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Are enterprise app stores the future?

By Maureen Polte, vice president of product management, Flexera Software, special to Network World
October 12, 2012 03:11 PM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

With the exploding success of the Apple and Android consumer app stores (Apple is poised to reach 1 million apps by year-end), it is not surprising that pundits are asking if the same success can be achieved with public business-to-business app stores. There are some unique challenges that public enterprise app stores, like an iTunes, would face, including:

• The high cost of enterprise apps (versus the "99 cent" apps common on consumer sites)

• The complexity of those apps, and the processes required within most large enterprises to deploy them properly

• The need to track those licenses for software compliance and software license optimization purposes

• The concern about security and malware that is endemic in app stores, and particularly risky within the corporate firewall

IN DEPTH: Enterprise application store: There's one in your future

For these reasons, there does not yet appear to be an obvious public marketplace app store model that can compare to the iTunes experience. And unless and until these challenges are worked out, that's probably a good thing.

On the other hand, internal enterprise app stores are flourishing today. In this "consumerization of IT" age, in which IT management is under great pressure to deliver better, more user friendly service, internal enterprise app stores are an obvious solution. Their true utility is behind the corporate firewall, where IT can maintain security and control, and where employees can get the apps they need, when they need them, in a user-friendly, familiar self-service environment. Organizations seeking to deploy an enterprise app store should take the following into consideration to ensure success:

* Identifying need: When changing the focus from a consumer-oriented app store to an enterprise app store, organizations must address unique challenges around policies and security. Making applications available in an enterprise self-service model requires careful consideration and planning around visibility, approval and licensing requirements.

For instance, visibility requirements often arise around the needs of the business unit, role-based permissions, or even export compliance rules. Developing an appropriate structure within the app store to control what apps a user can request ensures the user gets what he is looking for while the enterprise maintains administrative control.

Moreover, the goal of the consumer-orientated app store is to expose users to as much product as possible -- individuals are encouraged to buy as much as they can, and upgrade to "premium" versions over "standard." In contrast, enterprise app stores require controls. For instance, giving employees the choice between standard, professional and premium versions without consideration to their business needs and feature requirement is a recipe for high license costs. Enterprises should therefore only make available a filtered catalog of apps, tailored to the role and needs of users within various departments, that meets actual business requirements -- no more, no less.

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