Emerging Tech: Alternatives to Apple App Store, For Enterprises
Apple's App Store and iTunes are great for consumers but kludgy for companies. Yet only recently have enterprises been able to find an enterprise app store of their own -- for better mobile app deployment and management.
Last year, Curtis Cuozzo, manager of sales force automation at Talecris Biotherapeutics, sent out CDs with an internal enterprise iPhone app to a trial group of 60 sales folks. They were asked to follow a 15-step process that included loading the CD on their laptops, downloading the app to iTunes, and syncing with their iPhones. Cuozzo made lots of follow-up phone calls to see how they did. “We had about a 50 percent success rate deploying it through iTunes,” he says. “It was a very cumbersome process.”
The 180-person U.S. sales group at Talecris, a global biotechnology firm specializing in critical care treatments for people with life-threatening disorders, had traded in their BlackBerries for iPhones in the fall of last year. All were supposed to have two custom-made enterprise iPhone apps in the areas of sales training and communications.
But how could Talecris continue down the iPhone path when deployment of critical apps seemed so precarious? The risk would only rise with more apps and iPhones in the field. Cuozzo decided the right solution would be a private, enterprise-class app store similar to the public Apple App Store to ease deployment and management. He checked out 10 vendors purported to be in this market, yet only one had an actual product at the time, Apperian. “We decided to be a beta customer,” Cuozzo says.
A Private App Store For Your Enterprise
Earlier this month, Apperian’s Enterprise App Service Environment, or EASE, emerged from beta. EASE is an iPhone app that lists a company’s internal enterprise apps that can be downloaded and used by employees. Think of it as a private App Store customized for a company, whereby in-house apps are managed by IT and deployed securely via Apperian’s cloud service.
(EASE is free to app developers, and free to customers with up to 100 devices. Currently, EASE only supports iPhones and iPads. Apperian plans to offer an Android-based version of EASE in the first quarter of 2011.)
Cuozzo eventually rolled out two iPhone apps to his sales force using EASE, with plans for two more apps in the works. Since his search for an enterprise app store, other vendors have released similar products or features, such as Rhomobile with its RhoGallery offering that supports multiple mobile devices and Sybase’s Afaria, a granddaddy mobile device management platform that plays in the mobile app management space, too.
Why is mobile app management just now arriving on the enterprise scene? For starters, Apple recently released iOS 4.0 that lets a company deploy apps wirelessly—a requirement for an enterprise app store. Apple also recently changed requirements to its iOS Developer Enterprise Program for building enterprise apps; the program had required a company to have more than 500 employees to qualify for a license, but now there is no employee-count requirement.
Mobile Management Need Growing
The bigger reason for the emerging enterprise app store, though, is the rise of mobile apps in general. In the past, mobile apps used to be limited to email, contacts and calendaring. There wasn’t much need for an app management platform. But today organizations are deploying all sorts of apps with varying complexity that employees depend on to get their work done.
“That’s why there is this growing need for an enterprise-class app store,” says Philippe Winthrop, managing director of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, a mobile-device think tank. “We’re definitely going to see more app stores deployed by organizations.”
With an enterprise app store, IT will be able to match apps with employees. Reporting tools show whether or not an employee has downloaded the app, as well as when and how often an employee uses it. The enterprise app store will also let employees know when they have to update apps, in a way that is similar to the App Store. Controls can be put in place to force employees to update apps before using them and disable apps when employees leave the company.
“Our real competition in this space is a company or developer writing their own provisioning website where they list all the builds for the different devices,” says Rhomobile CEO Adam Blum. “If you think about all the apps they have to make available across four or five operating systems, it’s a real pain to build that site. Typically, they’re not doing audit detect provisioning so they’re making the users know what version of the device operating system they’re running.”
Unlike the App Store, there aren’t a whole lot of apps in a private enterprise app store. Both Apperian and Rhomobile offer enterprise app development platforms, which, of course, app builds can be uploaded into their enterprise app stores. Companies can also upload their own app builds, which are often training videos, HR documents and forms, scheduling, corporate directories, and even CRM mashups.
But enterprise apps on Apple’s App Store won’t be able to be listed, deployed and managed in an enterprise app store (although App Store apps and the private enterprise app store can co-exist on the same iPhone or iPad). The reason is that apps in a private enterprise app store must be under Apple’s iOS Developer Enterprise Program, and one of the requirements is that apps must be built for a single company and only used by employees and contractors.
So how many apps does it take before you need an enterprise app store? Enterprise Mobility Foundation’s Winthrop figures a company needs an enterprise app store if it’s deploying even a single app to 1,000 employees. Meanwhile, Rhomobile says companies run into management problems when the number of apps hits double digits and especially if there are multiple mobile platforms in the environment, not just iPhone or Android or BlackBerry.
Talecris needed an enterprise app store with only two apps running on just iPhones for a couple hundred sales people. But Cuozzo is glad he got Apperian’s EASE sooner rather than later. iPhone apps have made sales reps more efficient, he says, and so there’s a good chance mobile apps will spread into other areas of the company.
“I definitely see more apps in our pipeline,” Cuozzo says. “The gap was that apps were being developed but there was no solution to deploy them. I think that gap has been filled.”
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.