IT departments have turned to enterprise app stores as an alternative to cloud-based app stores from Apple and Google to better control mobile applications.
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Mobile app stores provide a way to easily distribute in-house applications, manage volume licensing agreements and provide employees with a collection of pre-approved public apps, said Brian Katz, director of mobile engineering at Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company based in Bridgewater, N.J.
App stores set up by the IT department offer a trusted alternative to Apple Inc.'s App Store and Google Inc.'s Play because those popular public app stores may include apps corrupted by malware, said Ian Finley, a mobile analyst at Gartner Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn.
Twenty-five percent of enterprises will deploy an enterprise app store for managing corporate-sanctioned apps on mobile devices over the next five years, according to a February 2013 survey by Gartner. The research firm did not provide information on how many companies use enterprise app stores today, however.
Enterprise app stores also address one of the biggest problems with mobile application management (MAM) -- that it's nearly impossible to wrap policy and security around mobile applications without an internal app store, said Amit Pandey, general manager of mobility at Citrix Systems Inc.
"The elephant in the room is you need a distribution model in place, otherwise there's no practical use for MAM," Pandey said.
Further, the distribution of mobile applications can become quite complex for organizations without an IT control point.
For example, apps distributed through a public app store might require the software vendor to release two different versions of the app -- one for the public and one that allows for app wrapping. There's no guarantee, however, that employees will download the correct app or that the independent software vendor will even agree to do that in the first place, Pandey said.
Organizations that use an internal distribution method for mobile applications have more control over what employees do with those apps, Gartner's Finley said.
"We had no visibility into what people were using," said J Ackley, director of information systems at Ivie and Associates, a retail marketing company based in Flower Mound, Texas.
Mobile app management options
When the iPad was released nearly three years ago, it caused a massive shift in employees wanting to use personal devices for work instead of locked-down corporate-provided ones. That shift really took off about a year-and-a-half ago at Ivie, he said.
Ackley estimated that about 75% of the 500-employee organization now relies on bring your own device for smartphones and tablets. As a result, the IT department shifted from managing hardware to managing the apps and data employees use.
"I was starting to scramble a bit," Ackley said, because employees were downloading and using whatever applications they wanted to.
The IT department began to lose control over its ability to manage the mobile environment, so Ackley turned to an application store and management tool from Boston-based Apperian Inc.
New employees receive an SMS message to download the application store onto their mobile device and gain access to IT-vetted public apps and custom-built apps, as well.
The app store has allowed IT to gain back the level of control it feels comfortable with, without stifling employees from using their personal mobile devices as they want. There's also been another unintended side effect of using an internal app store: a better partnership between IT and the business.
"We have an open door policy now as a result of this," Ackley said. "If users find an app with a business purpose they can bring it to our attention so we can evaluate it and get it approved into our store. They know we'll do it in a timely way so they don't go behind our back and use any old app."
Some companies are even using existing software investments to create a mobile app portal for employees instead of licensing a new piece of software.
"I'm sure there are more robust solutions for internal app stores, but ours is basically an internal website," said Ernie Huber, director of process and systems for global supply management at an industrial manufacturer based in New Britain, Conn. "It was not very difficult to set up."
His organization set up a SharePoint portal as a repository for its enterprise mobility documents and links for approved mobile applications by the governance team. External apps that have been "certified" are merely links to the public app stores offered by Google and Apple, while internal custom apps are distributed through an internal repository connected to the SharePoint portal.