There aren't always enterprise mobile apps for that

Adopting enterprise mobile apps is hard. But it's necessary if business leaders want their on-the-go employees to truly be productive.

"There's an app for that" helped sell millions of iPhones in the device's early years. Apple's slogan, featured in iconic advertisements seared into our brains, foretold the world we live in today, where user-friendly mobile applications only do a couple of things but do them exceptionally well.

The problem is, half a decade later, "There's an app for that" still isn't true in many IT departments. Translating complex, monolithic corporate applications for the consumerized, mobile-first era -- either by developing or buying them -- is yeoman's work. Many businesses just don't have the manpower, money or motivation to do it successfully.

Vendors are trying to make it easier to buy, build and deploy apps.

That's not to say workers aren't productive on mobile devices. Far from it. I get my corporate email through the native apps on my iPhone and iPad. On the road, I write news stories with CloudOn and access my files on Microsoft OneDrive. And, in meetings, I use Notability to take notes.

But guess how many of those apps my employer provided to me. None. The instructions for how to connect to mobile email are passed from worker to worker, clearly allowed and enabled by IT but not exactly encouraged.

The numbers say workers at most companies are in a similar boat.

Mobile apps make up just 6% of all applications in use by businesses, and that number will only increase to 9% by the end of this year, according to the December 2013 Citrix Mobility Report, a survey of more than 700 IT decision-makers.

The organizations with significant enterprise mobile app deployments are typically major businesses that have the resources necessary to build and manage so many applications, said Alan Dabbiere, chairman of AirWatch LLC, an enterprise mobility management vendor VMware Inc. acquired in January.

"We're seeing lots of meaningful work and companies that have lots of business apps," Dabbiere said.

Lowering the bar to adopt enterprise mobile apps

Ninety percent of respondents to the Citrix survey named email as an important mobile app to support, only one other category -- line of business apps -- cracked the 50% mark. There's clear interest in a variety of apps that help mobile users do real work, but they all still have a ways to go in the mindshare department.

Which types of enterprise mobile apps are most important to support?
(responders could choose more than one)

Email: 90%
Line of business 52%
File-sharing: 48%
Collaboration: 39%
Secure browser: 36%
SharePoint access: 35%
Web conferencing: 21%

Source: Citrix

Adoption numbers will have to increase if enterprise mobility is to truly live up to its promise. To that end, vendors are trying to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to buy, build and deploy secure mobile apps.

In Apple's Volume Purchase Program (VPP), for example, the only way to distribute apps was to buy redemption codes from the App Store and send them to employees, who'd then have to redeem the codes with their own Apple IDs and download the apps to their devices. The employees would then own the apps.

With Apple's recent VPP changes, however, IT can buy apps through purchase orders and deploy them directly to users' iPhones and iPads. The company also retains ownership of the apps and can revoke or transfer them to others if, say, an employee leaves the company.

Other vendors, such as VMware and Citrix, offer enterprise app stores, secure Web browsers and desktop and application virtualization software to cover all the bases for delivering apps to on-the-go users.

In addition, in-house development may be a smaller hill to climb than it has been in the past. Gartner Inc. predicts HTML5 will become a mainstream mobile development platform this year, allowing organizations to create apps that run on any device with a Web browser.

And more app dev platforms aim to simplify the mobile experience for enterprise developers. Good Technology's Shared Services Framework, updated this week, lets developers publish server-based versions of common enterprise features. If a company builds three apps that all need to use the in-house calendaring system, IT can publish a server-based calendaring service. Then the individual app developers can simply point to that service instead of building in the calendar function from scratch three times over.

When you look at all of these efforts combined, there's a clear recognition that enterprise mobile apps aren't where they need to be to meet users' needs. There's not always an app for that in the IT department, but if this work continues, one day there will be.

This was first published in April 2014

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