Inviting the App Store Into Your Enterprise

By Guest Author  |  Posted 01-29-2014
Mobile apps

Inviting the App Store Into Your Enterprise

By Shivesh Vishwanathan

App stores are the mobile equivalent of desktop Web browsers in many ways. They are the predominant mechanism for delivering content and functionality in the mobile world. They provide much more control than traditional browsers and the direct ability for developers and administrators to deploy, monitor, manage and monetize apps and the content that passes through them. This, along with being end user-facing, has made them the cornerstone of the outside-in view for users and developers. Within the enterprise, they will soon be the final manifestation of application management and device management capabilities for end users and IT administrators, and become as ubiquitous as the intranet.

Let’s take a look at the outside-in view and the key characteristics of app stores so we can evaluate them for the enterprise.

User and Device Identity. One of the most important characteristics of app stores that differentiate them from regular Web browsers is the fact that app stores have identifiable users with strong identities. App stores play an integral role in the mobile ecosystem of devices, developers, publishers and end users by identifying the users they provide services to, blocking usage when required and ensuring security. In an enterprise, user identity elements span not just employees, but also partners, vendors and resellers so having the right level of access and functionality for each stakeholder is critical to its success.

App Discovery. App stores need their apps to be discoverable through various means like searching, browsing, tagging, sharing, ratings and other features. As apps proliferate, sifting through them and finding what is required is critical for the app store to be successful. In addition to the top-down discoverability features—such as cataloguing, searching, browsing and categorizing apps that enable users to understand the taxonomy, navigations, sorting and filtering through them—having "bottom-up discoverability" features that are similar to search engine and social media optimization of the Web are important as they enable users to understand app popularity and social acceptance through features such as tagging, ratings and reviews.

App Delivery. App delivery is a central feature of app stores, which enable users to browse, install and uninstall apps on their devices. The heavy fragmentation of device endpoints means that the app store has to support reliable app delivery on multiple devices with varied capabilities and device types. All these delivery features have to be well defined in order to provide rich functionality along with keeping the overall delivery logistics for the developer simple and intuitive.

Versioning. With development cycles of a few weeks at best, app developers rely heavily on the ability of app stores to seamlessly manage app versions and compatibility. Features such as version management and compatibility selection while uploading enable app stores to hide the inherent complexity from end users and provide them with a clean interface.

Monetization and Viability. App store platforms enable app developers to create viable business or service models. App stores enable service delivery, and their viability and acceptance is dependent on how they provide a sustainable ecosystem for developers, end users and partners who use them. When app stores are used in a private context, such as an enterprise or a non-profit, apps and workflows need to be prioritized in the right order to provide a clear path to being a profitable endeavor.

App Sanctity and Security. Unlike the Web browser world where putting a URL on the address bar could take you to a completely unknown territory of the Internet, app stores provide checks, reviews and approvals to ensure the security and sanctity of the apps they host. App stores are usually owned and hosted by a known entity, and one of its primary functions is to safeguard users from malicious apps, unsecured data and subpar user experience.

Getting the above outside-in view right is only a part of the story. Often overlooked in the cacophony of apps and app stores is the need for enterprises to mobile-enable their workflows and processes. This inside-out view consists of readying the enterprise backend systems, deploying mobility middleware, managing user identities, and exposing and managing Web service APIs. As an IT leader, it’s critical to get the inside-out view right, because being behind on it could mean the difference between a highly successful mobility initiative and one that is dead on arrival.

Inviting the App Store Into Your Enterprise

Readying Your Enterprise For Mobility

Mobility is often associated with the app revolution and the philosophy of delivering functionality through them via various mobile devices. Among the challenges that must be addressed before your enterprise is prepared for mobility are the need to ready existing, often legacy, backend systems; realigning the enterprise architecture to include mobility; addressing the changed usage patterns of users; exploiting the contextual nature of mobile; and managing user identity and access. Mobility initiatives need to scale these challenges through a series of five steps, which will lead to unlocking the true enterprise potential of mobility.

1.    From system-centric data to identifying mashups

If content is king on the Web, it’s mashups that are king on mobile. Like many other technologies, such as Web services and SOA, mashups play a more critical role in mobile app delivery. Today’s apps rarely access a single backend system. They are often aggregations of information from multiple sources, and it is not uncommon for enterprises to aggregate information from internal as well as external sources such as LinkedIn, Google Maps and Yahoo! Finance. The key challenge in this step is to identify the right mashups and to architect the backend to provide them.

2.    From mashups to aggregating data into the API management platform

Front-end mobile devices and platforms are often reported to be highly fragmented. While that is true, and there are products trying to address the problem, there has been a significant amount of fragmentation at the back end with different technology stacks, architectures and incompatible systems having been introduced by different functional groups, each of which had a valid reason to choose what was best for them. Managing the multitude of back-end systems was always difficult for IT teams, but unifying them today while protecting these investments has become a key concern. Web services-based API management provides an efficient way of aggregating and delivering mashups to the front end.

3.    Combining API management and existing workflows to build mobility middleware

Enterprise processes and workflows have been encoded, encapsulated and delivered using mechanisms such as Business Process Modeling (BPM), Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and Service-Oriented Architecture. BPM and ESB simplify workflow process modeling and bring them together, but what is needed today is to provide a well-defined interface between that existing back-end and the front-end, and to bring diverse back-end systems onto a single platform. Mobility middleware, which can take a few different forms, can provide the missing link between the back end and front end, and is a critical component of the new enterprise architecture.

4.    Using unified middleware to drive value-centric usage

Climbing the first three steps successfully will result in reaching the next step, which is toward true value-creation through mobility. Mobile software is used by users very differently from traditional enterprise systems. In fact, the phrase “enterprise system” conjures up images of entire enterprise functions encapsulated into individual systems such as HRMS, CRM and others. These are all silos. People using mobile apps, on the other hand, have very different expectations. What they are interested in is the value they receive—whether mashedup content, intelligent analytics, contextual information and social benefits—they are less interested in what "management system" they need to visit. Mashups, API management and unified middleware provide usage that breaks down these silos and delivers cross-functionality.

5.    Providing value-centric usage to newer user identities

The need for identity and access management for enterprise Web software was served by a suite of technologies like the intranet, firewall, VPN and directory server, among others. Almost all of these were built exclusively with the employee in mind. However, value-centric usage expands the discussion beyond just employees to include other stakeholders such as partners, vendors, resellers and customers. With the advent of social media, consumerization of IT and mobility itself, these stakeholders expect to be included—and can add value—in enterprise workflows. Along with addressing the cross-functional usage as part of the previous step, enterprises need to create "meta-identities" that include these stakeholders in their fabric of identity management.

While climbing the steps above, you will notice a paradigm shift from system-centric data to value-centric usage. What stumps most IT heads driving enterprise mobility inside their organization is this paradigm shift. Not building these five steps with this shift in mind can result in piecemeal mobile implementations or, worst still, a failed one. On the other hand, if these steps are traversed systematically, what awaits the IT leader is an opening up of possibilities that include a productive workforce, engaged partners and satisfied customers.

About the Author

Shivesh Vishwanathan is a mobility principal in the Technology Consulting Group at Persistent Systems. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "How Consumerware Will Transform Mobile Apps," click here.