Building your first corporate app store: Getting started

When it comes to mobile and desktop apps, modern consumers have been spoilt for choice. Thanks to mobile app stores such as Google Play and the Apple App Store, the concept of installing an application has switched from a mysterious IT procedure to a day-to-day routine.


When it comes to mobile and desktop apps, modern consumers have been spoilt for choice. Thanks to mobile app stores such as Google Play and the Apple App Store, the concept of installing an application has switched from a mysterious IT procedure to a day-to-day routine.

Yet despite the average user having both the knowledge and capability to install their own apps, there is one sphere of usage where such freedoms are strictly barred… the workplace.

As the “mysteries” of IT start to seep away, many employees are left wondering why they are not allowed to install the very applications they’ve installed a hundred times before on personal devices. Through these personal installations, many employees have grown accustomed to the idea that apps should be available ‘right here, right now’, with the demand for open installations being driven from every level of the business.

Yet despite this, the vast majority of IT departments continue to keep a tight leash on their organisation’s application portfolios - rolling out apps ‘en masse’ on as little as a year-by-year basis. While many businesses have good reason for undertaking this approach, such a system is slow, lacking in agility, and does little to provide individual employees with control over their own work environments. They also do nothing to address the ‘app store’ inspired expectations of modern technology users.

Given the various negatives of this system, it may seems surprising that IT departments have been so reluctant to open up their installation programs and finally hand over the keys to power. However, this reluctance is grounded in good reason. If left unsupervised, employee installations could undermine everything from company security to confidentiality of information. This in turn could result in significant damage to a company’s reputation and even potential legislative action.

At the same time however, by blocking users from the applications they require, IT departments run the risk of encouraging users to go ‘off piste’, downloading unqualified applications to their work devices and potentially putting valuable company data at risk.

While neither of these solutions is ideal, there is in fact a third option: launching your own corporate app store.

Through the development of an app store, companies can allow their employees to login and download their own (carefully selected) applications from a corporate-owned site. This helps businesses to ensure that any installed applications are efficiently distributed, approved, tracked and managed from inside the company. In turn, this provides the security and traceability of traditionally apps, while also creating the feeling that users can simply download “what they want, when they want it”.  

Such stores can also help IT departments to avoid unnecessary application ‘chaos’ by removing issues with device performance, security and licensing. Additionally, corporate app stores can also benefit the board by dramatically reducing the wider IT spend on applications.

While the launch of a corporate app store might sound like a much-needed “best of both worlds” solution, the implementation of such a store requires a great deal of careful up-front planning. Businesses need to be clear of the rationale behind their app store projects, and should cautiously plan both the approvals processes, and the range of destination device types.

As it stands, there are a reasonably limited number of commercial options for acquiring an app store framework. If you already have an existing intranet up-and-running, SharePoint or another intranet-style system can do the job. The new System Centre Configuration Manager, SCCM (12), for example, has a shopping cart feature, which can be used for this same purpose.

Before considering the implementation however, businesses should first look to undertake an up-front application rationalisation exercise. Without understanding what an organisation’s application estate currently looks like, the creation of an app store will prove extremely difficult, if not practically impossible.

As a result, a company should not consider introducing an app store until it has answered the following four key questions:

  1. What apps are currently available to the company’s employees
  2. Which applications are actively being used by employees
  3. How much does each app cost to support and license
  4. Are there any duplicate functions across a company’s apps.

By answering these four questions, businesses can not only help to decide which apps they do and do not need within their store, they also help to establish a baseline by which the business can measure improvements and efficiency.

While it’s important for management to approach these questions, it is also vital for a business to include its employees within such an audit. As the end users of the corporate app store, employees represent an essential resource within this process. They can help to determine which apps aren’t necessary, while also ensuring that IT doesn’t delete anything that has a potential use.

Once this initial audit is complete, IT departments can then begin working on the tactical development of their app store. With customers and employees having grown accustomed to the slick installation processes of the Apple App Store and Google Play, this development needs to focus on providing convenience and flexibility.  As a result, businesses will ideally need to package applications so that they will silently install in the one-click fashion that consumer and employees have become accustomed to: No installation, destination prompts, security prompts, or otherwise.

While it would be easy to fill an entire book explaining the process of developing a corporate app store, hopefully this article has provided a clear starting point.

For if anything, that is the one area that so many businesses struggle to approach… the starting point. By jumping straight into the development of their own stores, organisations are setting themselves up for disaster.

Unless IT departments take the time to understand their existing application portfolios, their attempts at launching a corporate store will never succeed.  By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

 Posted by Simon Body, CTO at application migration specialist Camwood.

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