IT Management

A growing demand from professional users for applications and the growing number of viable software that meet that demand weigh down on the shoulders of the IT department, which must join the two ends and make it all work. When considering new applications, the first thoughts of any IT department center around three important questions:

• Will the applications open up new security threats?
• Can we manage licenses and monitor use?
• Will we be able to easily deploy bug fixes and upgrades?

Fortunately, new management tools accompany the rise in both supply and demand of mobile business applications: Enterprise app stores provide a neat mechanism to distribute, track, update, and secure applications for professional users.

The app store model, invented by Apple as a standard way of distributing consumer applications, offers tools for payment and deployment. Users can browse a catalog of available applications, some of which are free. Payment is easy, as are download and installation.

Apple’s original App Store was released in 2008 as a modified version of iTunes. Since then, Palm Inc., Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and others have developed their own app stores; and millions of unique consumer applications have been deployed through the different stores.

Recently, several vendors (including Apple) have developed a similar model for use by companies to help manage software for internal business users. Instead of having workers pay for each download, enterprise app stores check user profiles for permissions to download applications and verify compliance with companywide license agreements; they might also provide variations on software versions, depending on who the user is and his or her job function. For example, sales managers could get a different version of an application than sales reps.

As the market for enterprise app stores has grown, so has the variety of offerings. The best ones manage all the applications you might need (those developed in-house, those purchased under some sort of companywide license, and those available to the general public); and they also work across device types, providing services for Android, Apple, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows devices. If you read my last column on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), you will have guessed that operating with different device types is a must-have (see http://enterprisesystemsmedia.com/article/mainframe-mobile-communications-bring-your-own-device).

In the case of enterprise app stores, a vendor sells a platform to the enterprise, which allows the IT department of the company to set up and operate on its own, with their unique set of applications serving a limited user population. This is a subtle departure from the original app store model, in which the vendor that develops the platform (for example, Apple) also operates the store, and a single store serves a virtually unlimited user base.

The enterprise app store model is particularly attractive to organizations with a large user base with a variety of needs. For example, the U.S. Army has recently set up its own app store to help military personnel find the mobile applications they need. Companies in the private sector (for example, Eaton Corp.) have also embraced the model, even if it’s just to deploy a single application in the beginning.

Having a single platform to support all internal mobile applications eases the job of the IT department. Once companies set up their own app store, they will reap benefits for years to come. Organizations will no longer have to configure user profiles for each application, they won’t have to deploy different applications through different channels, and they can list all available applications in a single catalog.

This trend toward a more standard model for internal applications management is reminiscent of the trend 10 years ago toward a corporate intranet.