Back in January 2011, Dennis Gaughan, a managing VP at Gartner, promised that his firm would be taking a closer look at the concept of "enterprise app stores." Sure enough, the firm has identified internal, organization-specific versions of the Apple App Store or Google Apps Marketplace as a top strategic technology for 2012.
Here's how Gartner's press statement describes the trend:
Application stores by Apple and Android provide marketplaces where hundreds of thousands of applications are available to mobile users... This will grow from a consumer-only phenomena [sic]to an enterprise focus. With enterprise app stores, the role of IT shifts from that of a centralized planner to a market manager providing governance and brokerage services to users and potentially an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs.
IT managers who will be charged with overseeing the new enterprise app stores may not be as thrilled as Gartner is about the prospect. Despite a lot of detailed press about the topic, it's not clear that organizations are even adopting app stores in any significant volume.
"None of the enterprises in my spring  survey reported having them or an interest in them," writes Tom Nolle, CEO of CIMI Corp. , in an email today. "Some of the early responses from the fall survey say that they would consider having an 'internal' app store but it was more to dispense apps that were generally available and that the enterprise had certified for use on its phones/tablets."
Back in January, Gartner's Gaughan acknowledged that several factors needed examination for enterprise app stores to really catch on. First was the fact that enterprise apps don't conform to a single set of design specs. "Companies have a wide variety of platforms and technologies underpinning their app portfolios," Gaughan wrote. "The first hurdle is to try to replicate the app-store usability in a heterogeneous environment without breaking the bank on development and integration costs. It would also require a level of cooperation between vendors that, to say the least, has been difficult to achieve."
Another issue Gaughan pointed out was that of app integration: "Maintaining integrations between enterprise apps is hard enough when IT controls the release cycles. What happens when end users want to upgrade their apps at their own pace?"
What happens, indeed? IT professionals can't be blamed for worrying about what might ensue if users get the idea that IT is at their beck and call in a kind of internal application Starbucks.
There are other concerns, too. "I think enterprises will be wary of allowing internal stores to dispense their self-developed apps because they would then inherit the checking of the app for security, compliance, etc.," states Nolle. In most enterprises, IT doesn't need more jobs piled onto its already-overfilled plate. Catering to end users and controlling app output will surely take a backseat to the struggle for better analytics, for instance, or the need to design managed storage for "big data."
Gartner has advice here, too. Its note about the top trends for next year ends with the following statement about enterprise app stores: "Enterprises should use a managed diversity approach to focus on app store efforts and segment apps by risk and value."
Sounds nice. App stores might work if IT can somehow use the model to coordinate enterprise application development and governance on its own terms. Putting it that way may even attract IT professionals to reexamine what they'd need to make it work -- you know, cloud storage, extra personnel, vendor buy-in, that kind of thing.
What do you think? Tell us on the board below. And be sure to take our new IT Clan poll on enterprise app stores.
— Mary Jander , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution