Mobile Experts

Enterprise App Stores explained – everything you need to know!

by Geoff Stead

Geoff Stead

Geoff Stead

Geoff is the Head of Mobile Learning for Qualcomm, based in both the UK and California. He is one of the global leaders in mobile learning for the workplace, and contributes to WorkLearnMobile to encourage smarter use of mobile at work, across the globe.

According to Brandon Hall’s hot-of-the-press mobile learning review, 100% of the top performing companies they spoke to are already doing mobile learning, and the higher up their performance ranking you go, the more m-learning you find

So – you are a top performing company. You have started using a couple of mobile apps at work. But what next? How do you turn some inspired use of mobile into a broader strategy?

One of the key components of this is creating an internal, corporate ecosystem for mobile. The deeper you get into mobile, the more likely you are to be putting company sensitive information into your apps, or needing a range of apps from multiple vendors. And these apps need to be stored somewhere secure.

This is your enterprise app store. Somewhere only your staff can access, where you can store all your internal apps.

Consumer expectations of mobile are very different from corporate IT systems.

  • Mobile: app stores are chaotically unstructured. You hunt out the apps you need to customise your phone experience. In the end your phone, and your collection of apps is unique to you
  • Corporate IT: platforms, and systems are hierarchical, and well structured. All employees in the same business unit will typically have the exact same experience.

If you want to connect with the consumer-centric view your staff already have of their phone, you need to seriously consider a more open, self-serve informational model for your company app store, rather than the traditional, hierarchical one.

Here is a quick summary of the spectrum of stores available, and the strategy we at Qualcomm have  adopted:

All of these options are useful – but if you are serious about creating a vibrant mobile ecosystem for your staff, you need to engage carefully in the alternatives, and figure out which suits your organisation best.

Referring to the video, here is a recap of the spectrum of app stores choices available

On the left … Open / Public:
This involves using the public app stores, and is a good start point. You can point employees at free apps. You can bulk-pay for certain apps, and issue “voucher codes” so employees can access pay apps without parting with cash. You can even set up your own corporate account to publish your own apps

This is a good start, but has 2 major problems (scale, and security)

  1. Scale: the more apps you recommend, the more vendors they will include, and the more different places, on different stores your staff will need to go to get their apps. This quickly becomes unmanageable, unless you start to curate an internal catalogue
  2. Security: Apple does NOT like publicly listed apps that only allow access to employees of one company. This makes it hard to publish any custom apps containing secure, company information on the public stores

On the right … Controlled / Private:
If you google “enterprise app stores” you will find several very well regarded vendors selling secure platforms. These are strongly in the realm of corporate IT. These are the platforms that allow secure access to your employee’s phones. They allow you to push app upgrades down to a phone, as well as to remotely block access, or remove apps. This is ideal if you have a small number of apps that you want to control access too. But requires employees to install a special “corporate app store” app that has power to add, and remove apps from your phone.

These solutions are certainly part of any good corporate mobile strategy. But they are not required (and might even be a barrier) if all you are doing is trying to encourage smarter use of apps. Many apps.

In the middle … Open / Private:
The approach we have adopted at Qualcomm is the Open / Private model. We host a catalog that only employees have access to. In that catalog is a growing list of apps. Some are free, in the public stores (so just a link to them). Some are licensed, in the public stores (so a link, together with a voucher code). Some are commissioned by us, and live inside our firewall, either as native apps (iOS, Android, WinPhone) or as web apps (html5)

At the time of writing, we have been live for less than 6 months, and have already had 11,000 of our employees visiting the store, and downloading apps. Our list of apps is still growing. Right now we are at around 30, with support for all major mobile platforms.

Open / Private works well with a wide range of apps, fairly loosely structured. This suits us as it allows us to “launch and learn”. We don’t force anyone to use any apps. We rather watch and listen to see who likes what. We offer hooks to encourage staff to share good apps with each other, and rate ones they like. We build new features, or apps if enough people request them. We enhance the apps that most people use.

So what about the vendors?

At Qualcomm we have adopted a Multi-Vendor Strategy for mobile. We want to work with all the best niche experts, and offer the best possible learning and support tools to our employees. But the flip side of this is that we did NOT want any single vendor to exert too powerful a control over our ecosystem. This is why we developed a bespoke App Store / ecosystem, that will support multiple vendors / apps / components all under one banner.

We asked around, and this seems to be exactly the same approach being adopted in other leading tech companies:

  • Apple: host their own, internal store called Switchboard
  • GE: built their own, called AppCentral
  • IBM: the same. Theirs is called Whirlwind
  • Intel: have a homemade internal app store too
  • Qualcomm: Ours is called the Employee App Store since we encourage staff to create and share apps too

Of the companies we spoke to who use a vendor to provide their store, the most common seems to be Apperian, though we know there are several other strong contenders in that space too

So – in summary: if you are serious about enterprise mobile learning, you MUST get serious about an enterprise app store. This is critical. Make it as easy as possible for your people to find the apps they need to do their jobs better.

You now know what Qualcomm, and some of the other big guys are doing. What are you going to do?

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