Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) has become more than a trend. It’s quickly become an expectation of employees. That’s leading IT departments to experiment with the application store model in hopes of allowing users to easily self-provision while still retaining IT control over the apps they use.
The proliferation of iPhones and iPads in particular means people have become used to quickly installing and using just about any application they need at any given moment. When they bring those devices to the office, they want the same easy access to corporate apps they enjoy at home.
Dion Hinchliffe, executive vice president of strategy at consulting firm Dachis Group, recently warned that employees would increasingly bypass IT unless enterprises start offering their own internal app stores. "Users are getting access to an unlimited amount of applications... and if they don't like that application they can throw it out and try another one," he said at a recent conference.
Ideally, companies could offer a hybrid store, one that allows users access to outside applications as well as to custom-designed corporate apps. But there are problems with that approach, at least when it comes to Apple’s iPhones and iPads, says technology journalist Ryan Faas.
For one thing, the Apple iTunes model is user-centric. When a user buys a song, he pays through his iTunes account using his Apple ID. He can access and play that song only through iTunes using his own devices. In the enterprise, however, software is purchased through a license, which grants the corporation the right to install and run the application either across the company, on a specific number of machines, or via a specific number of users. The license is linked neither to a particular individual nor to a particular device. Most companies that are setting up their own app stores rely on this licensing model.
This creates an inherent disconnect when it comes to iPhones and iPads in the workplace. Users can purchase apps for business use, but they are still associated with their Apple ID and can run only on their devices. Businesses can reimburse users for the expense, but the ability to use the app remains with the employee. If he or she leaves the company, the app leaves as well.
Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP) allows bulk purchases of apps, but it still uses redemption codes, like the ones used on iTunes gift cards. So when employees use those codes, the application is still tied to their iTunes accounts and their particular devices.
“The app becomes associated with his or her iTunes account in the same manner as if the user had bought the app or received it as a gift -- meaning it leaves the organization with the user just as if the user had bought it,” Faas says.
There are hints that Apple is working on this problem: Faas notes that Apple has a “configurator” utility for deploying and managing iOS devices within other mobile management platforms. Using the configurator, enterprises can install the VPP codes on a particular device. Although the codes are still tied to the device, they are not tied to the user. Before a user leaves the company, IT can use the configurator to wipe the device, reclaiming the codes for reuse on other devices, says Faas.
What’s the next step? Perhaps Apple will make a bigger enterprise play. Faas quotes Canalys senior analyst Tim Shepherd, who spoke at AppsWorld Europe exhibition in London in late September:
“Clearly with the Volume Purchasing Program, Apple has been trying to work with selected partners. But I expect to Apple to move in the direction of offering a custom App Store for the enterprise,” said Shepherd. The store would be a hybrid -- allowing an enterprise to offer its own custom apps as well as all the consumer apps in Apple’s app store.
But who would host the hybrid store? The enterprise or Apple? Given Apple’s tight control over third-party applications, the operation of such a hybrid model wouldn’t be easy. But it’s an intriguing idea.
How does your enterprise treat outside and internal apps for iPads and iPhones? Do you see Apple changing to better fit the licensing model?
— Tam Harbert is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.