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Seven Habits of Highly Successful Enterprise App Stores

In the first of this two-part series, we examined why you may need an enterprise app store. In part two, we dive into how to develop an app store.

While enterprise app stores may be a smart option for organizations seeking to get a handle on app management, simply building one doesn't guarantee success with your users. In fact, developing a clunky app store may actually have a more detrimental effect than not building one at all.

"Neglected or slow-moving enterprise app stores aggravate all employees, especially in the app inclusion process," says Dan Croft, CEO of Mission Critical Wireless. "If an employee requests an app for inclusion in the enterprise app store, it's important to ensure a speedy approval or block process. If the process is too slow, employees may get frustrated and find a way to circumvent IT and access the app, which can compromise security."

With IDC predicting that the global mobile workforce is set to hit 1.3 billion people by 2015, and Gartner naming mobile app stores as No. 5 of its 10 most strategic technologies for 2012, now is the time to start thinking about how to make upcoming app store build-outs successful. Here's what mobile experts think it will take:

1. Have pre-defined policies. Before any code is written or architecture is designed, IT needs to get to work setting policies.

"Define which users get access to what apps, who is responsible for app selection, rules of app distribution, pricing and licensing, legal terms, right to wipe device or selectively wipe apps and user responsibility for data protection," says Brian Reed, chief marketing and product officer at BoxTone. "You will fail without thinking through the permutations."

2. Link your policy engine to your enterprise directory. Once those policies are defined, it's critical to link the enterprise app catalog with a policy engine linked to your enterprise directory, be it Active Directory (AD) or LDAP--similar to the way PC app management tools work, Reed says.

"That [way,] mobile user rights of who gets what mobile app are managed centrally via AD using the same defined policies and practices already used in the business," he explains.

As he puts it, in the traditional enterprise, organizations use AD to ensure that sales reps get access to ABC sales resources, while sales executives get access to ABC resources, plus XYZ executive resources.

"You don't want sales getting access to XYZ executive resources," he says. "Many enterprise app catalogs don't restrict access to users based on corporate policy; instead it's one big app catalog for all employees. You don't want this risky setup for failure."

3. Build in cross-platform support. A "cross-platform sensibility" is fundamental to success of an enterprise app store infrastructure, says Andrew Till, senior VP of connected devices for Symphony Teleca.

"In the future, it'll be increasingly important for global enterprises to support their employees bettering their productivity through any tools they'd like, and an integrated app store will be critical to those efforts," he says.

This will mean that the in-house project manager will need a solid understanding of every mobile operating system utilized by the company, warns Jordan Hudgens, senior software engineer at MCW Services.

"For larger enterprises, this can mean knowing tens of thousands of smartphone operating systems, and subgroups that have different versions of the OS software," he says. "If a company uses iOS for all users this becomes less of a challenge. However, if employees have BlackBerry or Android devices, cross-platform compatibility offers a unique obstacle to overcome and could ultimately require the company to develop multiple app stores."

4. Consider a hybrid approach. One way to bridge the compatibility gap while still minding the current limitations of HTML5 is through the use of a "hybrid" mobile app approach, says John Crupi, chief technology officer at JackBE.

"In a hybrid app store model, an organization creates a native mobile app which is responsible for authenticating the user into the enterprise and delivering the HTML5 Web app and data," says Crupi. "Not only does this leverage the vast number of JavaScript developers and libraries, it also helps address app and data security."

According to Crupi, in this model everything works in real time. And because there is only one native app installed and everything else is delivered on demand, wiping and uninstalling apps becomes a non-issue.

5. Involve users in development. Usability needs to remain at the forefront of any enterprise app store project. While administrative control may be a big goal with such a project, the true ROI comes in offering an easy app experience that allows users to gain access to tools that make it easier to do their jobs.

"App stores have become embedded in user consciousness as the mechanism to get the apps," says John Juris, director of product management at Flexera Software. "That mechanism must be easy and intuitive. But it also must have the back-end controls, processes and workflow to ensure the enterprise is protected and retains control, without hampering end-user access."

One way to ensure that your app store will resonate with users is to embed these employees into the development and testing process, making sure it's done right the first time.

"It's very easy to forget about the field employees. In many cases, the field users, the ones that will eventually be most affected by the solution, are excluded from the team that is responsible for evaluating and managing the mobile project," says Moshe BenBassat, founder of ClickSoftware. He added that he believes avoiding this can save heartache down the line.

6. Assign a corporate app manager. Finding and approving new third-party apps can be a challenge if your enterprise seeks to enforce a tight grip on app policies. The more roadblocks put in place during this discovery and approval, the less useful and innovative the app store will be for users.

In order to facilitate the approval process and appropriate testing of application for policy and integration purposes, it may be necessary to delegate an IT team member as "corporate app manager" to oversee and manage all aspects of the store, says Croft.

"These responsibilities may include testing and approving requested apps from employees, incorporating apps into the enterprise app store and ensuring everything is functioning properly," he explains.

7. Continuously monitor licensing and compliance. Organizations will need to continuously monitor app deployment through the app store for compliance and licensing purposes. The store should be able to track who has which apps for licensing or other corporate-tracking financial needs, Reed explains, while also being able to track for security compliance purposes.

"[This includes] monitoring mobile device and apps for a violation like blacklisted apps or missing passcodes or a user who gets fired, which requires an automated action to block the device or running of an app until [that] device and apps come back into compliance," he says.