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IT managers adopt app stores for greater control

The app store--that staple of consumer tablets and smartphones--is making a transition to the business market. SAP and the University of Sydney are two organisations that have discovered security and other benefits to setting up internal app stores to manage software installed to their networks' devices.

With employees increasingly wanting to bring consumer apps into the workplace, app stores are a tool enterprises can use to take control of the software downloaded and installed on company hardware, according to Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda. Like BYOD, IT managers should not ignore the "bring your own application" trend, he said.

"If you have your own app store, you can control the environment," Gedda said. Organisations can provide the apps that employees want, but have greater assurance that the apps installed are secure and integrate properly with their IT environment, he said.

Properly managing an app store does require devoting resources, Gedda said. "It's a trade-off between the complexity of managing that and the benefits you get to your organisation." Even after the app store is set up, businesses need to "keep on top of the new apps that are coming out" and survey demand among users, he said.

SAP

SAP has developed an app store that uses mobile device management to push apps and updates to wireless devices. The store has about 110 apps -- developed by SAP, partners and third parties -- including apps that are available on public app stores like Apple iTunes or Android Marketplace. In addition to using the store for its own employees, SAP is trying to sell the concept to its enterprise customers.

The benefit of the app store is that it provides SAP control over what applications can be installed on mobile devices, said SAP head of mobile solutions, Andrew Fox. For example, SAP does not allow Dropbox but has a more secure internal app dubbed "SAP box" with the same functions, he said.

The store also gives SAP control over apps' security settings, Fox said. Security is critical because "we run our business off mobile devices. Every one of our senior managers and executives has access to large amounts of corporate data" that are "incredibly sensitive."

SAP has a review team that certifies new apps for addition to the store, Fox said. Major updates to apps are also reviewed. If the update requires a security check, SAP delays rollout of the update until it can complete a review, he said.

In addition to mobile app store, SAP has a separate store used for development purposes. The store is an internal Web 2.0 platform and includes 200-300 of SAP's own apps, including early test versions. Through the store, users can download an app from the store and export it to the device of their choosing.

The store provides a feedback mechanism that helps with the development process, Fox said. "If we publish a new application, all of our employees can go in and rate that application" and send comments back to the developers.

University of Sydney

The University of Sydney is an early adopter of the internal app store concept. The uni launched an app store for students in September last year. The store enables the university to more widely distribute academic and other apps to students, as well as control what is installed on university computers, said the University of Sydney CIO, Bruce Meikle.

"The reason we did it is we've got in the order of 300 applications for different academic disciplines," but to use them, students had to use each school's specific computers, Meikle said. "Our intent was to make all of the on-campus student computers the same."

The app store was developed by the university's IT team with assistance and software from Citrix. With the store, students can view all 300 apps on university computers and add them to their session as needed, Meikle said. The university is conducting a 200-student trial program allowing students to use their own devices, he said. Fewer apps will be available on students' own devices because of licensing issues, Meikle said. However, students "like the fact that things that they had to be on the campus for they can now do anywhere, anytime."

Apps on the university's store include Microsoft Office, Adobe software, Google Chrome, Apple iTunes and a range of academic programs. The store prevents students from installing apps on university computers that have not been approved, including Dropbox, he said.

The app store also helps the university navigate some licensing issues, Meikle said. "We can manage through the app store concurrent number of users if that's the licensing arrangement, and we can limit the view of some applications" to a specific set of students.


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