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No question: Apple's iTunes Store created a new paradigm for distributing apps. Today, many enterprise architects are exploring how to extend that approach into their own companies by creating corporate app stores for application program interfaces (API) and to mobile and desktop apps.
"The app store gives you a way to interact with partners and customers where you can understand the value they are providing," said John Mathon, director of product marketing at WSO2, a Sri-Lanka-based provider of enterprise middleware platforms with U.S. headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
A corporate app store with finer-grained controls promises better governance and reuse for enterprise data and processes. "You could track how people are using these, when they are using them and the data they are accessing," Mathon explained during the recent WSO2Con 2013 U.S. conference in San Francisco.
For example, a jukebox company that brings in about $500 million annually from its 60,000 jukeboxes plans to use the WSO2 platform to create an app store for these devices, Mathon said. The company wants to offer new services, but doesn't know which ones will do well in which venues. With an app store, its customers can choose.
The underlying idea: That kind of governed app store running in a Platform as a Service (PaaS) environment extends the enterprise value chain. With such an app store, an agile organization then provides services to new and existing partners in ways that its leadership hadn't previously considered. That, in turn, makes it easier for partners to create new types of value for the business.
The role of governance in a corporate app store
Incorporating a governance registry into the corporate app store allows the enterprise to control and manage apps and APIs in a more sophisticated way that includes managing the assets' lifecycles. In PaaS environments, organizations can control those processes and better understand what people are doing with their APIs and other valuable assets. In addition, the registry allows the IT management team to see how people are using the apps and APIs and determine the associated costs.
With such an app store, an agile organization then provides services to new and existing partners in ways that its leadership hadn't previously considered.
A corporate app store also provides the ability to see the dependencies between APIs and mobile applications. That capability enables an organization to better manage change, including testing everything affected by changes.
Many enterprises worry that having any number of employees working on any number of APIs and apps could create new risks. For that reason, corporate app stores should include security measures such as single sign-on and monitoring capabilities.
Using corporate app stores to boost reuse
A social front end can also promote viral adoption of new apps with improved feedback. With a service-oriented architecture (SOA), many organizations tried to promote reuse by creating and maintaining registries, Mathon noted, adding that the approach never really took off and is widely viewed as a failure. On the other hand, the idea of a social store has caught on.
Mathon believes that adding this social layer to the corporate app store will create higher levels of reuse and faster time to market. It will also create the ability to query applications and APIs in the context not just of the APIs, but across all assets -- which can also promote reuse.
Among the important first steps in gaining benefits for a corporate app store is creating a culture of transparency. "If you are going to have reuse, you need transparency," Mathon said. "If you have a siloed mindset, it will be hard to reuse things across silos."
Corporate app-store success requires listening to users' opinions, a step that large enterprises sometimes avoid because they're afraid that people will find out how badly they are doing. "But my experience is that companies that are more transparent create high trust and morale," Mathon said. "You are not going to have people reusing SOA without knowledge of the problems that lie in using them. No one will stake their career on reuse."
Molino de Ideas S.A., which develops Web services and products for Spanish speakers and for natural language processing, has been using an app store as a way to manage specialized translation services. "An API is not just a new way to do things you can do now," said Eduardo Basterrechea, CEO of the Madrid, Spain-based company. "They are ways to offer our knowledge and abilities to others."
Basterrechea said he believes that corporate app stores can simplify technologies to similarly create new ways to offer abilities to others and open up new types of collaboration.