Enterprise app stores may not look a lot like the app stores that Apple, Google and others tout, but they can be a promising option for many organizations. In addition to providing users with a self-service portal and a list of approved applications, enterprise app stores give organizations better insight into employee-owned devices, and they enhance enterprise software license compliance and asset management.
How enterprise app stores aid software asset management
One of the biggest problems in software asset management is populating the software inventory database with metadata that is essential to tracking and identifying software usage. Automated tools can detect what software is installed on a computer, but they are not good at establishing who and where the user is, who authorized the purchase of the software and which purchase order or license agreement to reconcile the software against.
The proliferation of mobile devices can make software asset management even more complicated. To access Microsoft Office in a virtual machine on an iPad, for example, the iPad may need an enterprise software license for Office, even though Office can't be physically installed on and won't run on the iPad.
An enterprise app store can serve as a honey pot for metadata and self-reporting that will help solve these problems. A user can download corporate software for free (or third-party, commercial software at a discount) in exchange for critical data, such as his or her name, department and location. The app store can also detect other information, such as the physical machine type, giving the organization greater insight into the devices its employees are using, who is using them and how. IT can then link this data to asset management records to aid in planning initiatives.
This information also gives IT more flexibility in dealing with employee-owned devices. The organization can permit their use (as long as they are registered by users), rather than forbidding them outright.
Ensuring enterprise software license compliance
IT can also use enterprise app stores to enforce enterprise software license limits and installation policies. Before a user installs any piece of software, the system can check that the software has not reached its licensing limits and that a manager has authorized its use. Some enterprise app stores can even notify users about any policies or restrictions that apply to the software and require them to agree to a custom enterprise software license agreement that explains such policies and restrictions in plain English.
Enterprise app stores don’t have to be limited to installing apps, either. Organizations can also use them to license services and access to corporate resources that have special restrictions or requirements.
Take Microsoft Client Access Licenses (CALs), for example. These are required to access many Microsoft servers, such as Windows, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, but automated inventory tools can’t detect them.
Using an enterprise app store as a gateway to these services -- such as access to enterprise resource planning data on SharePoint, which requires an extra SharePoint Enterprise CAL -- lets the organization limit access and ensure that any required enterprise software license is available. It also lets IT map usage of licensed resources to specific users, which is a software license compliance capability that is almost impossible to achieve today. (Some tools can identify how many unique devices access services that require such CALs, but they cannot identify the users or match them against specific licenses.)
Some Microsoft products have licenses that an organization can apply, without immediate payment, to all of its devices -- as long as the organization pays up on the next anniversary of the agreement. Enterprise app stores can make such products easily available, while still being able to track who licensed a given device for a given product for software license compliance purposes.
A combination of automated tools and a diligent IT effort can theoretically meet these goals today, but an app store may do it better by getting employees, who are typically the weak point in software license compliance, to do it themselves. It does not replace the need for other approaches to licensing compliance, but it can significantly improve their accuracy and utility.
Negotiating better enterprise software license terms
Few software vendors still offer site licenses, which give organizations carte blanche to install and use as much of a given application as they like. At the same time, most vendors are willing to make pricing or licensing concessions to customers who would like to use their software widely, as long as they can limit and track its use to within the organization.
Enterprise app stores could be a useful compromise. If a business could better track usage of an application and pay for all usage within the organization, a software vendor could offer lower prices, more liberal enterprise software license terms and even corporate-specific branding or other customizations.
More on enterprise software license compliance
How much should employees know about Microsoft software licensing?
Why you should take notice of Microsoft’s licensing rules
In some respects, enterprise app stores may be the only way an organization achieves any control over what software its employees use. Conventional business PCs make their way into users’ hands through well-understood supply channels, but consumer devices purchased with employees’ own funds (or even with corporate hardware allowances) are phantoms that may mysteriously appear and disappear.
Building an enterprise app store creates a cooperative relationship in which employees get the resources they need to be productive and employers get the information they need for enterprise software license compliance and asset management.
This was first published in February 2012