When Apple introduced the App Store in July 2008 it represented nothing less than a revolutionary way to distribute software. Now the concept is invading the enterprise. About two-thirds of medium and large businesses have either established or plan to introduce an enterprise app store that lets employees download the software they desire. The concept is appealing to CIOs and other executives because it offers a viable way to embrace the emerging bring your own device (BYOD) movement while enacting more stringent controls over IT resources and security.
The App Store has fundamentally changed the way individuals configure and use their devices. Today, Apple's online store contains more than 700,000 apps and consumers have downloaded north of 35 billion programs for their iPhones, iPads, and other devices. Its influence on the enterprise computing landscape is apparent. Already, mobile devices account for the majority of data that's consumed at many social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and mobile phones are set to surpass PCs as the most common Web access devices sometime in 2013.
"As companies look for ways to manage applications and data more effectively — and provide a more robust IT framework — they are turning to app stores," says Paul Daugherty, chief technology officer at Accenture consulting. "The approach helps build a flexible and agile foundation for business while providing workers with the types of choices they have grown accustomed to in the consumer space."
"Enterprise app stores are moving into the mainstream," adds Eric Johnson, director of the Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth University. "They are forcing business and IT executives to fundamentally rethink the relationship of workers to enterprise resources and data. They also are unleashing changes in how organizations use software. The monolithic enterprise systems of the past are becoming less relevant."
IBM was a pioneer in introducing an enterprise app store. Big Blue's app storefront, dubbed WhirlWind, now tallies more than 5,000 downloads per month and about 90 percent of eligible IBM employees use the service. It contains a mix of internal and third party apps that address a mélange of areas, including employee directories, software product guides, mobile media libraries, IM and communications, time reporting and travel apps. Other companies, including General Electric and computer reseller CDW, have also turned to app stores in support of this emerging practice.
This trend, often referred to as the consumerization of IT, is rapidly gaining momentum and fundamentally rewiring thinking and behavior. Within this new order of post-PC computing, workers obtain the applications they desire when they need them — without the aid or intervention of an IT department. Yet, at the same time, a business can control which apps workers use while deploying just-in-time software and solutions that match evolving workflows.
This software distribution model builds a foundation for an agile real-time enterprise where there's next to zero latency and an ability to narrowcast features and capabilities in a way that wasn't imaginable only a few years ago. What's more, it's possible to design apps that plug into social media streams, tap geolocation data, harness cloud data, and use push notifications and other tools to deliver multi-dimensional capabilities that aren't possible within a conventional PC-based framework.
No less important: the use of niche apps alters the fundamentals of computing. Today's devices support an emerging 'industrial Internet' and increasingly serve as a digital hub for an array of consumer devices and medical systems. These apps provide a way to monitor, control, and sometimes repair machines via a smartphone or a tablet. Remarkably, these mobile apps and the associated device they connect to sometimes cost thousands of dollars less than the dedicated machines of the past.
To be sure, the level of digital disruption is profound. Ultimately, the app store software distribution model is creating entirely new possibilities and opportunities for the business world — and driving fundamental changes in computing. "Apps and enterprise app stores are fundamentally changing the dynamics of business and IT," Johnson concludes. "It's reintroducing the concept of people carrying their own toolbox with the exact tools they desire so that they can do exactly what they want."
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