Distributing Enterprise Mobile Apps: A Myriad of Options
There are many different ways to distribute enterprise mobile apps to your workforce, including public device app stores, the cloud, the Web, virtualization, an enterprise app store, or a combination of any of the above -- but they all have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Public Device App Stores
Public device app stores, such as Apple’s App Store and Google Play, offer specific features for enterprises -- but typically they are not sufficient for enterprise-grade requirements, especially regarding mobile application security. With the iOS Developer Enterprise Program, a company can distribute proprietary enterprise mobile apps to its employees for $299 a year. Companies can also sign up with the Volume Purchase Program which allows businesses to buy and sell B2B apps and to purchase apps in bulk (instead of forcing each employee to install and pay for them on their own) and distribute them to employees via redemption code. However, in both scenarios, apps still need to go through the review process, which takes time, and paid apps must leave Apple with their 30% commission: not a great business model for B2B players. Google does not offer a similar program for Android, but it did recently launch a distribution solution for enterprises in the form of a private app store: a “Google Play Private Channel”. However, you have to be a Google Apps customer, only one per company is allowed and apps cannot be distributed to a specific group of users, i.e., one app that goes only to the sales team. Although it is a start, this is not feature-rich enough to be a satisfactory distribution method for most IT departments.
Enterprise mobile apps can be developed and distributed using a public cloud, which are economical (pay for usage) and work well with the trend towards Mobile Back-end as a Service (MBaaS), but are typically lacking in mobile security. Companies can also develop their own private cloud, which requires investment in server software and hardware, as well as maintenance costs. Some companies are moving towards a hybrid cloud approach, where they might use the public cloud for testing and large bursts in capacity, and keep secure data on their private cloud.
Another option is to use web-based apps instead of native, which allow for easier distribution with no app store and the ability to port the same code to all mobile platforms, but functionality and user experience could be negatively affected depending on what the app needs to do. See our previous post on the never-ending HTML5 vs. native vs. web debate.
Desktop virtualization, which places a PC environment on a mobile device, can give the user the applications that they already are familiar with. With this option, IT can keep sensitive data off the device and maintain enterprise mobile apps more easily, but the employees won’t want to use them as the apps are not designed for the mobile form factor.
Enterprise App Stores
Enterprise app stores are perhaps the best option because they are the only solution that gives IT the control that they need. IT can ensure that only apps that meet the company’s security standards are downloaded by employees and exposed to the corporate network. IT also has more visibility to who downloaded what app and how many licenses in use, which allows them to control cost and monitor usage -- important in determining whether the app is useful enough to warrant further development and can help them comply with internal control policies. An enterprise app store also gives companies the ability to grant role-based access to a single app, which is important for enterprise apps that serve different functional areas of the company. Companies are beginning to realize these benefits; Gartner predicts that by 2017, 25% of companies will use an enterprise app store for managing their employees’ corporate-sanctioned apps.