Could App Store Boost SharePoint Benefits?

Ann All

I've written several times about enterprise app stores, noting their potential to end "stealth" application purchases by business users, considering some of the features enterprise app stores could borrow from popular consumer app stores, and spotlighting a trend of enterprise app stores based on application type. A few weeks ago I interviewed Sam Liu, VP of marketing for Partnerpedia, a provider of private label marketplace and enterprise app store solutions, about the growing popularity of enterprise app stores.


Liu told me enterprise app stores can help IT organizations offer business users a larger role in selecting the technologies they need to do their jobs while maintaining the ability to create and enforce policies and procedures for devices and users. The app stores are also likely to feature third-party apps from developers other than traditional suppliers of enterprise apps like SAP, Microsoft and Oracle, Liu said:

Beyond sourcing my apps from the traditional vendors, maybe IT organizations will start looking at more third parties to solve some of their business requirements. They'll probably look at them first for the non-mission-critical apps, maybe some productivity apps that can be used by the mobile work force. I think companies will source those more and more from third parties.


While most enterprise app stores today are focused on mobile applications, Liu believes that will change in the future. As he told me:


With the app store model, there's no reason to limit it to mobile devices. There's no reason it can't be expanded to desktops. It's just another, easier way to provide access to apps and to give users self-service capabilities.


Given the potential opportunity, it's not surprising that vendors of all sizes are introducing app stores. For several weeks now there has been lots of buzz about Microsoft's plan to launch an app store for Windows 8, with folks like Microsoft's Mike Halsey, author of "Troubleshooting Windows 7 Inside Out" and "Windows 7 Power Users Guide," chiming in on the positives and negatives of a Windows app store and tech publications offering ideas of how the Windows 8 app store might work as more details become available.


This store seems geared more toward consumers than enterprises, yet there seems to be an opportunity for Microsoft to launch stores for its enterprise products as well. Its many partners selling products to businesses would no doubt welcome the opportunity to get their apps in front of a wider audience and, done right, an app store could boost usage of products like SharePoint.


As I wrote earlier this summer, SharePoint has proven more popular with IT organizations than with business users. Writing for CMS Wire, Derek Weeks, director of product and corporate marketing for Global 360, makes a similar observation, noting that his own interactions with SharePoint haven't been user friendly.


In my post I cited advice from Lee Bryant, co-founder and director of Headshift, to use SharePoint as a base platform, one with Office integration, authentication, document management and portal services, and add third-party products for user-facing functionality. Bryant also recommended getting business users more involved. Thinking back to Liu's comments, one of the biggest benefits of enterprise app stores is getting users more involved in the app selection process.


As Weeks writes, a SharePoint app store will also help in-house development teams keep up with business stakeholders' requests for apps. In a recent survey administered by OpenText Global 360 and EndUserSharePoint.com, SharePoint developers and consultants tapped the "development time needed for business applications" as their top challenge -- and that challenge will only grow as more business folks adopt SharePoint. Weeks writes:


For the SharePoint developer community, there is an alternative available to spending countless hours building and managing applications in-house. With a simple Google search, you can identify a number of Microsoft ISV partners and consultants who offer out-of-the-box or customized business applications on top of SharePoint. For those developers looking to accelerate their own application builds using SharePoint web parts, you might seek out vendors like Bamboo Solutions, Quest or large SharePoint communities like NothingButSharePoint.com for the components you need.


As Rob Helm, managing VP of research at Directions on Microsoft, noted in our interview last summer, SharePoint development can be tricky. He told me, "SharePoint is nominally a .NET development, but it goes so far beyond .NET, it's really its own universe." An enterprise app store might make SharePoint more appealing to companies with limited internal development resources.

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