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Global CIO: The Case For Copying Apple's App Store

Manpower's IT team is adopting the App Store model internally, making it part of how technology runs in a global company. Should you?

Manpower CIO Denis Edwards is thankful for Apple's App Store. Three years ago, to do what he and his IT team want to do now, they would have had to explain a complicated concept about distributed development, a centralized software depository, shared services, and approval processes.

Now, he just points to the App Store and says "we want to do that, only for internal use," and people get it. And he wants to do it whenever Manpower adds new software for one business group that others might want to adopt. For background, Manpower is a more than $16 billion-a-year staffing company, so it's constantly trying to connect the right people with the right job openings. It has global business operations (82 countries) and also global IT teams, with development groups for every major national or regional market.

One example of this that's in the works now is video interviewing of job candidates. That capability could be a huge time saver for candidates and hiring managers alike, with interviews live or taped. The IT team in Canada has done the first tests of a new system for that purpose, making sure that it worked with existing Manpower systems such as its systems for managing and searching job candidates and openings, and that it delivered the needed performance and controls. Now it's being piloted in the Nordics; the U.K. and Mexico are most likely next in line. If it delivers in all those markets, then the video interviewing tool will clear the bar to go into Manpower's app store, and any country or region could add it to its systems.

Edwards is calling the internal version a Solution Store, with the goal that it be used anytime Manpower's IT teams add software that could be used in multiple markets. Of course, it won't be as simple as Apple's iPhone App Store (or its brand new Mac App Store). The huge challenge is that these apps aren't running on one software/hardware platform--Manpower runs on a mix of IT platforms, like most companies.

But the alternative to this app store model is more centralized IT development and priority setting. Here are some of the advantages Edwards sees in this distributed approach:

More projects at once "We're doing a ton of proof of concepts and pilots in a lot of different countries, and we can because we understand what we want our architecture to look like," Edwards says, referring, among other things, to common messaging standards for new applications. If Canada can be vetting one app, while France, the U.K., and Japan pilot yet another, they can have more, smaller projects working in parallel. And once they're approved, and put in an app store, each market can adopt it as needed.

The payoff from distributed development is getting more tools into the field faster to meet specific needs. Speed--time from idea to useful IT tool--is one of the critical measures of IT success these days. And it's one too many IT shops fail. "We can get things done faster and get more things done in parallel," Edwards says.

More job satisfaction for those working on an app "The thing that excites an IT manager in Argentina is they're going to get to work on a global solution that the whole company is going to use," Edwards says. When an app goes into Manpower's app store, it'll show which country did the development work. Manpower is having its global executive leadership meeting this month, and, in spotlighting IT's work, it'll highlight apps from specific countries, with their contribution noted. For any of us, a little glory can go a long way.

Innovation from more sources "In a global company, hierarchy doesn't cut it," Edwards says. Teams constantly push for some new tool they need to answer local rivals; the distributed approach lets them pursue that, while leveraging that in other countries if it works. There is centralized control from Manpower headquarters, however, when it comes to budgeting. IT teams can't just work on anything they want. That budget control keeps costs and priorities in line, but it also makes sure five teams aren't developing the same system.

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