Apps stores are the new black. Everyone has to have one. Of course, this trend was kick started by Apple with the unveiling of the iOS App Store in July of 2008. By making it impossible to extend device - iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch - capabilities in other ways, Apple created a walled garden for it and its millions of users. By creating this tightly controlled application distribution ecosystem, Apple maintains strict oversight for the kinds of apps that can be included and they take a big cut of the sale of every app. When run in this way and with users absolutely willing to remain inside the walls, Apple has guaranteed for itself a massive ongoing revenue stream.
Apple has since extended the App Store to Mac OS X desktop users.
Not to be outdone, many other companies are creating their own app stores and some take a cut, just like Apple. Android users, for example, can enjoy new applications courtesy of the Google Android Market. Blackberry users can get new applications from Blackberry App World. The newest major entrant to this space is Amazon, which launched the Amazon Appstore to support Kindle devices, including the popular Kindle Fire. Microsoft has also joined the fray with the Windows Phone Marketplace and a similar app store will be a prominent feature in the upcoming Windows 8.
Between the fact that these apps stores support a myriad of devices, including desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and media players and the fact that it's all extremely cross platform, it's tough to keep up with all of the possible distribution and app acquisition options you have at your disposal.
I feel for developers that have to keep up with so many different distribution options, but I also see just how challenging this situation can be from an enterprise perspective, particularly with the rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. Now, CIOs have to worry about all kinds of new apps that may skirt existing business processes and access data in unexpected ways. Further, there comes the question of reimbursement. In BYOD scenarios, how do you handle employees that demand to be reimbursed for app acquisition? There is also user training to worry about, which becomes particularly challenging when users use apps on many different platforms and from many different companies.
What's a CIO to do?
First of all, I encourage any CIO that can to support BYOD. It's not going away and burying your head in the sand probably won't work. As such, good policies and support options need to be developed and must be well-understood by the user population. There are a few things that you can do to ease the support burden. Not all will work for everyone, but here are a few ideas:
- Limit support. At one employer I had in the past, we limited BYOD support to connectivity only. For mobile devices, we supported only devices that provided comprehensive ActiveSync support. For email and other services, users could use POP and IMAP, but they were on their own and we made sure they understood that the solution would not be complete. For example, with POP or IMAP, there would not be support for calendaring and contacts. Of course, this won't work everywhere. You should also consider limiting support to specific apps that are pre-selected by IT. If users choose to use other apps, they're on their own.
- Don't reimburse for apps. You may take the route that users are free to use whatever app they like for any purpose, but may make it clear that the company will not reimburse employees for apps that are purchased. Or, you may take up the question of app reimbursement on a case-by-case basis. At the very least, companies that embrace BYOD must decide how app reimbursement will take place.
- Deploy VDI. VDI is the great equalizer in a mobile world. With the right VDI solution, you can allow BYOD to take place and simply deploy to your users a connection app, such as the VMware View client. The users would still use desktop versions of apps, but the IT department would be able to support a common desktop image.
- Invest in a comprehensive mobile device management (MDM) solution. On the other hand, you might want to make sure that your users have a common experience across any mobile device they have while, at the same time, decreasing the security threat posed by rogue devices. This is where solutions from such companies as Zenprise come in. With the right MDM software, IT can continue to maintain some semblance of control over how corporate information and assets are used even when users dictate the devices they wish to use. Tools such as the Zenprise solution support all of the major application markets that are out there, too. An MDM can also be used to create an enterprise application store from which users can select pre-vetted apps for use on their mobile devices. This step is the ultimate in getting in front of the problem.
Whether or not BYOD saves money or increases productivity is anyone's guess, but it's a trend that probably won't stop anytime soon. Get in front of it by considering all of the potential pitfalls and mitigate their either via policy or technical solutions.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.