Despite the benefits, adoption of internal corporate appstores has been relatively muted so far, as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) has yet to fully take off.
Once there is substantial increase in enterprise support of BYOD, both appeal and adoption of corporate appstores will see a similar upswing, said Forrester principal analyst Michele Pelino.
BYOD has only just started to become popular, with companies sporadically at different stages individually along the mobile deployment path. Currently, only proactive companies would have deployed their own private appstores, she said.
Even if BYOD isn't explicitly supported in an organization, its corporate mobile technology landscape over time will indubitably become more complex to manage. More employees use their personal smartphones and tablets for work, and firms may use mobile apps to interact with internal and external parties, the Forrester analyst explained.
The result, said Pelino, is a fragmented mobile landscape with issues of app security and corporate security also coming into the picture.
In that respect, corporate appstores definitely bring value to enterprises, she argued. IT departments can more efficiently satisfy the mobile demands of employees, while at the same time control the increasingly varied mobile environment.
Benefits are many
When staff can download company-approved apps in a "self-service" fashion, it also frees up IT to concentrate more energy on critical tasks rather than housekeeping, she added.
Between private appstores and the traditional way where users make requests to IT for apps as and when needed, the latter "simply doesn't scale in any meaningful way", said John Dasher, vice president of products and marketing at AppCentral.
"There is literally no way IT could manually sideload apps to all of folks who need them in a timeframe that works."
Elaborating, he said as companies increasingly embrace mobile and BYOD, they will be motivated to find ways to protect their mobile apps and data but not control the user's device. With a corporate appstore, a company can lock or wipe any app they provide, without resorting to control the hardware which could disturb the owner's personal apps and data.
Vishal Jain, mobile services analyst at 451 Research, said even if companies see no real need now, they will soon realize the advantage of having a central distribution mechanism to distribute and allocate apps as per hierarchy, groups and departments. Furthermore, accessing an appstore is natural and intuitive to employees, given the popularity of consumer ones such as the Apple App Store and Google Play, he noted.
Chris Schroeder, CEO and co-founder of App47, an app management provider, said simplified app distribution is just one of the benefits that stem from the fact that internal appstores are a curated list of pre-approved and vetted apps.
For instance, for companies that develop only customer-facing apps, an internal appstore is still useful to distribute test builds of apps and get feedback from employees before the apps are released to public appstores.
Another example is organizations can procure a large volume of a particular app, such as a CRM tool that it needs 1,000 licenses for, and distribute those to user groups that need them. Those individuals do not have to procure the app themselves and expense it back to the company, he explained.
Security concerns are also addressed since an internal appstore provides visibility to track what apps an employee downloaded, said the CEO. Furthermore, with user accounts and user groups that can be set up, only certain employees will have access to the apps necessary for their work.
"Companies are assured that the employee gets the app you approved, and not potentially downloading a similarly-named or spoof app [from third-party stores to get the same functionality]...giving peace of mind and security to the employer," Schroeder noted.
AppCentral's Dasher argued that employers appreciate the ability to predictably distribute apps, whether customized or commercial ones, since they "want to have consumer appstore convenience, but with enterprise control".
At tech giant IBM, an internal appstore, called Whirlwind, with over 500 apps has been a "huge hit" with its workforce since it went live in 2010. Monthly app downloads number 5,000, and 85 percent of the employee population use the service, said Foong Sew Bun, CTO and distinguished engineer at IBM Asean.
"Whirlwind creates a framework for managing roles and responsibilities and keeping data in the right hands," Foong said. "It enables a wider range of tools to our employees while also allowing us to maintain high standards of mobile security and management as the number of mobile knowledge workers and smart device penetration continues to grow."