Tips for enterprise app stores – how to make employees stay
According to Aaron Freimark, chief technology officer of accessory specialist Tekserve, enterprises looking to build an internal app store should look at two main factors to improve their chances of success:
- Enterprise app stores should include links to recommended public apps alongside their internal company apps.
- They should also only show users apps they can tangibly use - in other words if authentication blocks access to an app, then a user shouldn't be able to download it.
Freimark has extensive experience in this field in his capacity with Tekserve and as founder of EnterpriseiOS.com, an Apple business community.
Perhaps understandably, he cited Apple as an example of how public apps could benefit the enterprise, saying: “iPhone users are much more likely to spend on an app store than Android – [Android users] will get a cheaper phone for it but not necessarily customise”.
He added: “That kind of customisation – to have not only the possibility of installing the app but a real choice of what to install – makes it a very personalised device, and I think that it’s in business’ interests not to resist that, as it’s such a strong aspect of how the devices work.
“The tradition is control – you use the software we’ve licensed, you use the software that we say you’re going to use – [but] that aspect of personalisation, of ownership of the content of the device, is not something you’ll successfully resist,” he said, adding: “It’s much better to embrace it”.
Freimark also noted the importance of app functionality – showing users apps they can tangibly use.
“It’s much better to do two things really,” he said.
“Make sure everybody has an app that everyone can use but then, even if you’re going to show the other apps make it clear in your app store – which is going to have authentication anyway to get into it – who the audience is, and don’t even let them install things until there’s a time that they need it.”
Why isn’t this standard?
These tips are arguably common sense, but it may be surprising how many enterprises don’t adhere to these ideas: a fault Freimark puts down to the distance between IT and users.
“In enterprises large enough to build app stores, the IT departments are often several layers disconnected from the actual users.
“So, if IT had a role in designing the apps, they’ll want to show them off. They’ll say ‘look at the apps we’ve created’, never mind that some of the apps are particular to a department [and] you’ll have to log in with credentials and you won’t be able to install it,” explained Freimark.
Yet Freimark admits that these are challenging times in the IT sector, and that companies have to take more responsibility for their software - in other words, bring your own device (BYOD).
“There’s been this culture for a long time of taking responsibility for all the technology of a business, and now with BYOD it means really the focus and the responsibility has to be on the company, not on IT’s control, but on helping the user be more productive,” he said.
As Freimark noted: the ‘i’ in iPhone and iPad “doesn’t refer to IT”.
Weaknesses: what will turn employees away?
A recent piece of research from IT consultants Virtusa noted five mistakes enterprises made when deploying their own app store.
Key to this was the lack of a social and feedback element, or as Virtusa director Rauf A. Adil put it, the ability “to discover apps and get other users’ feedback”. The other weaknesses Virtusa cited were security concerns and a lack of easy discovery.
While Freimark noted that the social side could easily go “in all sorts of directions”, he said that a feedback system was vital to ensure employees used the app store.
“[A] feedback mechanism, with ratings, I think is fantastic, because it’s social within the company”, Freimark explained.
“Companies have particular cultures and particular traditions about what they do, and apps all have particular styles.
“The reason there are hundreds of different Twitter clients is because they’re all different in some way – and each of them may be used by tens of thousands of people – but people have different styles, and companies have different styles too”, Freimark said.
This links back to another point Virtusa made; the lack of standard design or user interface.
Specifically, Virtusa argued that enterprise app stores should be consistent with the company guidelines on aspects such as user experience, visual design and navigation.
Best practice is the best of both worlds. Branding is evidently vital, and whilst it’s important to appreciate Freimark’s argument of how companies have particular traditions and styles that need to be upheld, consistency in what they do is just as important.
Despite the various strengths and weaknesses of enterprise app stores, it’s certainly worth noting that this is a nascent technology with lots of different directions still to take.
“Nobody really knows the secrets of how to do this the best way,” concluded Freimark, adding: “Things are changing so fast – embrace it. Let your users figure out how to make this a really brilliantly successful implementation”.
Do you agree that enterprise app stores should include public apps alongside their in-house product? What strengths and weaknesses are there with the app stores?