The Rise of Private App Stores: The Emerging IT Outsourcing Trend | Article

ApplicationsThere has been a radical shift in the way apps are built, distributed, deployed, managed, upgraded, used and retired. Employees, customers, clients and partners today use their smartphones or tablets to visit an iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows app store – depending on their device – and download the apps they believe will improve their productivity. From here on the app can be updated automatically with a new version being prompted for download when available.

Platform specific app stores or marketplaces have resulted in a unique model for app lifecycle management. But the challenges for an enterprise around the use of app stores continue to grow. These include:

  • Ensuring the security of each app
  • Ensuring that an appropriate app is being used by the employee, customer, client or partner – the wrong app can result in employee and customer dissatisfaction and even breaches of business integrity
  • Creating and enforcing a strong governance model around app usage
  • Designing custom mobile apps, testing them and meeting the quality standards and approvals for distribution from each app store or marketplace
  • Analyzing app usage to ensure appropriate investments in maintenance and upgrades (in the case of custom apps)

The Rise of Private App Stores

Despite the challenges, more and more enterprises were discussing deploying custom mobile apps and few of them are implementing or have already implemented custom mobile apps. The next logical step for enterprises is a no-brainer: they will embrace the private app store in a bid to solve the headaches and limitations of a public distribution model.

This indicates a shift in thinking across business. Not long ago, as the BYOD wave spread, businesses tried to create control over the device employees used. The philosophy of Mobile Device Management (MDM) has since been replaced with that of Mobile Application Management (MDM) – a practice that is widely being predicted to gain in importance through the second half of 2013.

There is one leading driver for private app stores: businesses are opting for internal mobile app stores in a bid to hasten their mobile enablement program. The only real, quick and cost-effective route is to outsource the development, management and maintenance of the private app store. In order to ensure that outsourcing costs don’t spiral out of control, some fundamentals must be kept in mind.

The Essential Do’s & Don’ts of private app store

What are the essential Dos and Don’ts of a private app store? We list of some those here along with what we believe are two bonus Radical Dos not commonly addressed or discussed:

Dos:

  1. Ensure that your private app store mimics public app stores and marketplaces – with features that allow search, editorial descriptions, list of features, ratings, reviews, number of downloads, list of most popular downloads, recent additions, new offerings, etc.
  2. Your private app store should allow the apps to be downloaded from the browser or through an enterprise market app like the Android Marketplace. As far as possible, app downloads should not be allowed on an unsecured network.
  3. Your private app store should support multiple platforms. Let vendors and partner brands distribute their (approved) enterprise apps using your private app store to your employees. This provides you and your employees with the assurance that the app measures up to your security policies, meets compliance standards and can be monitored for usage.
  4. There should be a simple way for the revocation of apps – and external app providers such as partners and associates should be aware of the revocation process.
  5. Ensure the app store is integrated with your identity management system and the MDM platform, if one is being used. There should be no unauthorized access of apps.
  6. The private app store should have device registration – this can be done via an MDM as well – with users being able to register multiple devices.
  7. Sooner rather than later you will opt for custom apps that require upgrades and maintenance. It is therefore necessary to ensure you can also monitor app usage to assess ROI. This will help in budget decisions related to questions such as ‘Which app should I upgrade? Which app should I retire? Which app should I replace?’
  8. The administrator of the app store should be able to push notifications to users – this can be used for a variety of tasks such as app updates, app retirement alerts, etc.

Bonus – Radical Dos:

  1. A great feature to have is the ability to let users try the app in a web browser before they download it for use. This may appear to be the “try before you buy” model, but is in fact radically different: it allows users to examine features and functionality (not performance, which is a factor of device capability, network performance and server-side capabilities).
  2. Users may soon want a mix of apps – they may want apps that work on an OS that doesn’t run on their device. As an example, it is entirely possible that a person with an iOS device may like a particular app’s interface and usability in the Android environment. What is one to do? We believe that an app store should be able to ‘stream’ the app in the version the user wants into the device browser.

Don’t:

  1. Don’t lock down the app store to become platform specific.
  2. Don’t forget to examine if your business needs additional support for platforms over and above the regular ones (iOS, Androind, BlackBerry, Windows) such as Mozilla Firefox OS.
  3. Don’t let IT be in the critical path of the development of the private app store. Instead, outsource the development, management and maintenance of the app store. This way you will ensure the enterprise does not lag in maintain the cutting edge from a user perspective.

Once you have your own private mobile app store, should you have a policy that prevents employees from downloading apps from public stores? While that is a matter of continued debate, it is an approach that is unrealistic and not entirely enforceable. Be prepared for a world of mixed options. Once you are convinced that the future will remain mixed, some of the dos and don’ts will get prioritized based on your business needs.

So how prepared are you to face the rise of the private app stores?

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