Impacts of convergence on the enterprise app store

Converging roadsWelcome to the Partnerpedia Thought Leadership series on Enterprise Mobility. Today we are focusing on “Impacts of Application Convergence on the Enterprise App Store”, and my guest is Sam Liu, Partnerpedia’s VP of Marketing and Business Development. Sam brings ton of experience in the enterprise space and on this subject matter. Welcome Sam and thank you for joining us.

I’m going to dive right in with our first question. Can you explain what exactly application convergence is?

Sam: Thanks JP. In the context of enterprise mobility I think that the last couple of years there has been a lot of focus on mobile applications. At the same time there has been a lot of information out there about cloud applications. So, you know, I think when the enterprise space first started to develop about 3 years ago, mobile apps were discussed and talked about somewhat independent of the cloud and vice versa. Certainly in the last 12 months that discussion has accelerated, and on top of that there is now a fine line between the two: cloud apps may manifest themselves on a mobile device and of course mobile apps in the enterprise may connect to a cloud backend. So, that’s what’s going on with application convergence.

JP: With that intro to application convergence, how does app convergence affect the enterprise?

Sam: The enterprise is faced with all these different technologies and approaches for delivering apps to the end users. Many enterprises are still using what I would call the ‘traditional application software’, where they are hosted on-premise in a typical client/server type of application that is delivered onto a desktop or laptop form factor.

But you know, with mobility and mobile apps you now introduce different styles of devices. Also, with cloud you are dealing with things that are not on premise; things that you may not have total control of from a physical infrastructure standpoint. So we need new ways of dealing with and managing IT infrastructure, where you can have a mix of on-premise software and off-premise in the cloud, while dealing with this very heterogeneous endpoint environment of phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and even specialized devices like kiosks.

JP: So in effect there are multiple delivery points for applications along with multiple platforms that the applications are being used on?

Sam: Yes, essentially it was a fairly homogeneous environment before, meaning you had many windows-based servers, maybe some mid-range Unix systems and occasionally mainframes. But there were largely predictable life-cycles and versions controlled by IT, and the endpoints were also very predictable in the sense of connecting to a desktop or laptop device.  However with cloud and with mobility, it’s becoming unpredictable or less predictable, especially with BYOD. You don’t always have control of the endpoint.

JP: Right, and with BYOD or bring your own device, its adding new complexity into the whole ecosystem.

Sam: Yes. On top of that the sourcing of apps and the developing of apps was largely driven by IT as a top-down decision. Once they generally understood the user requirements it was up to them to choose the procurement method, whether to buy or build and who to buy it from. Going forward with mobility especially and with cloud and SaaS applications, a lot of the decisions may actually be done by the end users. They may actually make purchases themselves, or in the case where the purchase has to go through the company, they are going to have a lot more influence than before.

JP: To sum up, what would you say are the top 3 challenges that an enterprise faces due to app convergence?

Sam: One is the mixture of devices. BYOD becomes somewhat unpredictable, so supporting that environment is hard.

The other thing is cloud. You don’t have full control over the cloud infrastructure such as versions, updates and changes to the user interface.

Third is because the devices are so varied and because the apps are from multiple sources, how are you going to deliver this? That gets into the topic of enterprise app stores.

JP: When looking at application convergence with Partnerpedia being involved in the Enterprise App Store domain, that is obviously something we pay attention to. Maybe do a brief description of an enterprise app store and then talk about the relationship between app convergence and enterprise app stores.

Sam: The concept of an enterprise app store is just like the consumer concept: an app store that represents a new way that allows the user to discover and find applications, and to recommend apps to each other. That paradigm from the consumer world is making its way into the enterprise as the preferred model for how enterprise users find and access applications.

When the concept of enterprise app stores started, just as in the consumer world it was all about mobile apps and was synonymous with mobile app stores when talking about the enterprise. Because of application convergence, now we know that a mobile app is just one type of application. What about a cloud app that is delivered onto the desktop? Even though it is the same app it will now also be accessible through a mobile device. Now it doesn’t make sense for enterprise app stores to be limited to just mobile. As the name implies, it needs to be an enterprise-wide app store which means the ability to support a conversion environment no matter what style of application it is.

JP: It’s almost a ubiquitous tool for a user to find the apps they need regardless of the endpoint device or platform.

Sam: Yes, because today the user is faced with different ways to access the apps – desktop app vs. web app vs. mobile app. Certainly that is cumbersome for the employee. A lot of times they require different access and authentication methods. Naturally the productivity would drop just because it takes more time to find things.

JP: How is application convergence impacting the growth of enterprise app store functionality?

Sam: I think basically the problem creates a need. The problem is that in order for the enterprise as a company to make their employees productive in the new world of mobile devices in addition to desktops and laptops, they are going to need a solution that can address that variability.

Basically, business computing has become an anytime/anywhere concept. In the past you could only do certain tasks when you were at a desktop, or perhaps when you managed to boot up a laptop and get connected to the network. Otherwise you were kind of stuck and couldn’t do any work. But with mobile devices and connectivity everywhere these days, it is literally anytime/anywhere. Because of that, there’s going to be demand from the user side to say “hey, enable me. Allow me to do my work anytime, anywhere.”

An enterprise apps store is an answer to that, which will drive the growth of enterprise app stores.

JP: I guess it relates to a lot of what is happening on the consumer side with the seamless transition that people are making when they move from their desktop or laptop device to their phone or tablet device. I’m assuming that transition is carrying over into the enterprise space?

Sam: Yes certainly, because every employee is also a consumer. There is no such thing as a non-consumer employee. As a result, what that person learns and experiences in the consumer world and the things they like about it, they are going to want a similar experience at work in the enterprise.

What we don’t want is an enterprise app store that looks nothing like the consumer world, or works in a cumbersome way. That kind of defeats the purpose.

Another simple driver for enterprise app store growth today has to do with the most common way users access an application – is through what’s commonly called the intranet or enterprise portal. Well, I don’t know of many enterprise portals or intranets that are accessible over a phone! That right there is a non-starter for many knowledge workers out in the field. That right there alone will drive the need for enterprise app stores.

JP: So we’ve gotten into a bit of the next question of how can companies use enterprise app stores to maximize the benefits of application convergence?

Sam: We’ve touched on it a little bit. It’s about anywhere/anytime access because that’s what’s going to drive employee productivity. They can do their work anytime, anywhere and presumably, if they have a choice for that, they will do the work more efficiently because it is their choice.

Ultimately, the driving of user productivity will be a huge benefit for the business in terms of cost savings and increased business because everybody can do their jobs more effectively.

An example: we were talking to the VP of Sales for a semiconductor company. He was saying that “I’m not sure what an enterprise app store means to me, but as a sales person I know what I need.” He said that when his reps are out in Asia and trying to close big semiconductor deals, they can’t even bring up as simple RFP or pricing sheet or marketing collateral, because to do that they are forced to boot up a laptop and connect to some network. As you know, in many parts of the world it’s just not that easy. So, his eyes lit up when he realized that through an enterprise app store on your phone, you can get access to all those documents through this very easy “instant on” method. So that was powerful to him. He said that was going to make his salesforce more productive in closing deals. That’s a direct benefit to the business.

JP: Makes sense to me. Now doing a little future thinking, what will app convergence and enterprise app stores look like in the future to you – say over the next 3 to 5 years?

Sam: So, I think it will become the preferred model, as it has in the consumer world, for how users find and access applications.

I think also that you’ll see the role of IT become much more collaborative than in the past. With user feedback mechanisms and because of the social nature of these tools to put in ratings and recommendations, IT will be more responsive to users’ needs and learn to collaborate with them. This will make for a much better and more productive environment for the company.

In terms of the technology itself, I think enterprise app stores continue to evolve to become that new generation of portal in the company where users can find and access all things related to the business whether its applications, documents or services. I think the term “app” can almost be seen as a generic term for describing a way to get things done and can be any of those three things. Therefore, the definition of what an app is will broaden in the context of an enterprise app store.

JP: OK, very good. This gives us an excellent insight into application convergence and the enterprise app store. Sam, thank you very much for your time.

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