Interview

Untethering the smartphone with an enterprise application store

Kara Gattine, senior managing editor
What is an enterprise application store and why is it important?

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Enterprises need to be able to deploy applications to smartphones. These applications make the smartphone more useful by making it into a business tool and by connecting it to the enterprise. Examples of applications and services that may be deployed are messaging applications like email and instant messaging, security applications like antivirus, line-of-business applications like CRM and SFA, and personal productivity applications like document editing and expense tracking.

Apple, with its App Store, has raised the bar on smartphone application distribution, but only for the consumer market. The Apple App Store makes it easy for vendors to reach consumers and for smartphone users to find and deploy applications. The other smartphone vendors have responded in kind, with Google's Android Market, BlackBerry's App World, and the Windows Mobile Marketplace. Each of these application clouds has somewhat different business models, but all target the consumer market and none satisfies the needs of the enterprise. For example, enterprises need a way to deploy custom applications, negotiate license pricing with their independent software vendors (ISVs), and control application policies. How are enterprise smartphone applications being deployed today?
It depends on the Mobile OS and the type of application. BlackBerry distributes enterprise applications through the BES server, but this applies mostly to applications that are mandatory for the smartphone, and it doesn't give the administrator the ability to present the user with a set of permitted -- but not required -- apps. Users can deploy applications themselves on Windows Mobile devices, or they may be pushed using a mobile device management (MDM) product. Some applications, perhaps better called services, require specialized configuration using enterprise back-end systems, and sometimes they require the device to be tethered. And tethering introduces its own set of problems. What are the unique challenges facing the enterprise when it comes to tethering?
Tethering forces the user to connect the smartphone to a PC/MAC/laptop. These connections introduce security issues -- many companies have policies in place to protect against data leakage and malware, for example, by not allowing USB keys to be attached to a laptop. In general, the ideal solution is to have any device connect directly to the enterprise network. This forces data-flows through the usual channels that are managed, protected, filtered and audited. Tethering is also complicated for the end user and not automated -- it's difficult to push applications and updates to a smartphone when these only happen via tethering. The irony is that the most connected devices we own -- our smartphones -- do not yet live in a completely Web-based, over-the-air world.

Consumer application clouds do exist, but they are not suitable for the enterprise. The enterprise needs its own application store. So what would an enterprise application store look like?
An enterprise application store gives IT administrators and users the ability to manage the applications on their devices. It has four fundamental properties:

1. The enterprise app store is controlled by the IT administrator and managed by IT. The app store may live in the enterprise or as a cloud service, but it must be private and under the control of the enterprise. Managing of the application store by IT is important for many reasons, including protecting the IP in custom applications, and license management.

2. The enterprise app store must be accessible over the air with no tethering required. Users should authenticate using enterprise credentials.

3. The enterprise application store should be able to handle a wide set of applications and services:

  • Applications that are mandatory for all devices (e.g., email, antivirus, VoIP).
  • Line-of-business applications that are specific to the employee and his role or job (e.g., CRM, SFA).
  • Recommended or permitted third-party applications -- these applications could live in the enterprise app store or be pointed to from the app store.

4. A single enterprise app store should support multiple mobile OSs. The enterprise does not want one application store for BlackBerry and another for iPhone and so on. Enterprise IT should be able to manage applications and services, and associated configurations and policies, from a single app store.

What do you see for the future of smartphone applications in the enterprise?
Smartphones make business more efficient by bringing enterprise data and systems where they are needed, so information can be made more useful and kept more current, and they enable better decisions based on the resources available in real time. Increasingly, we will see these applications implemented as rich clients that leverage data from the data center in order to optimize the user experience but leave enterprises with good control over their information. Smartphones will also start to complement, and perhaps replace, other devices in the enterprise.

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