Is 2012 the year app stores will break out in the enterprise?
The environment is certainly ripe for it. Over the past two years, there has been a proliferation of employees using smartphones and tablets to do work and more enterprises are implementing BYOD (bring our own device) programs that allow employees to use personal iPads, iPhones, and Android smartphones to access business apps.
The company app store, which follows a consumer trend started by Apple's iTunes App Store and Google's Android Market (now called Google Play), is a logical extension of the BYOD movement.
But whether businesses are providing company-issued devices or letting users bring their own, mobile app stores still offer the same value: to efficiently and securely distribute mobile apps to employees and take the burden off IT to migrate apps to individual devices or upload each app onto a public app store.
Enterprise app stores are not widely in use (an estimated 10 percent of enterprises have their own stores). But enterprises such as CDW and General Electric have implemented private app stores, and smaller niche companies, particularly in the healthcare field, are also looking at private app stores with help from big vendors like Cisco and smaller players such as AppCentral and Virtusa.
The OS preference for enterprise app stores is mostly Android and iOS, although Rohit Sharma, Global Head of Mobility at Virtusa, recommends keeping an app store compatible with all mobile platforms to serve the various devices making their way into enterprises.
"It costs the same to maintain a cross-platform store so you might as well keep it as open as possible," say Sharma.
With that in mind, here are 10 important features that should be part of any enterprise app store, according to Virtusa.
1. Support for multiple mobile platforms
Apple iOS, Android (multiple versions including Honeycomb and ICS) and BlackBerry OS (versions 6.x, 7.x and future support for BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry PlayBook OS, QNX) should be supported, according to Rauf A. Adil, Chief Enterprise Architect at Virtusa. Some enterprises may also require support for other mobile platforms including Windows Phone or Bada OS (Samsung's Linux-based OS).
2. Browser and native app support
An enterprise app store should allow the apps to be downloaded on the device from the browser via a URL or through an enterprise market app -- similar to the Google Play Store or iTunes App store.
3. Secure it
Integrate the app store with the enterprise single sign-on or identity management system and MDM (Mobile Device Management) solution if available. App downloads should be on a secure SSL (HTTPS) or secure VPN tunnel. Your app store should NOT allow downloads via an unsecured network connection.