Choice and ease of use: key elements of a good app store

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Choice and ease of use: key elements of a good app store

Companies need to focus on individual user requirements and make sure their app store delivers the right tools for the right job.

Organisations have begun to ask why, given that the app store model is so popular with users, they can’t rethink their own application delivery mechanism.

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Like Apple’s App Store and Google Play in the consumer world, an enterprise app store offers users an easy way to choose and install the tools they need to do their jobs at the press of a button, from a wide selection of apps and services already approved by the organisation.

Daryl Wilkinson, head of group digital development at Nationwide Building Society, says people prefer mobile and web apps to traditional desktop applications because they look and feel better, and are easier to use.

"Now people’s expectations have been set, we need to deliver something that is at least as good. That’s why I want the organisation to have a compelling enterprise app store," he says.

Nationwide is currently going through a procurement exercise and has so far whittled down an initial list of around 12 suppliers to just a handful. Wilkinson says he is erring towards a "containerised" cloud-based system with a ready-made ecosystem of software suppliers and apps, but the company is also piloting a number of apps for services such as email, calendar, task management and company news, delivering them via the app store capabilities in its existing Good Technology mobile device management (MDM) suite.

Whichever supplier Wilkinson selects, he expects Nationwide to have its full enterprise app store up and running by early next year, with a view to rolling it out to all of the company’s 17,000 staff who want it.

Indeed, according to analyst Gartner, a quarter of enterprises will have their own app store by 2017, not least because many already have the capability to deliver it through their existing MDM software, many of which have capabilities similar to those of app stores.

Improving the user experience

To succeed, however, Wilkinson believes businesses have to approach the task from the point of view of improving the user experience and giving people the choice they crave.

"In my personal life, I live on my tablet and smartphone, and I use them without them being locked down. Disabling a device’s functions or restricting certain applications doesn’t sit well with me. It smacks of Big Brother and can ruin the user experience," he says.

"You need to strike a balance, but if you deliver state-of-the-art technology in the right way, cost-effectively, you’ll have a happy business and a highly engaged workforce. This sends out a massive signal to people about what sort of company you are."

Disabling a device’s functions or restricting certain applications doesn’t sit well with me. It smacks of Big Brother and can ruin the user experience

Daryl Wilkinson, head of group digital development at Nationwide Building Society

Gartner is similarly convinced that giving users more choice is critical. In its April 2014 report, The Foundation of a Successful Enterprise App Store, analyst Brian Prentice wrote: "If an app store doesn’t enable choice, it won’t be used."

He went on to warn that enterprises must avoid replicating the retail experience of the old Soviet Union: "Soviet central planners were confident that citizens had a choice of products. However, when people were able to see the differences between the paltry offerings in their shops compared with those in the West, resentment towards those central planners rose and black markets flourished."

At Severn Trent Water, CIO Myron Hrycyk is piloting an enterprise app store using VMware’s AirWatch product. He agrees it is key to focus on what users want. "The real turbo-charge to our digital strategy came when we approached it from the consumer point of view. We were already mature in our use of BYOD [bring your own device] and MDM technology, but it was not until we focused on building the sort of experiences that people expect in the 21st century that everything came together," he says.

He mapped out a series of common "colleague journeys" – thinking about how employees needed to use technology in their various roles and canvassing them on the sort of apps they wanted.

"For example, we looked at how our work crews receive a job, travel around a region, do the work, close down the job, pick up the next job, and so on,” he says. “Then we delivered the apps they might need to help them on that journey – for instance, they might need one that lets them do a health and safety check on-site, one that turns their phone into a torch, or one that lets them check whether any colleagues working nearby are carrying a particular part they need for a repair."

Hrycyk says the Severn Trent app store will feature a combination of in-house and third-party apps, including the cloud-based expenses management app Concur and apps that hook into the company’s back-end SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human resource systems. "For instance, you could get an app for placing a purchase order or raising a holiday request. Our strategy is to give colleagues these lightweight apps, rather than forcing them to wrestle with the traditional big, heavy-lifting ERP applications. We want IT to be warm, engaging and easy to use. For example, one of the things we can do is only present users with apps relevant to their particular job profile and the type of device they are using," he says.

Taking the simple approach

Christine Ashton, senior vice-president of technology at Thomson Reuters, believes more suppliers of traditional applications need to work on providing simpler, app-style front ends.

"The thing apps do very well is focus on one or two key functions. They are clear and concise. Over the years, we have leaned towards big, bulky apps such as Word and SAP. I think users are tired of being presented with a vast compendium of functions and having to work things out," she says.

However, Ashton adds that enterprises must be sure that introducing an app store doesn’t fragment the tools for the job and leave an organisation saddled with mediocre capabilities. While Thomson Reuters has not invested in a third-party enterprise app store service, Ashton says it has put a lot of its apps and approved software-as-a-service (SaaS) products on its corporate intranet to give its employees a single, official point of access.

Others highlight the potential operational benefits. Kingston University is using the RES IT Store to give users access to around 450 Windows and iOS apps, from a variety of sources. These range from in-house Oracle apps to Adobe Creative Suite.

"We felt it was the right time for us to turn our users into ‘service consumers’ and adopt more of a service provider role, rather than that of a traditional IT department," says the university’s technical analyst, Daniel Bolton. "Allowing people to subscribe to services and applications eases the burden on service and helpdesks."

Ultimately, enterprise app stores are all about allowing users to work faster, smarter and more easily, wherever they are.

Nationwide’s Wilkinson says: "Why force people to log on to big legacy systems when you can give them an app for expenses, purchasing and HR that removes all that complexity? When we surveyed employees at the beginning of the project, 68% said they saw a need for an enterprise app store and would definitely use one. There seems to be a real enthusiasm for it and I think that is because everyone recognises this is the future."

For Severn Trent’s Hrycyk, far from making IT less relevant, the self-service digital culture embodied by enterprise app stores cements the function’s role as an enabler of innovation and business value creation. "We’re seeing some fantastic benefits from the pilot. Business colleagues feel they can do their jobs better," he says.

"We have a phrase in IS now – ‘think big, start small, fail fast, scale soon’. We can think big in terms of strategy and vision; start small by creating apps in days or weeks, rather than months; fail fast by pushing something aside quickly if it is not working, which means we are not afraid to try new, innovative things; and scale soon when something does succeed. This has been a real boost and is fundamentally changing the dynamics of the IS department."


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This was first published in August 2014

 

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