'Mobile App Sprawl' Is Here. Is 'App Stall' Next? - InformationWeek
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Andi Mann
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'Mobile App Sprawl' Is Here. Is 'App Stall' Next?

We've seen cloud and virtual machine "sprawl" and "stall," and now history is repeating itself with mobile apps. Here's how to take control of "app sprawl."

I was interested to see McKinsey refer to the phenomenon of "cloud stall" in its new report, "The enterprise IT infrastructure agenda for 2014." At CA Technologies, we've been helping customers to address "cloud stall" since early 2011, so I will not debate McKinsey's 2014 predictions per se. Rather, I'm interested in applying the stall concept to another vital area of enterprise IT: mobile apps.

For those who came in late, the first iteration of this concept was "VM sprawl" -- the unmanaged proliferation of virtual machines for every new use case. In 2010, I discussed the concept of "VM stall" in an article on CIO.com, defining it as: "The tendency for virtualization deployments to stall once the 'low-hanging fruit' has been converted (typically around 20-30 percent of servers)."

Cloud sprawl and stall are each based on a similar premise -- first came the proliferation of cloud services adopted by business units; then adoption slowed as IT and business units dealt with new issues caused by the initial sprawl and tried to figure out the harder cloud use cases (e.g., hybrid, legacy modernization).

[DevOps is a horrible term but a necessary IT culture change. Read DevOps: A Culture Shift, Not A Technology.]

History is repeating itself with mobile apps. If we're starting to see "app sprawl," will "app stall" follow, as it did with virtualization and the cloud?

Mobile app development is indeed hot. While data shows 62% of organizations do not have a company-wide mobility strategy, apps are still in demand in the enterprise:

  • Marketing wants an app for content marketing to connect with customers and drive leads
  • Sales wants an app with digital brochures, sales materials, contracts, and CRM integration
  • Operations wants an app for customer self-service for purchases and after-sales support
  • Regional departments want an app to show off local flair and connect with local customers
  • Branch offices want an app that will interface with head office systems on new devices
  • Manufacturing wants an app to manage inventory and production from the factory floor
  • The C-suite wants an app for C-level reporting on business performance

A quick review of the various app stores shows how widespread this phenomenon really is. My very first search on the iTunes App Store showed app proliferation for JP Morgan Chase:

Similarly, my search on the Google Play Store for Sears shows it also has a proliferation of official apps:

This is not even considering apps developed independently by third parties. A quick search in the Google Play Store for Bank of America, for example, turns up more than 70 different apps, most not developed by BofA:

There are also different apps for different operating systems and device types, plus all the off-the-shelf consumer and enterprise applications adopted directly by BYOD users.

These apps may be both necessary and good. Even rogue tech adoption is not always a bad thing. However, like virtualization and cloud proliferation before it, app sprawl creates new problems. With apps multiplying uncontrollably, you risk damage to your brand as different apps present too many unauthorized or "rogue" experiences to your customers.

You also risk: inconsistent customer interactions as applications have overlapping functionality; intellectual property dilution as your brands and other IP are essentially hijacked; service desk overload caused by too many apps and not enough support staff; staff dissatisfaction when supposedly "corporate" apps are focused only on a small part of the business; and higher costs to develop, manage, and secure parallel mobile app efforts.

Unfettered access to external apps brings more management demand, security gaps, malware penetration, and confidential data leakage. Third-party app development that goes unchecked could also

Andi Mann is an accomplished digital executive with global expertise as a strategist, technologist, innovator, marketer, and communicator. With over 30 years' experience, he is a sought-after advisor, commentator, and speaker. Andi has coauthored two books. He blogs at Andi ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Moderator
6/11/2014 | 2:24:17 PM
Re: Mobile app strategy
@Stratustician - thanks for the comment, that is a really great point.

I only touched briefly on the security aspects of 'rogue' apps, but you have described a very real risk. There is certainly an opportunity for malicious actors to use these uncontrolled apps for phishing, malware, and even just personal data access for social engineering attacks. Another solid reason to make sure to take that strategiuc approach, as you said, and actively deal with these apps.

Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 12:53:47 PM
Span of control
What about all those external apps? Presumably using trademark law a company could crack down on third-party developers, but should they? Seems like a case-by-case call, and someone needs to be empowered to make that decision based on a set list of criteria.
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 11:28:02 AM
Re: Mobile app strategy
From a marketing standpoint, it is so important to ensure that any apps that are available to end users do indeed reflect not just the overall branding, but more importantly, the user experience.  Many of these rogue apps are an easy way for unathorized third parties to collect information on users who are under the impression that these apps are provided by the corporation themselves.  On IOs, it's probably less of an issue due to the tight regulation, but in Android and other app stores, the risks are quite high.  Having a mobile strategy is going to be key for all corporations, and it makes sense to have IT and Marketing leading the charge.
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 10:28:16 AM
Mobile app strategy
Mobile app sprawl is an apt way to phrase the problem, Andi. I am not convinced you need a CDO to handle mobile strategy; in some companies the CIO and CMO are already working hand-in-hand as partners on mobile app stores for internal and external customers. Dell's CIO Andi Karaboutis, for example. You do need IT and marketing working closely or else you won't solve the problem.
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