App stores are coming to the enterprise

Popular on consumer mobile sites, app stores may help IT finally gain control over the software that is consumed inside their organizations.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

My tweetable definition of service-oriented architecture: "App store for the enterprise."

This definition is meant to be half tongue-in-cheek and half serious. After all, we're talking about a well-managed, consistent and accessible registry environment in which well-vetted, governed and interoperable apps (or services) are made available for sharing across the enterprise. Isn't that what SOA is supposed to do?

That's why Tony Baer's recent paper on enterprise app stores hits the spot. It discusses how the app store model has been brought over from the mobile world (Apple AppStore, Android Market) to address enterprise software distribution pains. As Tony put it, for enterprise IT departments, app stores provides the ability "to gain control over the software that is consumed inside their organizations. With these approaches, IT organizations can centrally manage licensing and versions of tools that are used, so that they can reduce or eliminate unused licenses."

ZDNet colleague Dana Gardner recently held a roundtable discussion with Tony, an Ovum analyst, along with Embarcadero Technologies' Michael Swindell and Logica's Richard Copland about the surprising growth of enterprise app stores.  All agree that the enterprise app store represents an important new phase in the consumerization of IT.

Tony added that app stores also will make IT departments "more of a service provider." In addition, app store deployments represent more of a "just-in-time" model for IT to get apps and services out to end-users, and the previous lengthy application development lifecycles may not cut it in this new environment:

"There's no free lunch in all this, and it still requires management. For example, we still need to worry about dealing with security governance, managing consumption, and also making sure that you lock down, or secure the licensing issues. As I said, there’s no free lunch, but compare that to the overhead of the traditional application distribution and deployment process. ...from the end user standpoint, it should be a win-win, but from the IT standpoint, it's going to mean a number of changes. Also, this is breaking new ground with a number of the vendors. What they need to do is check on things such as licensing issues, because what you're really talking about is a more flexible deployment policy. Long-term, it's definitely a win-win. Short-term, there are adjustments to be made by IT and also by the software industry."

Swindell also made the observation that consumer app stores do a very good job of tracking metrics, such as usage patterns, downloads, and so forth.  It would be easy to gather similar metrics from enterprise app stores, providing IT managers a good sense of what applications are and are not in demand.

Another benefit not mentioned in the panel discussion, but long the holy grail of enterprises, is helping with the chargeback model. An enterprise app store can provide an accurate accounting of who from which department is purchasing what. This approach will help justify -- in hard numbers -- investments in app and service development.

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