I'm intrigued by the idea of app stores that make it as easy for business people to buy an enterprise application, say business intelligence, as it is for consumers to purchase apps for their iPhones. In fact, I proposed IT organizations could cut down on stealth purchases of software by creating and administering their own app stores.
As in the consumer space, the owner/administrator of the app store realizes outside developers can produce a larger variety of apps faster, and sometimes better, than internal resources. I'd envision the IT organization and lines of business working together to stock the store with apps that would serve a broad swathe of business needs while meeting internal standards for security and stability.
If IT doesn't do this, because it lacks the resources or it simply doesn't want to do so, business users have other options. Dan Woods, writing for Forbes, mentions the Google Apps Marketplace and Salesforce.com AppExchange. (Check out IT Business Edge slideshows on 10 top Google Apps for project management, 10 top Google apps for document management and eight top Google Apps for productivity.)
Enterprise app stores would do well to adopt features of consumer-oriented marketplaces like eBay, iTunes and Amazon, which group goods into categories, offer extensive user reviews and make product recommendations based on your past purchases, Woods says. Enterprise app stores should build on these features and add even more of them. He suggests:
When a small business or a large one is looking for a solution, the apps are full-featured, not toys or games or simple apps. They are complex systems. Understanding the general idea of box.net is one thing. Understanding how to use box.net to help run your business better is another story. Understanding how to use many apps together is still another story. In the ideal world, the app store would help you get information about how to use an application in a specific industry. Comments and reviews from specific user groups could be separated so you could see what others who matched your needs said.
Enterprise app stores could do this by giving partners incentives to sell apps this way. Google already has partners like Cloud Sherpas, which sell management tools for Google Apps and App subscriptions. Woods says Google could allow partners to sell other apps in the Google Apps Marketplace, not just Google Apps, an opportunity he says companies like Cloud Sherpas would welcome:
... I suspect a company like Cloud Sherpas would jump on it. First they would sell their own product through Google Apps Marketplace directly, and then they would create bundles of products targeted toward niches.
It would also present opportunities for companies like Partnerpedia, which create private-label app marketplaces for companies. Woods says:
The way Partnerpedia provides enterprise vendors with a self-contained application marketplace could easily be applied to create storefronts for the Google Apps Marketplace. In this model you would have a way to discover, test, and then sell the application in one environment. A fully functional channel like this would allow marketers not just developers to benefit from the Google Apps Marketplace.
Knowing the lead times of some online publications, it's a safe bet Woods wrote his Forbes column before yesterday's announcement that Amazon is creating an online marketplace for Android apps.
As a Business Insider story points out, Amazon is the king of providing an overall great online shopping experience. It predicts the Amazon store will be well-curated, probably offering "a happy middle ground between Apple's sometimes crazy restrictions, and Android's free-for-all." It will serve you "amazing" customer recommendations based on your interests and purchasing history, much as it does on its huge retail site. Contrast this with app stores, even Apple's hugely successful iPhone store, "where discovery is largely broken."
Most of the stories I've seen about the Amazon news focus on what's in it for developers. But it could certainly offer ample benefits not just to individual developers but to marketers of apps, as Woods suggests. Amazon has already turned corporate technology purchasing on its head with its Elastic Compute Cloud service.
Interesting days. And as with so many of these developments, which put a corporate spin on consumer technologies, IT organizations will have to decide whether they want to fight them or leverage them.