Creating and maintaining a corporate app store: Strategies for success
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Although there were some precursors, the modern corporate app store's roots probably dates back to July 2008, when Apple Inc. launched the Apple App Store in support of the iPhone OS 2.0. Since then, businesses of all kinds have adopted the corporate app-store model for purposes ranging from distributing approved applications inside an enterprise to supporting the growth and marketing of a particular platform or technology.
It's tempting to think that an app store is something you can just release, and people will come and use it. In fact, it must be actively updated.
vice president of products, Appcelerator
Appcelerator Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based company, falls into the latter category. With nearly 60,000 mobile applications deployed on more than 150 million devices, its Appcelerator Platform is designed to help enterprises create, deliver and analyze their mobile-app portfolios. To enhance those efforts -- and to support the 500,000 mobile developers and hundreds of independent software vendors (ISVs) and strategic partners who work with the company -- Appcelerator launched its own corporate app store. The Appcelerator Open Mobile Marketplace now provides users with the means to buy and sell mobile products and services.
Powered by AppDirect's cloud-service marketplace platform, the Open Mobile Marketplace allows developers to not only purchase software components for use in their own applications, but to provide their custom-made components to fellow developers as well.
The Open Mobile Marketplace story
Appcelerator had long recognized the potential value of a corporate app store, said Jonathan Rende, the company's vice president of products. Given all the development talent at his company, AppDirect's primary competitor for Appcelerator's business was actually the employees who were capable of building the app store in-house. Ultimately, though, the company recognized that its core competency isn't in app-store construction. "We are in the business of creating a mobile platform," he said. "AppDirect listened to our requirements and what we were trying to do and tailored its offering with integrations and extensions."
When launched in 2011, the Appcelerator Open Mobile Marketplace offered 50 popular mobile technologies, such as PayPal and Salesforce.com, which developers could incorporate into their own apps. Users also had the ability to create marketplace storefronts to sell their own application modules, templates, extensions and design elements.
AppDirect's platform also includes back-office functionality and a billing engine. Integrated by AppDirect into the Appcelerator website, the Open Mobile Marketplace features customized branding, single sign-on and unified billing. Users can purchase tools and elements as one-time purchases, or subscribe to services that allow them to test, analyze and manage their applications in production.
Today, after about two years of operations, the Open Mobile Marketplace has more than 420 available modules, Rende said, adding that the number of offerings has been growing exponentially: "Recently, they have been added at the rate of about one every 1.5 days." Modules are sourced by Appcelerator and from its 500,000 developers, including ISVs and companies such as Box, UTest and New Relic, each of which has made modules available.
Functionally, Rende says, the corporate app store serves as a simple way to share all the innovations that Appcelerator and its community are creating, on either a for-profit or nonprofit basis.
"For us, the marketplace represents an insurance policy for anyone using that Appcelerator platform," he said. "Because no one wants to be locked in to a single technology, we have a very open way of building, delivering and analyzing mobile applications. A big part of that is to have a means by which people can share innovations and constantly update them."
To ensure that the market lives up to user expectations, the company has an oversight program, but also relies on the community itself for support. "If we are going to review or represent something on our own and call it our own or distribute it under our name, we go through a quality-assurance process," Rende said.
In addition, if a user adds something to the corporate app store, an Appcelerator team member validates that it can be downloaded and that it works as expected. In essence, there's a "sanity test" for all modules added to the app store. "Most of the time, we find people self-police," Rende added.
Lessons learned; pitfalls to avoid
For the most part, Appcelerator's corporate app-store experience has gone smoothly, Rende said. But as the Open Mobile Marketplace evolved, as its community grew, and as new requirements arose, Appcelerator officials realized there was no formal mechanism to handle the expansion and no single person assigned to manage it. Rende, who joined the company after the initiative began, assigned an employee to oversee the marketplace and work with AppDirect.
The result: further customization of the product and improvements in Open Mobile Marketplace functionality. Based on that work, Appcelerator is now looking at other ways to expand the marketplace technology in the future.
The biggest takeaway from the Open Mobile Marketplace experience: A corporate app store isn't static. "It's tempting to think that it is something you can just release, and people will come and use it. In fact, it must be actively updated," Rende said. "It is a living, breathing forum." For that reason, he said, the company continues to look for new ways of creating and promoting new capabilities while communicating with and collecting feedback from current users.