Internal App Stores: Challenges and Opportunities

July 28, 2011

Get apps here imageEnterprise mobility may well be the number one issue set to engulf intranet managers over the next two years. In his recent research report for IBF, Martin White concluded that

“Although enterprise mobility is likely to be a disruptive innovation in most organisations, it also offers the intranet team the opportunity to make a very significant impact on business operations and performance.”

One particular direction of travel for enterprise mobility is the rise of the internal “app store.” These have had some media attention – most notably IBM’s Whirlwind offering – and there are other notable examples such as SAP.

The internal app store model has potential profound effects for intranet managers, not only operationally, but also in how the intranet’s role is perceived within the organisation. In fact during IBF 24 one of the questions that arose in the Digital Workplace Career path discussion was whether in five years the intranet may well have evolved into one large app store.

So what are the particular challenges that may arise from the rise of the app store, and what contributions can intranet managers make in this exciting area?

Four potential challenges for intranet managers

1) Are the intranet and app store rivals?

If the intranet can be regarded as the gateway to business critical applications via the browser, then the App Store could be perceived as having a similar role via the mobile device. There is the potential for both to competing for the same slice of budget. Will the intranet be the potentially poorer cousin in terms of the “richness” of new functionality?

2) Will IT shut out the intranet function in developing the app store?

The app store model is a great way for IT departments to roll out functionality which meets both the consumer-tech expectations of users but also satisfies their own risk criteria around security and compatibility. If the production of a new app ends up as a collaboration between the IT department and the business, will it bypass the intranet function altogether?

3) Is the intranet an app in itself or a series of apps?

How do you represent the intranet in the app store? Is it an app itself or do you roll it out as a series of standalone applications such as Employee Directory, Corporate News and Social Features? Does de-constructing the intranet in this way change the way users view the intranet?

4) Should the intranet ape the app store?

If the internal app store provides a popular user experience it may start to subtly shift user’s expectations of what the intranet should be like. Will they expect the intranet to become more like the app store and have far greater levels of personalisation? Will they want certain tools to have a similar UX to the corresponding mobile app?

Four potential opportunities for intranet managers

5) Improving integration and “findability”

Intranet managers are great at thinking holistically and making connections between different parts of the organisation. Whilst the intranet tends towards an integrated view of the workplace, the app store model emphasises standalone applications with less emphasis on IA. Moreover mobile search is in its infancy. Can intranet managers make a contribution to suggesting connections and even workflow between different applications, as well as giving advice on search?

6) Advice on governance and prioritisation

Once everybody wanted an intranet presence for their division and now everyone may want to develop an app, some of which may be less than business critical. This may lead to issues around governance or choosing which apps to prioritise for development. Intranet managers may have much to contribute in setting up governance processes as well as having an inherent perspective of which apps should be developed.

7) Reconfigure the intranet

Apps, some of which may be content led, tend to focus on essential information and critical data. If users do want the intranet to be more like an app store does this mean that intranet managers can reconfigure the intranet to be more relevant and valuable, for example dramatically reducing the number of pages or restructuring it along task lines?

8) Focusing on users

Intranet managers are good at focusing on users in a number of ways – from defining user requirements to advising on usability to driving adoption. The users will drive the success of the app store and intranet managers are experienced at providing a channel which has great UX as one of its main aims.

Overall the app store provides a dramatic shift in the delivery of web applications to users within the enterprise. It is bound to affect how the intranet is viewed and perceived.

Intranet managers really do have the skill set to help develop the internal app store offering, and not just so that it works in conjunction with the intranet.

Intranet managers can advise on usability and content, and help to establish a governance model that actually works. Perhaps it’s time to get into the “App Store” state of mind so that both store and intranet work in tandem within the wider Digital Workplace.

The Enterprise Mobility report is available for purchase in the IBF Shop or to download for free by members on the IBF Member Extranet.

About the author

This is a guest post by Steve Bynghall. Steve was the content producer for IBF 24 and helped research Paul Miller’s forthcoming book on “The Digital Workplace.” Steve is the founder of Two Hives Ltd, a consultancy specialising in KM, collaboration and web-based projects. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing their global extranet programme. He is currently co-writing a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson, and writing two research briefings for IBF.

Categorised in: DWG24, Mobile sites & apps

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