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Corporate app store use increasing with mobile-ready manufacturers

A new IDC Manufacturing Insights report shows that corporate app store adoption rates are low, but are poised to take off.

As mobile devices and applications become more common in manufacturing workplaces, the question of how to best manage enterprise mobility has become an urgent one. Corporate application stores are one way that companies can ensure quality, security and uniformity for their mobile enterprise applications, but this concept is only just gaining momentum. A new report from Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights, titled Business Strategy: Looking Forward to the Corporate Application Store, is shining some light on the current -- and potential future -- state of corporate application adoption in manufacturing.

For a corporate application store to serve as an effective way of streamlining mobile app delivery, it must be "independent of device and application source, [be] sanctioned, and [meet] governance and security requirements of the corporation," the report read. Currently, adoption rates for corporate application stores for U.S. companies are only about 20%, according to the report, although IDC also found that about 80% of manufacturers surveyed are working to develop mobile applications and are doing so at a faster rate than with traditional applications.

"The adoption rate for the corporate app stores isn't there yet, but it's going to be reaching a critical mass in the next 18 to 24 months, we believe," said Heather Ashton, research manager at IDC and one of the authors of the report.

The biggest difference between this year's mobile survey results and last year's, according to Ashton, is that the question of corporate app stores wasn't even on the map a year ago. "If you think about how the proficiency of mobile device use in corporations has really increased in the last couple years, you can see that now, companies have gone from wondering how to manage the devices to how to manage the apps," she said. "While [corporate app store adoption] is in its nascent stage now, it was a nonexistent discussion point just a few years ago."

Corporate app store adoption varies by company size, industry

There is some variation in corporate app store adoption rates, depending on company size as well as manufacturing vertical, Ashton noted. IDC categorizes manufacturing verticals into four "value chains": technology-oriented, brand-oriented, engineering-oriented and asset-oriented. The "technology-oriented high-tech and electronics manufacturers are leading the charge above other verticals, often managing hundreds of corporate mobile apps and tens of thousands of devices," Ashton said.

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More manufacturers are taking it upon themselves to design, develop, deploy and manage custom apps that fit the unique business needs of their particular verticals, IDC has found. For these custom apps and the corporate app stores that house them to be successful, IDC stresses that manufacturers must pay attention to how willing employees are to use the store to download and manage their apps, and must keep the apps in these stores fresh and relevant to maintain employee interest.

According to the report, the larger manufacturers surveyed tend to have more interest in corporate app stores simply because they have more mobile assets to juggle. "Across manufacturing, we saw that the mid-to-large organizations are the ones that tend to have a number of mobile devices being managed -- both bring-your-own-device and corporate devices -- and are now starting to really have to pay attention to mobile apps and discuss what to do with them," Ashton said.

Getting the most out of manufacturing mobile applications

Ashton offered some advice to manufacturers that are planning to expand their use of corporate app stores and enterprise mobility in general. Companies should have an understanding of how many different operating systems need to be supported and aligned with corporate mobile applications, she said. "It's really too soon to choose just one mobile operating system [for the entire business]," she added. "We're recommending that companies continue to maintain support for a variety, including Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Windows. It's unclear which is going to emerge as the primary system for manufacturers."

Another must-do that has emerged from the report is that companies need to be focused on how to create, manage and distribute corporate apps to employees, Ashton said. "Manufacturers need to determine whether they want to build an internal center of excellence around mobile application management or rely on outside suppliers," she said. "Look at your existing IT suppliers that you already have relationships with -- maybe providers of your enterprise apps -- and understand what their mobile strategies are, whether you want to align yourself with them, and whether you want to go with cloud-based or in-house mobile vendors."

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