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Online app stores have become a huge part of the consumer IT economy, with large commercial operations delivering billions of downloads to consumers in recent years.
That popularity, combined with the utility of the distribution model, has encouraged companies to explore options for setting up their own in-house corporate app stores. Today, many corporations view app stores as a way to help deliver corporate-developed and approved apps to employees, partners and customers, said Michele Pelino, principal analyst for Forrester Research. That capability is especially important in the fast-growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and bring-your-own-app environments.
Typically, IT departments are still involved in app-store development, but business managers may now be the ones actually creating apps, adding them to stores and driving demand for them.
Not surprisingly, such demand has spawned a variety of products and services for establishing and running corporate app stores focused on business needs. Many vendors offer the ability to tailor offerings to specific roles; for instance, an in-house app store could deliver sales- and marketing-oriented applications to one set of users and finance-oriented apps to another group.
The other way to look at corporate app stores is from a consumer and end-user perspective, Pelino said. "You see a movement of big companies like Coca-Cola and financial services and pharmaceutical companies [diving into app stores] because they have a real reason for presenting their brand information and applications in a way that they approve of," she said. Customers or end users need to get those apps that are related to their companies, but typically the company wants to control the apps from a management or marketing standpoint.
Characteristics to watch for include the capability to segment product delivery by roles, the ability to brand and scalability to accommodate expanding demand. Security is also an issue to consider in corporate app-store implementations, she added.
Other differentiators include features such as reporting capability, she noted. Typically, IT departments are still involved in app-store development, but business managers may now be the ones actually creating apps, adding them to stores and driving demand for them, she explained. Those managers may want to see who's doing what with apps and how that investment is turning out -- and, of course, that's different from the IT organization's priorities.
Finally, she noted, it's important to establish controls for apps and corporate app-store access. For example, in some instances, employees aren't allowed to access data from outside the country. "So there are different scenarios for deciding which region and who gets what," she said.
A growing number of vendors offer app-store capabilities, Pelino said. The following are just a few examples:
- Partnerpedia says it helps companies maximize business value through "monetization, mobility and IT management solutions" by offering both mobile app management and marketplace solutions to IT customers as well as to original equipment manufacturers under private-label arrangements. BMC Software Inc.'s recent acquisition of Partnerpedia is noteworthy, given BMC's role as a traditional player in the software field, Pelino said. "What will be interesting is how BMC will deal with fast-moving mobile, where you need to have quick changes in applications and environments," she said. "It is very different from the laptop or desktop world."
- Zenprise, acquired by Citrix Systems Inc. early in 2013, was a pioneer mobile-device management (MDM) vendor. Citrix now offers Xenmobile, which provides mobile-device security and compliance requirements for BYOD options and devices that are subject to corporate liability. It also provides access to Software as a Service and Web apps from a unified corporate app store.
- Embarcadero, an established tool vendor that claims some three million end users, has also ventured into the field, Pelino said. The company's AppWave enterprise app store for personal computer software focuses on reducing the complexity of Windows applications so that users can readily access applications they need while providing IT with visibility into software usage, rather than static software footprint reports.
- AppDirect offers a platform that has been adopted by companies such as Staples Inc., Deutsche Telekom, TeliaSonera, Rackspace Inc. and Swisscom, with an emphasis on cloud-based service delivery.
- Jamcracker, on the other hand, is a favorite of Jeff Kaplan, managing director of the THINKstrategies consulting firm, because it was a pioneer in the field. The company, which describes itself as a cloud services brokerage enabler, offers its Jamcracker Services Delivery Network to help customers unify delivery of private, public or hybrid cloud services to their customers, channels and employees.
- Parallels is another company that Kaplan considers worth watching. Its cross-platform Parallels Access offers store-like services for Windows and Mac applications, automatically optimized to function via the iPad.
Finally, Pelino noted, companies such as Hyperion, AppCentral and Apperian have the capability to bring to light applications that companies can pull into their own corporate app stores. And for those worried about staying power, leading telecommunications have begun to offer app-store capabilities, too -- generally by white-labeling another solution. As Pelino put it: "They answer a big buyer question: Who will be around tomorrow?"
On the horizon, Pelino expects to see stores expand what they offer: "You will see, over time, the idea of content, such as marketing data, going to the stores -- not just apps."