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Build mobile app stores in six steps

Organizations that build their own mobile app stores can make life easier for IT admins tasked with monitoring what apps employees use and keeping them secure.

Enterprise mobile app stores can make it easier for an organization to deliver approved software to employees and other users. IT admins need to carefully consider how to implement one, though.

The store should provide users with a way to easily browse and download apps, while offering IT administrators the tools they require for managing and securing those apps. These six guidelines should prove useful for any organization planning its own mobile app store.

Populate the store with the right apps

The best way to ensure that an enterprise mobile app store will not fail is to include only apps that help users get their jobs done and are easy to implement, understand and use.

Sometimes, organizations may need specialty apps of a more utilitarian nature or apps that IT admins need to test and review. Functional mobile app stores will thus let organizations target apps to specific users, helping reduce the general application clutter.

Keep user experience at the forefront

Even if mobile app stores are filled with the right apps, organizations should still ensure the delivery of a quality user experience. When planning an enterprise mobile app store, app developers should take a cue from public stores, such as Google Play and Apple's App Store. The store's interface should be intuitive, simple to use and require only one or two clicks to carry out common tasks, such as installing an app. Users should preferably also have an option to access the store from whatever devices they are using.

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The app store should offer features for rating apps, providing feedback and requesting additional apps. Users should also be able to view app-specific information, such as descriptions, screenshots, aggregated ratings and other relevant details. Administrators should also be able to customize and brand the store's interface, as well as promote featured apps and send push notifications to users.

Provide complete management capabilities

An enterprise mobile app store is as much an IT tool as it is a catalog. IT admins should be able to perform a wide range of management tasks, all from a centralized UI. For example, IT admins should be able to invite users to join the store, control access to specific apps within the store, add or remove apps from the catalog, set app expiration dates, force app installations, push app updates and carry out numerous other tasks.

An enterprise mobile app store is as much an IT tool as it is a catalog.

The mobile app stores should also include an approval process for publishing apps and provide license management capabilities. Additionally, the store should support both corporate apps and third-party apps, while allowing apps to be installed from Google Play or Apple's App Store.

Provide monitoring and reporting capabilities

Part of any effective management strategy is the ability of an organization to monitor systems and gather meaningful data for analytics and reporting. Similarly, mobile app stores should also offer the tools necessary to collect data about how employees are using the apps. An administrator should be able to quickly see the number of users who have downloaded an app and how many of those users have actually launched the app.

Administrators should also be able to track adoption rates to better understand how apps might be affecting business processes and to help choose or develop more effective apps.

Ensure the store is secure

Unsecure mobile app stores can put sensitive corporate data at risk, which can have severe ramifications on an organization's reputation and business. The store should support profile-based access control, with the ability to assign apps to specific groups of users. In addition, IT admins should be able to revoke app access and to issue timely security patches. They should also be able to prevent users from installing apps on jailbroken or rooted devices, as well as be able to remotely wipe sensitive data and blacklist devices that have been lost or stolen.

In addition, admins should be able to encrypt data within the app or anywhere else data is at rest or in motion, as it relates to the store. Security protections should be applicable not just for apps installed on corporate devices and for employees, but also for apps installed on personal devices and for contractors, partners or other types of users connecting to the corporate network. The goal is to maximize security and reduce risks at every step.

Integrate the app store with other systems. 

An organization might want to implement an app store in conjunction with a third-party product or service, such as enterprise mobility management. To facilitate such integration, the app store must provide the necessary prebuilt extensions or APIs. For example, an app store might offer an API that exposes functionality, such as onboarding, inspecting or signing an app. A third-party service can then use the API to interface with the store and carry out these tasks.

Where applicable, the mobile app stores should use standards-based technologies and protocols, such as HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, SAML 2.0, OAuth and LDAP. Using industry standards makes it possible to integrate the app store with a wide range of systems, whether it is continuous integration services, such as Bitrise; development platforms, such as Appcelerator; directory services, such as Active Directory; or management tools, such as System Center Configuration Manager.

Implementing mobile app stores is a serious commitment of time and resources. Organizations might be tempted to cut corners when setting up the store, but those corners could end up costing the organization a great deal over the long term.

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