The case for enterprise apps
Two-thirds of employees want their agencies to create their own app stores.
Given the strong focus on productivity, cost savings and efficiency, it isn’t surprising that more and more government agencies are moving from application development focused on their desktop devices as the user access point to one focused on developing apps that will work equally well on any type of mobile device.
The benefits of moving enterprise applications to a mobile app environment are clear: They provide easy, fast universal access to whatever device an employee chooses to use and whatever location the employee is in. Apps can be developed once and reused continuously, and agencies have full control over access privileges. In turn, having access to these apps makes employees more productive, business processes more efficient and decision-making more accurate.
These benefits make enterprise apps a ripe area for growth. According to a new study by the 1105 Government Information Group, development and use of enterprise apps are poised for 50 percent-plus growth rates over the next several years.
Specifically, although four out of 10 survey respondents said they access enterprise apps via their mobile devices at least twice a week, in two years, more than six out of 10 will be using them. In addition to the sharp interest in accessing agency-specific enterprise apps via a mobile device, survey respondents also reported high expectations that they will increasingly access HR, finance and other standard back-office applications via their mobile device within the next few years (see Figure 1).
Enterprise apps work well in any category, including time and attendance, personnel management, logistics tracking and management, and business intelligence. Virtually every federal and state agency and department now has a host of enterprise apps:
• The U.S. Army has about a dozen mobile training applications for use on iOS devices, according to published reports.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture has many as well, including expense management, payment management and business intelligence, according to Government Computer News.
• The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is one of the biggest users of enterprise apps to date. It moved its 25,000 employees and contractors to Google Apps for Government, giving them collaboration and communication tools accessible on the go, according to Federal Computer Week.
Nuts and bolts
As the demand for access to enterprise apps grows, agencies have begun questioning how to best distribute and secure applications. For most, the solution is to build a customized enterprise app store, which allows users to download apps while giving agencies the ability to control access based on a variety of factors, including job function and security level. It also ensures that all employees are using the latest version of apps, as well as relevant security patches.
According to the survey, 68 percent of respondents indicated that there should be mobile app stores offering apps specifically designed for agency employees (see Figure 2).
“Enterprise app stores increase security if only by virtue of cutting down the number of applications available to users,” said Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, an online community for government IT. “In many cases, they can also minimize the problems created by the diversity of devices, deploying the same application to nearly any device regardless of the underlying operating system. If device security and diversity are the problems, enterprise app stores are the right answer.”
Mobile app stores can offer both off-the-shelf apps from vendors such as Oracle and Google and custom-built apps. Customized apps are designed to fit the specific needs of the user base. For example, a Defense Department-focused app store would include apps for use on the battlefield and would comply with all DOD and federal regulations.
Many agencies today are starting enterprise app stores that include both types of apps. The U.S. Army, for example, has launched the Army Marketplace, which includes a host of training apps and a forum for Army personnel to request apps. NASA’s apps@NASA is starting slow, just offering basic apps such as time tracking, but media reports indicate it plans to expand its offerings soon. Both the Defense Information Systems Agency and USDA are working on mobile app stores, according to Government Computer News.
While enterprise app stores are starting primarily as tools of control — a way for agency IT departments to define the applications available to user devices and the associated policy — they will expand from that focus over time.
“The first path agencies could take is much like where we are today, with IT essentially stuffing mobile devices back into the client box and resuming strict control over how applications are developed and implemented at the agency,” O’Keeffe says. “The second path is more interesting and includes user input on what apps to include in the enterprise store and even extending to what apps get developed and implemented at the agency.”