Enterprise app stores: Turning IT into rock stars, without that celebrity hangover

You know the mood in the corporate world is optimistic when enterprises shift their focus from "down to the bone" cost-cutting measures to enhancing operational efficiency and innovative projects. 46 per cent of CIOs reported increases in IT budgets in the last year to fund projects designed to improve the effectiveness of their operations, according to a recent Harvey Nash survey. This is indeed good news.

Technology-led as we are today, innovation in the enterprise is to a large extent being driven by software applications – look at the consumerisation of IT, virtualisation and cloud trends. To better connect employees to the world of business applications, organisations are setting up enterprise app stores, giving employees iTunes-esque access in the corporate environment.

While both employees and organisations benefit from enterprise app stores, there are risks and rewards involved. IT wants to look like a rock star - delivering technology that employees love and use every day. But at the same time, it doesn't want the hangover effect – the major headaches that ensue when the enterprise app store rollout is not thought through or executed properly.

So what can IT do to ensure its celebrity status without the painful fallout?

Reducing licence compliance risk from enterprise app stores

First is the issue of software compliance – the requirement that an organisation restricts usage of an application to the terms and conditions in the software contract. Greater employee access to applications via an app store means potentially broader use, and therefore greater risk of inadvertently falling out of licence compliance.

Software licence non-compliance can create great risk and cost exposure for organisations. Most software vendors have the right, built into their contracts, to audit their customers' use of software and if non-compliance is found, vendors will issue an invoice (true-up) for licences the organisation is using but has not paid for. Often, in addition to these bills, penalties can also be incurred. Because true-ups are no budgeted for, paying these fees can drain funding for other IT projects.

Our survey (prepared jointly with IDC) shows that businesses are already paying software licence true-up fees in excess of $1 million (£590,000). This figure could potentially be even higher with applications available "on tap" through app stores. That's a major headache. On the other hand, if enterprise app store initiatives are executed properly, they can deliver their desired benefits while actually reducing licence fees and costs.

Fundamental to organisations' success in delivering consumer-friendly enterprise app stores is their ability to streamline front-end and back-end IT infrastructure. IT must integrate the app store with back-end software licence optimisation and application readiness (i.e. compatibility testing, remediation, packaging, deployment readiness) processes, across the lifecycle of every single application. This will ensure that employees have timely access to a well-stocked repository of applications from any device, anytime and anywhere, while pre-empting unexpected risks and the costs of unforeseen software usage.

The number of licences a company has rights to, and the specific manner in which those licences are entitled to be used, play a key role in managing an enterprise app store. If an enterprise issues licences it doesn't have, or those licences are issued in violation of specific entitlements in the licence agreement – the company can expose itself to penalties.

The enterprise app store should provide safeguards preventing access to and the downloading of applications that are unavailable due to licensing and entitlement restrictions. With built-in app store capability to alter the approval process based on ever-changing usage of applications, licensing requirements and entitlement rights, enterprises can adapt quickly to licence availability limitations and prevent non-compliant use that would subject them to software licence audit risk.

Organisations that have integrated their enterprise app store with their software licence optimisation systems are much better armed with the tools necessary to make real-time decisions around licensing. It also allows faster business decisions and more sophisticated cost controls. Furthermore, it provides the end user access to applications without increasing audit exposure risks due to non-compliant use.

An app store integrated with back-end software licence optimisation processes and technology also provides for much more efficient licence reclamation or reharvesting – the process of reclaiming applications that aren't being used by certain employees, so that they can be redistributed to those that actually need them. This enables organisations to save costs while avoiding having to purchase new software licences when perfectly good, unused licences are waiting to be reharvested.

Manual processes for determining software use and reharvesting unused licences are cumbersome and time-consuming, and therefore will fail in most organisations. Implementing automated systems to determine reharvesting candidates and reclaim unused licences are the only practical solutions for most organisations. An enterprise app store should offer functionality to automate the reharvesting process.

With these fundamental systems in place, the enterprise app store will deliver the feel of consumer app stores that end users are comfortable with – and the organisation will simultaneously ensure central accountability and control.

Pennine Acute Hospitals' NHS Trust is a good example of an organisation that has accomplished this. The Trust's vision was to empower users to request, obtain and consume applications without needing IT services, and make those applications available to users on their device of choice.

To improve patient care, the organisation has built a system whereby clinicians can access the applications they need, when they need and on a device (iPad, smartphone or any other) of their choosing, increasing their efficiency. Today, a clinician can get an app within 15 minutes – previously it used to be days. As a result of end-to-end automated processes, the Trust also has complete visibility into and control of IT assets, helping reduce ongoing software costs while optimising existing licences for software purchased.

Partnering with employees in reducing software costs

With users demanding the freedom to choose their applications with an enterprise app store, they can be empowered to take on part of the responsibility for licence compliance and waste reduction too. Businesses now have the ability to design their enterprise app stores in a way that gives employees visibility into the usage and cost of software licences installed on their devices – so that they understand the true cost of the applications they're using, and don't inadvertently hold on to applications they don't need or use applications outside of the compliance guidelines.

For instance, alerts can be sent to users notifying them of policy infringements, such as when an application hasn't been used for a specified period of time (say six months), or if there is no record of a licence associated with software found on an employee's device. Similarly, to encourage employees to optimise their software licence usage, software policy scores can be granted, indicating how closely applications installed on their devices comply with corporate policy.

Read more: The rise of the enterprise app store

Enterprise app stores can be a vehicle to make IT look like a team of rock stars, getting applications to employees in an environment as intuitive and friendly as the consumer-based app stores they're already used to. But unless IT takes the necessary steps to tie together the back-end with critical processes to ensure accountability and control, that status might also come with a hefty hangover. Best to avoid the bad stuff altogether and sort out the planning today to ensure a smooth and effective rollout.

Vincent Smyth is the senior vice president of EMEA at Flexera Software