Consumer devices like smartphones and notebook computers have changed the game for enterprise IT planners. Now, the waves of mobile devices and social media applications are affecting application development departments by ushering in new types of middleware and, especially, open application programming interfaces (APIs).
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Couple this with the rise of the enterprise app store, a one-stop shop for business apps that in some ways resembles the iTunes store, and you see a very powerful trend. As Software as a Service (SaaS), cloud and mobile applications expand, application developers are creating central places to buy, sell and manage apps that are now integral to many business strategies.
"The line of demarcation between consumer apps and business collaboration apps is blurring," said Jeff Kaplan, founder and managing director of THINKstrategies, a technology consulting firm. That interest has spawned a new generation of app store platform providers, according to Kaplan.
"We're still at the very early stages of the rollout of true app stores in the marketplace," said Kaplan. "But everyone recognizes that we're living in an apps world."
App stores are a trend that began in the consumer world, as evidenced by the most famous examples of success: namely, Apple, Amazon and SalesForce.com. Those technology giants have paved the way for other companies looking to capitalize on the consumerization of IT -- or, the spread of technologies that non-technological consumers use for both personal and business use.
It is no secret that the vast success of Apple's iTunes, Amazon's Appstore and SalesForce.com's AppExchange has caught the attention of corporate executives and IT teams across industries. The concept of cloud and mobile app stores is a nod to the iTunes story and others like it.
"The fact is that the advent of Software as a Service really took its cue from the success of consumer apps," explained Kaplan.
The openness of the SaaS and cloud movement also plays a decisive role in app store interest. More applications are being designed with open APIs to enable easier application-to-application integration. The relationship between business and developer has also become more symbiotic. "Smart players have recognized that, by making their applications more open, they make it easier for third-party developers to add value to their core applications," Kaplan said.
Leveraging Web infrastructure
An app store marketplace offers the opportunity for businesses, developers and applications to come together in the same place, each party having more knowledge and control over what it creates, buys, sells or resells. APIs are central to that model, but they are greatly simplified versus traditional APIs. They are built from the ground up, to leverage existing Web infrastructure -- that means HTTP and REST (Hypertext Transfer Protocol and Representational State Transfer) protocols.
"The value of a Web-based marketplace only exists if there is a superior integration experience," said Daniel Saks, CEO and founder of AppDirect, a cloud service marketplace and management platform provider. "It's really the API strategy that is going to lead to a great user experience."
Cultivating a talented developer community is essential to the success of the app store marketplace, whose purpose is to provide one user-friendly interface through which both developers and businesses can post, market, manage, buy, sell and resell applications. AppDirect offers one example of how that ecosystem might shape the realm of APIs and the role of developers.
"All developers that integrate to our API have a login where they can enter their different REST APIs and test them in real time," said Saks. "A developer can actually check and monitor their APIs on an ongoing basis through our interface. Then, once they feel comfortable submitting it to our store, they can press the publish button and it would be submitted to [the vendor], who would then decide to approve it or not."
Over the past three years, AppDirect has signed on Google, New Relic and over twenty Fortune 500 companies. Once the vendors' applications were brought together, the next step was to ensure a reliable end-user experience, from discovery to management. To achieve that, AppDirect included features like single sign-on, user management, direct billing and even newsfeeds to profile users and keep track of company activity.
One AppDirect user is Appcelerator, itself a harbinger of IT consumerization trends. Appcelerator is a mobile middleware integrator that offers a platform for handling the great diversity of mobile devices that now tap into enterprise applications.
Appcelerator uses AppDirect's app store marketplace platform, embracing the idea that the marketplace will play an increasingly vital role in its business. "App stores are becoming more and more the standardized way of obtaining apps," explained Gabriel Tavridis, senior product manager at Appcelerator.
That perspective drove the company to partner with AppDirect in 2011 to build a marketplace where developers could post and sell modules for their mobile application development. Through the project, Tavridis said, Appcelerator has achieved a more active developer community -- one that aims to help developers better monetize the code and components they create.
"We've seen the marketplace as a very powerful vehicle and weapon for helping to create a developer community around Appcelerator," Tavridis continued. "We're making use of the entire offering."
It is an offering that is customized to individual users. For example, Appcelerator can manage its marketplace by categorizing and marketing its own products, personalizing emails to send to targeted users, and monitoring how developers post their products.
"[In the past] if you were going to adopt an SaaS app or use a cloud service, you inevitably had to make a sacrifice in terms of features and, more importantly, the flexibility that you could gain from those on-demand resources," said Kaplan. "Customization has made it easier for the users of these apps to cater them to meet their own specific business requirements and objectives."
The question remains whether app stores have penetrated the enterprise. Kaplan suggests that many enterprises are recognizing a shift in the way their end users acquire software. They are doing it on their own.
An in-house enterprise app store offers enterprises the ability to facilitate and control that process for their end users. Consumers are going to buy apps either way -- the enterprise has the choice of whether to be the one selling them.
"Not only does that mean that enterprises can use an app store to better control the distribution of apps inside the enterprise," explained Kaplan. "But in the not-too-distant future, some enterprise might also start to redefine who they are. They might set up app stores that can serve their external partners and customers as well."