April 7, 2009
It's been almost a week since Research In Motion opened up its BlackBerry App World, and a clear distinction has emerged between it and the iPhone online store: Apple offers more enterprise software apps for the iPhone than RIM does for the BlackBerry.
In fact, don't be surprised to see more mobile versions of corporate software applications pop up on the iPhone App Store that won't ever appear on BlackBerry App World.
How can that be, since the BlackBerry is traditionally a corporate device and the iPhone comes from the consumer world? The answer is that RIM and Apple have taken very different approaches to the distribution of enterprise software for their smartphones.
Apple requires that enterprise software companies comply closely with its iPhone developers' kit, and if it approves of the finished mobile app, it puts it up on the App Store. This is the only distribution channel Apple allows for iPhone native apps. (Other companies, such as Information Builders, NetSuite, and SAP have avoided the SDK kit requirement and distribution limitation by building Web-based apps that work on the iPhone. But they aren't allowed to sell them on the App Store.)
Enterprise software companies that have posted apps on the iPhone App Store include ActiveStrategy, Excitor, Omniture, Oracle, Salesforce.com, and Workday. Those with iPhone apps in the works include SAS Institute and QlikTech.
But some of those App Store offerings won't work unless iPhone users get their companies' IT departments involved. Oracle, for example, offers an app that lets managers view business-performance data on iPhone that's in their companies' Oracle BI systems, but getting access to those systems requires IT to install a connector at a cost of several thousand dollars or more.
On the new BlackBerry App World, however, you won't find any applications that require a BlackBerry user's IT department to get involved, said Tyler Lessard, RIM's director of ISV alliances.
"Our applications that fall into the business productivity area are more focused on the ability for users to download and just start using them, rather than have to 'back-end' into a system," Lessard explained.
Apple's and RIM's divergent approaches to their online software stores are consistent with their overall business-market strategies. Apple has always taken a bottom-up approach, with the cool employees and evangelists leading corporate dinosaurs into the light, and that doesn't change with the iPhone. It envisions iPhone users browsing the App Store and finding one that would let them, say, get sales contacts from their corporate CRM systems, file expense reports to their accounting systems, or submit time-off requests in their HR systems -- and then go bang on IT's door for help.
RIM takes the top-down approach: Work with enterprise software vendors to develop apps, and then those vendors pitch and sell their offerings to IT and business departments. The managers contemplate the integration challenges of connecting mobile apps to back-end systems and then decide which applications to make available to employees on their BlackBerrys. As a result, employees might see on App World apps for personalizing news, booking flights, and tracking personal stock portfolios, but they won't many mobile apps for popular CRM or ERP systems.
There is one exception: some software-as-a-service applications, such as those offered by Salesforce.com. Since no back-end integration is required (the software is hosted by Salesforce), BlackBerry users just need to download the app from App World, enter their credentials and tap into their employers' CRM systems. Same with SaaS vendor Interchange, which offers its SalesNow mobile app on App World; SaaS vendor Workday plans a BlackBerry app later this year.
Apple's anti-establishment approach to technology is ingrained in its culture, and has fed the creative thinking that's led to so many brilliant Apple innovations. What's more, business managers and IT shops would be wise to listen to what employees have to say about mobile applications, since they'll be the ones using them.
But Apple's strongly consumer-driven approach to the iPhone makes it difficult to determine how badly it even wants the iPhone to be adopted as a corporate tool. It has a reputation as being standoffish among enterprise software vendors, and if it works with them, it's at arm's length.
If Apple really wants to see the iPhone used in business, it seems there's more it could be doing besides posting enterprise software apps on the App Store and letting its customers and their IT shops figure out the rest. Because with that approach, Apple could prove to be its own worst enemy in getting broad adoption of iPhone in the business world.
Mobile applications can boost a workforce's productivity, but it can bring up multiple questions about security. InformationWeek analyzed how to get a handle on locking down data when it's on the move, and the report can be downloaded here (registration required).
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