that makes the boring routine of their day a little more exciting. I talk to friends more and more that are telling me their company is getting them iPads or allowing them to upgrade their phones so they can be more productive. They get a little pep in their step talking about their job no matter that that job is. Its almost like there is this childhood excitement I have not seen in working adults in a long time. Most are not even sure what these new devices will mean just yet, but my point is they want it, they want to try it out.
The enterprise application store and balance of the mobility strategy should capitalize on the entire organization's excitement around mobility to build not only useful tools, but great experience. The central hub of all this new activity will be the enterprise app store. Everyone will need to access it to install or access line of business tools for their devices. Developers can have a context to express themselves in the mobile space, they can explore and do what they do best, create applications to solve problems and make daily life better. The IT department while having to change some of its traditional thinking when it comes to application deployment should have a tool that not only helps reduces costs over the long term, but helps their company stay competitive and grow.