by Jeff Garbers on 16/04/10 at 5:00 am
The App Store is the first and only place to go for iPhone apps for most people. So how can a company distribute the applications it created for its own internal use? Apple provides tools to help, but new solutions are emerging to make the process simpler and more engaging for both employees with iPhones and system administrators. Ondeego's AppCentral hopes to bring the convenience of the App Store to enterprise applications.
Ondeego's Paul Nerger answered our questions about how AppCentral fits in to the enterprise iPhone puzzle.
Let's start with a quick overview. What's the main business problem that Ondeego is tackling?
Paul: Ondeego is focused on the
problem of employees discovering and installing applications on their mobile phones that help them perform their jobs more effectively.
What's driving the need for approaches like yours, as opposed to more traditional mobile application management solutions?
We believe that the mobile phone is accelerating the “consumerization of IT”. Employees will bring personal phones into the workplace and those phones will have apps that are used both for their personal lives, but also in their professional lives. Companies will find this increasingly attractive, as it lowers cost in that the mobile operator provides support for the phone and OS as part of the consumer's contract. This works for corporate IT as long as their can be
addressed; that is, the need for securing the applications. Ondeego provides a managed service that provides this environment that is both employee friendly, but has the controls needed by IT to manage the corporate apps.
With your solution in place, who's responsible for getting an app on my iPhone?
It's a team effort. The system administrator is responsible for testing and making sure everything works. He or she is also responsible to make sure that you have been authorized to have the application. But it is up to you to install it. Because this solution is web based, your administrator can be in New York while you are in Atlanta.
If my company is using AppCentral, can I still install other apps from the App Store?
Absolutely. The App Store is for personal apps which you buy as a consumer. AppCentral is for the in-house apps that are provided by your employer. The iPhone is then a single device used both in business as well as personal life. Most business professionals want to work this way. Who wants to carry two phones, one for personal and one for work? The iPhone does a great job of keeping business and personal items away from each other.
What does a customer need to be able to develop internal iPhone applications and deploy them with AppCentral?
For the iPhone, we focus only on the in-house applications which are built specifically for a company's internal use either by the IT department or a contractor. These in-house applications are built using the Apple iPhone Enterprise program. Each of the internal apps are signed by the Enterprise and installed only on those phones which have had the Enterprise Profile installed. What we do is provide a web-based mechanism that automates and streamlines the install of the in-house application via a local instance of iTunes or the Apple config tool. Apps are downloaded to a local Windows PC or Mac and installed on a tethered iPhone in a seamless and single step operation. This is much easier than the current manual method that is used by iPhone Enterprise Accounts in that it is simple enough that any employee can do it on their own.
Does your technology do anything to overcome Apple's “Enterprise Program” requirement that a company have at least 500 employees before it can distribute its own internal apps? That is, can I use AppCentral in a 250-person company?
No. Our solution complies fully with the Apple Enterprise Program. We intend to ensure that both ourselves and our customers are in compliance with the Apple Enterprise Program.
Your technology applies if a company has decided to create native apps rather than hosted, browser-based internal applications, correct? Are you seeing a trend toward apps and away from browsers for IT-developed systems, and if so, why?
Yes, it is for native apps. We see both browser-based as well as native apps and we think that this will continue for the immediate future because of the differences in the two
technologies. Browser based apps are easy to consistently deploy across many different makes and models of mobile phones. Intelligence can be put into the web server to “react” to the mobile context as well as the make and model of device that is being spoken to. However, “web apps” have limitations in terms of the local API's that they can exploit. And although there are attempts to overcome this, it will take some time. Local apps have the advantage of being able to tap into local API's as well as interact with web data and services. This creates a lot of flexibility but it does it at a price; they have to be built to each make and model of device. Enterprises will do both for the foreseeable future.
It seems like you're focused primarily on deploying applications, not developing them, but do you directly support or integrate with technologies that allow cross-device application development?
Ondeego started as a cross-device application development company, but we learned that Enterprise app discovery and installation was a real problem that needed to be solved. We simply spent too many weeks sitting in conference rooms having our client customers come in one by one to have their phones installed and configured with new apps. We and our clients had enough of that to last a lifetime. Thus, we began to focus on solving this problem. But we've not forgotten many of the technology that we developed for cross-device development. Look to us to release technology in the future that will solve this problem.
Is there any relationship or integration between your product and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server? Would a customer with BlackBerries need them both?
Not yet, but this is a direction that we want to move towards. The BES is a great platform, but it does not provide the granularity of control that AppCentral does. It's great if you want to lock the BlackBerry down, but what if the BlackBerry was brought into the business by the employee? This is the problem that we solve.
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