Gartner recently predicted that 25% of organizations will have their own app store by 2017, and while app stores can improve flexibility and empower staff, once the floodgates open it can be incredibly difficult for enterprises to manage software licensing, control entitlement and track actual software usage.
Enterprise app stores are designed to give an iTunes-like consumer app store experience. However, because these app stores are rolled out in enterprises, they have to be smarter than iTunes. Consider the following:
* Cost: Most consumer apps are free or cost about a dollar. Enterprise apps can cost hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per user. How do you contain costs? What do you do if a manager needs to approve an expenditure before an app can be downloaded? How does the cost get tracked back to the appropriate office or department?
[ IN PICTURES: 10 years of the iTunes Store
* Complexity: Consumer apps are designed around the devices that will be downloading them. So you know an iTunes app will work on your iPhone, but employees have apps running on multiple devices (desktops, laptops, mobile devices, in SaaS or virtual environments, etc.). The enterprise app store needs to be a lot smarter to get the right app to the right device so that it will work.
* Environments: Consumer app stores also only need to contend with one or so physical operating systems -- iOS 6, Android 4.2. Most companies have complex environments that also include Windows, virtualized environments, private and/or public clouds, and SaaS. How does the app store know who the user is and what that user needs?
* Compliance: When you pay for an app and download it in iTunes -- as long as you don't try and hack into the app and resell it -- it's hard to fall out of compliance. Generally you have rights to use the app perpetually, and you have access to upgrades when they come out. But businesses generally buy licenses in bulk for groups of users -- and the terms of how those licenses get deployed and used are complex. How can an iTunes-like app store manage that complexity?
* Managing the software license lifecycle: Consumer apps are often disposable: You can forget about them or delete them without a meaningful economic downside. But because of the cost and complexity of implementing enterprise apps, they have to be kept track of, used and re-used. If the employee who downloaded an app leaves the company, what do you do with that license? If the employee doesn't use the app she downloaded, how do you return it to the license pool so the investment isn't wasted?
Given how expensive enterprise software is, failure to consider all of the above issues can create an unbearable pain for companies trying to implement enterprise app stores. So how can companies deliver the "bling" without the "sting"?
Companies need to think about application usage management as an overall strategy to maximize the value of their software assets across the entire license lifecycle. This includes implementing an enterprise app store environment that is tightly integrated with organizations' essential software license optimization and application readiness systems. [Also see: "Will the iPad increase your Microsoft licensing fees?"]
These back-office systems are implemented to ensure companies derive the most value and efficiency from their software licenses -- by ensuring continual software license compliance and optimization, and by providing automated application migration, compatibility testing, packaging and deployment capabilities that help keep store shelves stocked with apps that are ready for immediate delivery to the user's device of choice.
Smart companies have already implemented these systems to manage the software license lifecycle. So finding an enterprise app store that is tightly integrated into those systems makes sense. According to Gartner:
Investing in an enterprise app store that is tightly integrated on the back end with these systems will provide the familiar, intuitive, iTunes-like experience employees want when accessing the enterprise apps they need to do their jobs. But doing so will also provide CIOs, CFOs and CEOs the confidence of knowing that the organization's strategic software assets are still being managed cost-effectively and efficiently.
Steve Schmidt is VP of corporate development at Flexera Software.
Read more about software in Network World's Software section.