CIOs searching for enterprise software -- even those ready to buy -- know they're in for a long haul. Get ready for a deluge of vendors, products, contracts, and integration hassles.
Now big software vendors hope to streamline the searching and buying process by following in Apple's footsteps. Companies like SAP and others are opening virtual doors to so-called enterprise app stores, which sell not only their software, but software and services from an ecosystem of partners and resellers.
"We asked ourselves, how can we learn from the Apples of the world and bring that simplified buying experience to SAP customers?" says Dan Maloney, global vice president of e-channel and mobile cloud sales at SAP, which opened the SAP Store for enterprise apps last year.
While enterprise app stores like the SAP Store help overhaul a traditionally inefficient process, the Apple shine of simplicity doesn't fool anyone. Enterprise apps stores are wrought with challenges, much more than a consumer app store such as Apple's App Store. Issues ranging from neutrality to app certification to software reviews plague vendor-hosted enterprise app stores.
"Sometimes we roll things out and get pretty good feedback from our customers," Maloney says with a nervous laugh. "They know we're making some mistakes along the way, but every single customer is supportive of this process. They know how difficult it's been in the past dealing with the enterprise."
The SAP Store serves up some 1,500 different solutions across computing categories: mobile, cloud, on-premise, PC-based. Hundreds of solutions are added every quarter. Apps can vary in price from a few bucks to millions of dollars. SAP's 190,000 enterprise customers around the world have access to the store. A couple million unique visitors came into the store in the first year.
It should be noted that the term "enterprise app store" is used in this case as a vendor-hosted electronic marketplace serving up apps to customers. This shouldn't be confused with another meaning of enterprise app store, whereby a company serves up apps (usually mobile ones) to employees.
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Enterprise app stores hold a lot of potential, yet it's difficult to define the market. Companies and employees download business apps from both consumer app stores and enterprise app stores. Gartner forecasts mobile application downloads from app stores will top 31 billion by the end of this year.
Is the enterprise app store a new phenomenon?
In early 2000s, an exciting technology surfaced promising to make buying and selling between businesses quick and easy. Called business-to-business exchanges, or e-markets, the idea fell flat largely because of the lack of neutrality among e-market operators. Businesses offering up goods and services in an e-market run by a major vendor didn't feel like they were getting a fair shake.
So the problems and the promise of enterprise app stores are nothing new. "The Apple App Store wasn't even officially out yet when we were floating this idea to the Board of selling SAP products and ecosystem products online through an app store concept," Maloney says.