How to create an enterprise app store

Enterprise app stores provide user access to mobile applications. To create an enterprise app store successfully, IT must consider manageability, licensing and cross-platform compatibility.

If your goal is to create an enterprise app store for mobile users, the process involves purchasing a platform and then configuring it to meet your needs.

Enterprise app stores allow users to download and install applications in a manner similar to the consumer app stores that exist for mobile devices. However, enterprise offerings are more than just portals. An intricate system works on the back end to serve up applications to end users.

Numerous vendors offer enterprise app store software or similar cloud-based services, and each vendor takes its own unique approach to app delivery. As such, there isn't a lot of consistency from one product to the next with regard to the back-end delivery mechanisms.

Identity management

One of the first factors to take into account is identity management. You will need a way to authenticate users into the app store and to track their app acquisition activity.

Most popular enterprise app stores are designed to interface with Microsoft Active Directory and can provide authentication on either a per-user or a per-device basis. Per-user authentication is almost always preferable because consumer-grade devices such as tablets and smartphones usually lack the ability to be domain-joined.

Windows Server 2012 R2 offers a workplace join feature that can be used to establish a relationship between a consumer device and Active Directory. However, workplace joins are different from domain joins in that workplace joins are based on the use of certificates and do not use the same type of Active Directory computer objects as a typical domain join uses.

Connections to public app stores

As you work toward creating an enterprise app store, decide whether or not you want to make apps from the public app store available to users. It is worth noting that some enterprise app store systems do not support integration with public app stores such as Google Play or iTunes.

If your enterprise app store does provide access to public app stores, then you will need to determine how to license public applications. Options vary from one platform to another, but typically the enterprise app store acts as a proxy between the user portal and the public app store.

In this case, end users log into the enterprise app store using their Active Directory accounts. When a user requests a public application, the enterprise app store uses a service account to download the app from the public app store and then provides that app to the end user.

Licensing considerations

If your enterprise app store will be connected to a public app store, then you also have to consider how to handle application licensing. Some enterprise app stores provide users with access to free apps within the public app store but not to paid apps.

Other enterprise app stores require upfront licensing for paid apps. Suppose, for example, that an organization wanted to make a certain program available to users through the store. The organization might purchase 100 licenses for the app prior to making the app available to users through the enterprise app store. When a user downloads the app, the enterprise app store tracks the number of licenses that have been used, so as not to exceed the license count.

Consumers connecting directly to a public app store typically provide a credit card number so that the card can be billed for app purchases. Some enterprise app stores use a similar approach. Rather than requiring each user to provide a credit card number, however, the enterprise app store uses a single corporate credit card for all public app store purchases.

When this method is used for purchasing apps, the enterprise app store almost always provides a rich set of controls to prevent abuse. For instance, there is usually a permissions model that allows an administrator to control who can purchase apps.

Administrators may also set spending limits or require manager approval for purchases. The admin usually also has the ability to approve or blacklist individual apps.

Custom apps

Businesses that create an enterprise app store often do so initially as a way of providing custom apps to users. Again, every enterprise app store platform is different, but the app store usually makes it easy to add a custom application.

After uploading a custom app to the store, admins must usually enter the name of the app and a description, and they must select which mobile operating systems the app works on. Some enterprise app stores also allow screen captures.

Setting up an enterprise app store is typically a simple process. Even so, it is important to review the software's capabilities before making a purchase. Some enterprise app stores support only certain device families -- for instance, some support only Android devices.

Similarly, some enterprise app store products don't provide access to apps within the public app store. You must therefore take the time to make sure that an app store is going to adequately meet your needs prior to deploying it. 

Next Steps

How app stores in the enterprise help control consumerization

How to deliver mobile applications through app stores

This was first published in August 2014

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