Enterprise App Store is Latest Effort to Control Mobile Users

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It won’t be a surprise to most who work in them, but corporate datacenters designed to house high-performing computer systems and resource-intensive applications have also become home to apps downloaded to help keep up with the playoffs or fling penguins at yeti.

IT departments have been struggling to get a handle on the chaos and potential for destruction that mobile apps carry for enterprise security, data protection and access control. In order to do so, they’re building enterprise apps stores, the ultimate “walled gardens.”

Demand for in-house enterprise app stores has grown so quickly that research firm Gartner’s February prediction that 25 percent of corporations would have internal app stores running by 2017 was obsolete almost as soon as it was issued.

According to a survey released Oct. 21 by PMG.net, Inc., 41 percent of IT professionals have already worked on the implementation of at least one enterprise app store, or plan to do so within 12 months. Sixty-one percent said enterprise app stores would be a good way to make apps more secure.

PMG makes software to help build enterprise app stores, so its results may be suspect, but other research backs up its main points. Enterprise app stores are a top priority for 29 percent of the 804 companies polled by mobile-app development-platform-maker Appcelerator, Inc., for example.

“The managed desktop is being replaced by dynamic apps, enterprise app stores and bring-your-own technologies,” according to an Oct. 21 study from CSC, Inc. mapping the evolution of mobile apps in business.

The shift from general-purpose, PC-based software With web interfaces to mobile apps that provide a smaller number of very specific functions is changing the way American corporations do business – or at least the way corporate employees do their jobs, the CSC report found.

Mobile devices get most of the credit for the havoc BYOD programs wreak on corporate data-access rules, network security and IT infrastructures, but it’s the apps that do most of the work, and most of the apps also come from outside the firewall.

“Apps downloaded from public app stores… disrupt IT security, application and procurement strategies,” according to a Gartner statement quoting analyst Ian Finley about the app-store research. “The trend toward BYOA has begun to affect desktop and Web applications as well.”

Since there’s no way to stuff the genii back in the bottle, the only solution is to gain some control over power that’s already been unleashed – which PMG’s survey suggested was the No. 1 reason IT departments are interested in building enterprise app stores.

Seventy-two percent of PMG’s respondents believe internally managed app stores will give them better control over the apps employees use; 61 percent believe controlling its own app supply will improve the company’s security.

The number and variety of mobile devices being used in U.S. corporations make traditional corporate software development obsolete, according to the February Gartner report. Installation scripts, asset-management systems, version control and installation routines that would have to be matched for each device and each application to be installed make traditional approaches too cumbersome.

App stores, combined with mobile-device management systems, can provide a centralized point of management that still may not give a company full control over the devices employed by its users, but go a lot farther than the alternative.

By giving end users a single, fairly convenient place from which to download most or all the mobile apps they use for work, IT can also centralize management of updates, patches and license payments for that software, the report found.

Enterprise app stores that allow end users to submit competing apps for consideration by other users can also broaden the choices available to end users and put much of the app-research function in the hands of users rather than IT people, according to Gartner analyst Stewart Buchanan.

Enterprise app stores can give IT back a measure of control over the client software running inside the firewall, but only if the stores it builds offer apps the users want to download and embrace, rather than try to block out. “These apps use data not just form one system, but mashed up from news feeds, maps and other services,” the CSC report found.(PDF) “There are over 1 million apps in the Apple App Store, including more than 1,500 calendar apps alone. This creates choice for consumers and…a new expectation for IT to become more like the Internet – offering choice, openness, flexibility and speed.”

The question remaining for IT is – if IT decision makers are interested in app stores to give them more control over the flow of apps to end users, will they put together a solution that gives IT a measure of control without eliminating the convenience and choice that drover users away from datacenter apps, and toward mobile apps, in the first place?

“The speed, simplicity and appeal of the app experience may have started as smartphone and consumer phenomena, but this is now the model for how information systems will be built and used in the future,” the CSC report concluded.