Choosing your company's next mission-critical ERP system might have just gotten easier.
A new wave of online ERP "app stores," set up much like other online software and music one-stop shops, are slowly appearing in the IT marketplace, offering centralized venues where customers can learn about a broad range of ERP products.
The app stores are so novel nowadays that they're the topic of a report from Forrester Research, "App Stores: A New Way to Try and Buy ERP," written by Forrester analysts China Martens and Paul D. Hamerman.
"In opening their own app stores, ERP vendors are looking to bottle some of the vibrancy they're observing in established third-party mobile application stores, such as Apple's iTunes Store, Google's Android Market, Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile, and RIM's (Research In Motion's) BlackBerry App World, and apply that model closer to home," write Martens and Hamerman in the report. "ERP vendors are also taking note of the steady growth of AppExchange, the online marketplace of SaaS CRM vendor salesforce.com, which opened in early 2006 and is now home to more than 1,000 apps."
So what will IT leaders find in an ERP app store, and how can they use this information to help them better choose the right applications for their companies?
Usually they'll find listings of available apps and add-ons, typically organized in categories by cost, industry or supported languages, according to the report. "Each app listing will include user-generated ratings, reviews, and recommendations, as well as the potential to download, try out, and buy the app. Today, the click-to-buy link frequently puts the customer in direct touch with the seller -- the ERP vendor or its partners -- rather than having a transaction occur directly within the app store."
The app stores being offered by ERP vendors are still at a very early "toe in the water experimental phase," Martens told CIO.com via email. The stores represent a potential new sales and distribution channel as well as a possible new interaction point for ERP apps vendors, their customers and their partners, she says."
For corporate IT decision-makers, the app stores could offer several key benefits, she says, including a more efficient way of getting the right apps into the hands of your staff more quickly.
At the same time, though, the app stores might end up as a dead-end if not enough companies choose it as a way to test out or deliver apps, says Martens.
So far, the app stores are just beginning to appear, particularly for SaaS and mobile ERP offerings from vendors like NetSuite. Other stores are still emerging slowly.
The stores are being set up as comparison sites for multiple ERP products and as showcases for the products of individual ERP vendors, according to the report.
"Some ERP apps vendors are positioning their app store as a way to highlight their own PaaS (platform-as-a-service) -- both the apps they develop on the PaaS and those developed by partners," such as NetSuite's SuiteCloud PaaS, Martens says. "The idea with apps that run natively on the same PaaS is that they can be tightly integrated from the get-go since they run on the same platform. They can also potentially have very similar user interfaces and user experiences and possibly share functionality."