In-house 'app stores' ease tablet-management woes

Although this level of control isn't for everyone, it does help keep a lid on chaos and support woes

The growth of tablets in the workforce means additional management challenges for IT, particularly when it comes to the applications that are used on the machines.

It's a question that's likely to come up in many organizations as workers use tablets on the job: Do you allow people to load up anything they want on the devices, or do you offer a specific range of enterprise applications -- sort of an internal "app store"?

Related issues include whether companies should develop tablet applications internally or wait for key enterprise vendors to come out with tablet versions of their applications, and how tablet applications can best be integrated on the back end.

When deciding which applications to allow on tablets, it often comes down to factors such as the organization's goals, how employees are using tablets on the job, and the corporate culture. Existing policies for smartphone use can be useful here also.

One thing that's clear is that tablets are becoming increasingly important business tools, and that means IT will likely play a key role in how software is purchased and managed. By the end of March, one research firm predicted, the number of tablets used in business settings will have doubled in just three months, to about 14% of companies.

Although Apple's iPad is far and away the leader to date, the growing numbers of available Android tablets are starting to make a dent in the market now, with even more Android growth expected.

"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 purchasing prebuilt apps that can be found at a public app location or creating programs internally, there must be some level of control, Winthrop says.

"Organizations are increasingly realizing that they need to facilitate the deployment and management of these applications," Winthrop says.

The Enterprise Mobility Foundation recommends that organizations adopt their own in-house enterprise app stores. By working from an approved list of apps, enterprises can ensure that users download programs that have been tested and approved by the organization and can be maintained, Winthrop adds.

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