Enterprise app stores are nowhere near as popular as consumer app stores like Google Play and Apple's App Store. But they are growing in popularity, found a recent survey by mobile application management provider Apperian, which recently published its 2016 Executive Enterprise Mobility Report. According to the report, 35 percent of respondents now use app stores, up from 23 percent in 2015.
The increase is a sign that companies are committed to the success of their mobile app programs, said Chris Hazelton, Apperian's director of Product Marketing and Strategy. "There are more apps and more investment in apps, and companies want those deployments to go well."
It also indicates that the mobile application management (MAM) market is maturing, he believes, noting that some companies are beginning to switch from MAM tools that come bundled with enterprise mobility management (EMM) software to standalone MAM solutions. "When they want to push more apps at a larger scale, they are starting to look at best-of-breed MAM," he said.
Mobile App Support
In somewhat of a surprise, the report found an even bigger increase in respondents offering help desk services for their mobile users, a number that grew from 6 percent in 2015 to 25 percent this year.
This is perhaps because many companies have found mobile deployments do not go as smoothly as planned, Hazelton said, offering the example of a company that gave iPads to its employees as a reward for good performance and then saw a spike in calls from employees with questions about them.
Noting that the survey focused on companies with at least 500 employees, Hazelton said not all companies can afford to invest in IT staff dedicated to mobility issues. For smaller companies or for any company hoping to reduce support costs, Hazelton said wizards and self-help tools are good options.
"We stress that companies should try to make mobile deployment as consumer grade as possible," he said. "It's great that more companies have a help desk that can handle mobile, but the idea is not to drive help desk calls as that will drive up costs."
Mobile App Adoption
In addition to providing an enterprise app store to help employees find apps and offering help desk support for mobile users, the most popular strategies to encourage mobile app adoption are ensuring employees have mobile access to critical enterprise systems, mentioned by 58 percent of respondents (up from 47 percent in 2015) and internal promotion of mobile apps (35 percent of respondents, up from 32 percent in 2015).
Mark Lorion, Apperian's chief marketing officer, offered several good tips to increase mobile app adoption, in a column written for Enterprise Apps Today.
Another mobile app trend seeing strong growth is providing mobile apps to non-employees. According to the survey, 30 percent allow contract workers to access mobile apps and 28 percent offer access to business partners such as distributors and vendors. The idea is "being able to push efficiencies you've gained internally through mobility to your partners," Hazelton said.
Mobile App Analytics
Enterprises are gaining added visibility into mobile app usage through analytics, Apperian found. According to its report, 54 percent of respondents know which operating systems mobile apps are running on, up from 34 percent in 2015. Less dramatic increases were seen in which apps are being used (55 percent have visibility, up from 52 percent in 2015), how frequently apps are used (58 percent, up from 42 percent) and which users are using mobile apps (52 percent, up from 48 percent).
One of the key advantages of analytics, Hazelton said, is that it can help enterprises craft better mobile app strategies.
"IT may get approval for the first mobile app project without too much trouble. If you want budget and support for follow-on mobile apps, analytics can help you get it," he said. "If you spend $100,000 to build a mobile app and then do not have plan on how to deploy it or understand how people will use it, you've just blown $100,000."
Mobile App Challenges
Forty-eight percent of respondents said the biggest hurdle to attaining mobility goals is the complexity of the mobile landscape, which is characterized by multiple mobile operating systems and management models. Nearly as many, 45 percent, cited a lack of budget.
One best practice that can help with both challenges is creating a mobile center of excellence, Hazelton said.
"With the center of excellence, you bring together staff from IT and line of business with the common goal of creating standards and best practices for mobile," he said. "You can provide guidance on mobile app development strategies and a curated list of tools, so when someone decides to develop a mobile app, they are not reinventing the wheel but have resources they can rely on."
A mobile center of excellence (MCoE) can help companies with other sometimes tricky aspects of mobility programs, such as adopting a "balanced" approach to mobile security, he added. "With the line of business and IT folks both there, you can talk about tradeoffs between usability and security and getting the right balance."
Red Hat is another company that is bullish on mobile centers of excellence. Cathal McGloin, VP and general manager of Mobile Platforms at Red Hat, tapped MCoEs as a top mobile app trend earlier this year. With the collaborative approach encouraged by a MCoE, McGloin said, companies will enjoy "improved development efficiency, scalability and mobile success."
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.