With more employees using smartphones and tablets for business, enterprises are setting up their own app stores for application distribution, leveraging a consumer model for mobile application access that is tuned to the workplace. Instead of saddling already overburdened IT personnel with getting applications to individual devices, these app stores provide a central distribution mechanism for employees to download applications themselves.
App store technologies from companies such as AppCentral, App47, and Apperian mimic popular consumer app stores such as Google Play (formerly the Android Market) and Apple's App Store but provide access to applications needed in the workplace. Organizations control access to the stores, which can be cloud-based. Users then access the stores directly from their devices, whether corporate-issued or self-purchased, and view a palette of applications, which can either be developed by third parties or in-house.
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"This whole app store concept is a way to seamlessly deploy these mobile apps to users," says Vizay Kotikalapudi, senior manager for endpoint management and mobility at Symantec, which in a recent survey of IT pros at 6,275 organizations found that 66 percent of respondents were considering development of a corporate app store. That's a huge shift from 2011, says App47 CEO Chris Schroeder: "The enterprise was not focused at all around mobile apps or enterprise app stores" in 2011, but "in 2012, we're seeing the complete opposite."
No such thing as a disk image for mobile devices
Getting applications to mobile devices differs from performing the same task for larger systems. "If you think about desktops and laptops, enterprise IT for years has largely relied on a number of tools, perhaps most prominently the corporate disk image" to get applications installed, says John Dasher, vice president of products and marketing at AppCentral. "There really isn't a corporate disk image for a mobile device."
This is where the enterprise app store comes into play, he says. Companies developing their own custom applications, for example, do not want to make their intellectual property available in a commercial app store, so they set up their own.
App stores also enable employee access from wherever they might be. ThinkBasis, which sells sales applications to plastic surgeons, is using the App47 application store service because it lets employees access applications from different locations. "We needed something that allows us to give [sales staff] the tools they need" for remote access, says Nick Dumitru, ThinkBasis's president.
The corporate app store movement is in its early days, says Dasher, estimating less than 10 percent of enterprises now have them. Apple's iOS and Google's Android are the dominant choices.