Enterprise apps stores offer a convenient portal that allows employees to download a selection of tested and trusted applications - usually, but not exclusively, for mobile devices. The benefits of enterprise app stores are well known, but it's still early days and relatively few enterprises have actually implemented them.
Companies that have implemented them tend to have developed one or more of their own apps already or purchased a significant number of licenses for mobile or Web apps. But that's likely to change quickly: Gartner estimates that 25 percent of enterprises will have an enterprise app store up and running by 2017.
If an enterprise app store is on your radar, here are eight things you should know before implementing one:
Don't Over Think Evaluation
Today's enterprise app store offerings are far from being mature products, and most offer almost identical features. "By and large they look fairly similar, and differentiation only comes from advanced use cases that aren't very common," says Christian Kane, an analyst at Forrester Research.
That means that when it comes to choosing an enterprise app store, most enterprises simply choose to turn on the enterprise app store functionality of the mobile device management (MDM) or enterprise mobility management (EMM) system they already have in place, he adds.
Don't Sweat the Technical Stuff
"Setting up an enterprise app store is very straightforward," says Phil Barnett, a sales director at MDM vendor Good Technology. The real work comes from choosing and testing the right apps to populate it with, he says.
If it's to be based on-premise (as opposed to in the cloud) it will likely only take a couple of days work to get it running, tailored and customized. "The day-to-day running can probably be done by two people who work on other things too," he says.
Robert Lacis, director of field enablement at Maxim Integrated, implemented an enterprise app store from Apperian for his company. He says it is important to understand and profile your users and suggests asking the following questions about them: What types of devices are they carrying? How many of each device are there? What are the trends in OS adoption or shifts?
Don't Launch with Too Many Apps
A common mistake is launching an enterprise app store to great fanfare with far too many apps. "This may attract a small percentage of technology enthusiasts and early adopters, but you won't take most people with you," warns Barnett.
Instead he recommends starting with just two or three enterprise apps - five as an absolute maximum - and giving people time to get familiar with the concept of an enterprise app store and the apps that are on offer. Once most employees are up to speed, that is the time to start expanding the offering.
When you do, don't go overboard. Public app stores like Apple's or Google's contain millions of apps, but an enterprise app store only needs a few good ones, Barnett advises. "If I apply an 80/20 rule, 80 percent of the time employees use just 20 apps," he says.
Maxim's Robert Lacis also councils caution when it comes to choosing which apps to offer. "Create a nice set of curated apps that address the needs of the target audience," he advises. "I would guess that most enterprises might buy 90 percent of apps and build 10 percent or less."
Lacis has one more piece of advice. "If you are building in-house iOS apps, make sure you have someone who has a solid understanding of the code-signing process and enterprise app certificate re-signing process," he adds.
Choose the Right Enterprise Apps
The choice of apps that you offer, more than anything else, will dictate whether the enterprise app store takes off. For that reason, all of the apps that you begin with must at least have the potential to make a big impact on the way employees do their work. If you start with apps that are simple and genuinely useful, employees will come back to see what else is on offer.
To find the right apps, it can be useful to think in terms of common tasks rather than apps: Offering apps that allow employees to tackle troublesome tasks more easily is bound to be popular. This may involve making mash-up apps that combine the functionality of separate apps in a way that works effectively for your employees.
Another possibility is to write your own simple apps that allow employees to perform tedious tasks such as submitting a non-disclosure agreement to the appropriate department every quarter.
Offer More than Apps
Forrester's Christian Kane believes that it's important to drive up your enterprise app store adoption rate by making it a place that employees want to visit.
Apart from offering compelling apps, how do you do that? The answer, he believes, is by offering much more besides. "You should aim for it to become an employee self-service portal where they connect to the help desk and password reset desk, where they can get permissions for apps from the IT department, and where you can plug in a social aspect," he says.
This "social aspect" might involve providing the ability to chat about various apps, recommend apps to colleagues for certain tasks, or even allow employees to rate apps using a reputation system. This type of functionality is not commonly offered yet, but it's likely to be introduced by many vendors in the coming months, Kane believes.
Answer the Exclusivity Question
One of the questions that you'll have to answer is whether your enterprise app store should be the exclusive source of apps for mobile devices, or whether employees can download apps from other sources as well. (Many companies choose to use their MDM system to block access to certain apps as a condition of employees using their own devices for work purposes.)
In a few businesses regulatory compliance can only be achieved by restricting employees to downloading tested and vetted apps from an enterprise app store, Kane points out.
Lacis suggests encouraging users to go to the enterprise app store rather than a public store in any case. "Make sure the users know why the enterprise app store exists and what benefits it provides them over and above going to the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store," he advises.
Focus on Internal Adoption
Many organizations can benefit from allowing customers, partners and suppliers to use corporate apps available from an enterprise app store (although not all MDM-based enterprise app stores allow downloads to devices not enrolled in the MDM system).
Although there may be benefits from allowing non-employees to access the enterprise app store, Kane warns against enabling this too soon. "It may be a priority for many companies, but this should come after it has been adopted by internal employees," he says.
Look Beyond Mobile Devices
Apple's OS X and versions of Linux and Windows now feature their own apps stores, which work just like apps stores for mobile devices. And it may make sense to extend your enterprise app store to include applications for laptop and desktop machines as well as mobile devices.
This strategy makes even more sense when enterprise app stores also offer help, password resets and a social aspect. It creates a central point where users of all computing devices can go to request or download software and make contact with other IT services.
Short List of Enterprise App Store Vendors
Airwatch by VMware http://www.air-watch.com/
BMC AppZone http://www.bmc.com/it-solutions/app-zone.html
Citrix XenMobile http://www.citrix.com/products/xenmobile/overview.html
Fiberlink Communications http://www.maas360.com/
Good Technology http://www1.good.com/
Paul Rubens has been covering enterprise technology for over 20 years. In that time he has written for leading UK and international publications including The Economist, The Times, Financial Times, the BBC, Computing and ServerWatch.