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In-house app stores can help manage tablet mania

The influx of tablets offers an opportunity to set up in-house app stores -- for convenience and control.

By Bob Violino
May 23, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - As more and more tablet computers enter the workplace, IT managers are facing this question: Do you allow employees to load any applications they want on the devices, or do you offer a specific set of enterprise applications -- sort of an internal "app store"?

The answer often comes down to factors such as your organization's goals, how employees are using tablets on the job, and your corporate culture. One possibility is to adapt your existing smartphone policies to tablets.

"Enterprise applications [on tablets] are an important and growing phenomenon," says Philippe Winthrop, managing director of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, a Boston-based think tank. "Organizations are realizing that a lot of applications that the company uses can be relevant on mobile devices."

Whether it involves creating software internally or purchasing prebuilt apps, there must be some level of control, Winthrop says.

The Enterprise Mobility Foundation recommends that organizations set up their own in-house enterprise app stores. By adopting an approved list of apps, enterprises can ensure that users download programs that the organization has tested and OK'd and can maintain, Winthrop says.

Imris, a Winnipeg, Manitoba, provider of medical equipment, has given Apple iPads to sales and marketing personnel, product managers, executives and other employees. The company lets users download software from an internal app store that it set up using a tool from Apperian called Enterprise App Services Environment, says Ben VanOsch, IT director at Imris.

The IT group identifies publicly available apps that it wants to adopt as recommended company tools, and they're added to the Imris app store. This allows for "consistency" throughout the enterprise, VanOsch explains.

Currently, Imris has 16 privately developed apps and two public ones in its app store, which the company calls InfoCentral. It expects to deploy two more public apps within a couple of months, after the IT group vets them, and it's in the process of developing two more private applications that will be released by mid-June.

The company has a total of 32 iPad users, all of whom have downloaded apps from InfoCentral. "We are considering deploying iPads to our board of directors, other leaders and to every employee," says VanOsch. "We believe the iPad can become a strategic communication tool, providing increased timeliness of the message and increased environmental responsibility by reducing paper as a means of communicating."

While the app store is the preferred source of applications, VanOsch says it's likely that Imris iPad users have downloaded personal software as well -- and he says that's OK with him.

The company's strategy provides flexibility for end users while at the same time giving IT some control over what can be used on the devices. Most users "have the same app requirements," says VanOsch. "However, due to their different roles and localization needs, [they have] the latitude to personalize their iPads in a manner they believe will provide them the greatest benefit."

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