Fair Warning, IT: Study Up on Pros, Cons of Enterprise App Store

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You've heard of private clouds, but what about in-house app stores? That's just crazy talk, right?

Not to Medtronic, a global provider of medical equipment and state-of-the-art technology. Medtronic offers its employees more than a dozen in-house apps for the iPad, all distributed through the company's own App Store, according to Apple's iPad for Business site.

Not surprisingly, integration is a key component of ensuring these apps are business-ready. For instance, the mobile content management application - mCMS - is used by the sales team to present products, and so depends on up-to-date integration with Medtronic's backend systems.

Still, when it comes to the idea of buying enterprise applications from an app store, most enterprises are dragging their feet or straight-out balking at the idea, according to Dion Hinchcliffe, the founder and chief technology officer for the Enterprise Web 2.0 advisory and consulting firm Hinchcliffe & Company.


In a recent ZDNet column, Hinchcliffe discusses the potential of and obstacles to enterprise apps stores at some length. Hinchcliffe acknowledges there may be several reasons why we haven't seen enterprise app stores catch on the way consumer app stores have: Possibly no one's hit that marketing sweet spot of audience, features and available apps, or maybe there's not a lot of demand for just-in-time business software.

Yep, he pretty much laughed outright at that last one, too.


Ultimately, he suggests this is another case of enterprise IT fighting to maintain control at the expense of the business:

No, a big part of the issue here is that IT departments are directly in the critical path of enterprise software consumption. Last year I explored how the stranglehold that IT has on both the strategic and tactical use of technology in large companies is slipping for a confluence of reasons. The ongoing consumerization of the enterprise (CoIT) is rapidly leading to something some observers are calling the Personal Enterprise, where users are increasingly in control of shaping their technology experience at work.

I'll let you read the rest of his excellent post for the details on that nugget, as well as the debate over whether or not this is a good idea. I also suggest you read the comments from readers for a few ideas on the counterargument.


But I will say this: Once again, integration is a huge issue here. You would think that the problem with app stores would be a lack of integration, but actually, as Hinchcliffe points out, many businesses are using OpenSocial as a sort of integration wrapper for third-party applications. OpenSocial, according to one source he interviewed, cuts the cost of integration of third-party apps and reduces the time to deployment from months to a few weeks. Writes Hinchcliffe:

There's often been debate on how effective OpenSocial in the consumer space has been given that Facebook has dominated social networking applications on the Internet. But in the enterprise, OpenSocial increasingly seems to be gaining a foothold as a natural integration models that also incorporates the social context of its users.

Hinchcliffe outlines three issues he think a successful enterprise app store would have to address, and not surprisingly, one of the issues is about data storage transparency. As part of that discussion, he notes an app store would get "additional bonus points" for ensuring enterprises can export all data in an open-standard format.


Alas, he doesn't discuss what drew me to this article in the first place: Some integration vendors such as SnapLogic and Pervasive already have "app stores" for their connectors; although, generally, these are designed to address SaaS integration. I wondered if he'd discuss whether IT is making use of these integrations.


But it's already a long column, with a ton of information to digest. The idea of an enterprise app store - inhouse or not - brings to mind the Wild West days of personal PCs when you could still install, but as Hinchcliffe points out, it doesn't have to be that risky. In fact, some vendors are already offering IT a way to control which apps end users can see and download.


However, for IT to do that, it at least has to be open to a discussion about enterprise app stores. Given IT's lack of success with "shadow" technology, I'd suggest you consider being proactive, rather than reactive, on this one, especially since some of these apps may come with the capability to integrate on some level.


(Special thanks to Joe McKendrick, who also covered Hinchcliffe's post, and his readers, one of whom alluded to the Medtronic example.)