Sam Liu is vice president of marketing and business development at Partnerpedia. He is responsible for the company’s marketing and strategic business initiatives worldwide.
Sam Liu of Partnerpedia suggests why the world of mobile and cloud apps will converge with desktop apps.
Interview conducted by Vinod Baya and Bo Parker
PwC: Sam, can you tell us a bit about Partnerpedia and what problem you are solving for your customers?
SL: Sure. Partnerpedia is a mobile app management vendor. We offer a software-as-a-service [SaaS] solution to help enterprises build and manage their app stores as part of their mobile, BYOD [bring your own device], or consumerization of IT [CoIT] efforts. We enable private internal app stores as well as the creation of a private-label external-facing app store.
With the rising requests for mobile apps, a common concern in IT is the control and protection of a company’s assets. It’s not much different from the days when the Internet first became popular and there were concerns about opening up the corporate network. There’s a lot of focus around security and how to lock things down. That is where we started.
The difference today is that we see a shift in attitude—from just controlling security to determining how to make the users much more productive and in a way that increases the company’s top line or reduces operating costs. The mindset has shifted a lot in just the past 12 months.
PwC: What is the future of app store solutions?
SL: Going forward, the app store paradigm should not be limited to just mobile apps. An app store is an excellent way for users to find and access an app, whether it’s a mobile or a desktop or a cloud application. I think there will be a convergence, where the app stores of today will evolve into a converged system to manage apps on all devices.
We see such convergence today, especially with large enterprises. They distribute applications to users either through an intranet portal that doesn’t work on a mobile device, or through FTP or some kind of heavy IT involvement such as CMDB [configuration management database] systems. That is a big hit on productivity. For example, one of our customers says app distribution could take about eight hours total turnaround time. With an enterprise app store approach, that turnaround is down to minutes.
PwC: So what do you feel is the future of enterprise applications?
SL: The definition of the app has morphed from the traditional definition of being a native app on the device. Today we see the term app applied to much broader entities; it could be content, a document, or a service request. What is common is that they are represented by that app icon we’re all familiar with: an action that needs to get done. This is good, because what users care about is getting something done.
The other change we are seeing is the use of devices. Whereas earlier you started and ended an app on the same device, today you might start a task on your mobile device and finish on your desktop, or vice versa.
PwC: If apps are evolving in the manner you describe, what is the future of app stores?
SL: Ultimately I think the enterprise app store will replace traditional intranets and portals. Intranets and portals were a way for users to discover and access content and apps. As intranets grew, they became pretty cumbersome, so they have had limited impact. App stores are evolving to become the window into all work, thereby replacing traditional intranets, which have largely remained static.
The other aspect of the future is the centralized tracking and management of licenses. If your app is procured through a third party, you likely have a licensing arrangement. Our system helps track the licenses of mobile apps and consolidates the auditing and reporting of licenses to a point where an enterprise can reclaim it. If somebody leaves the company, an enterprise can pull back the license and reassign it. Companies want these capabilities across the board—mobile and desktop environments. Many companies have a hard time tracking reclaimed licenses in the desktop world. The app store management environment will evolve to the centralized tracking and reporting of licenses.
PwC: How are mobile apps different from desktop applications?
SL: Most traditional enterprise applications are monolithic. They are applications that can do all sorts of things, just like a Swiss army knife. With mobile apps, you rescope and redesign into smaller, bite-sized functions. There’s a transformation of the app itself to be designed in a way so it will be much more productive for the users.
PwC: In narrowing the scope of individual apps, you have a lot of apps. Are you seeing challenges with fragmentation?
SL: For now, not yet. The volume of mobile apps in the enterprise is not large enough to be an issue yet. Over time, it will be an issue, and we are focused on including features in our product to alleviate that pain. It comes down to the app store design—the most popular apps will bubble to the top.
PwC: Most enterprises deliver a standard PC image with the applications you as an employee are expected to use and an implicit sense that you wouldn’t need anything else. App stores surely challenge that assumption. What is the impact on IT operations?
SL: Indeed, the role of IT is impacted. The past has been much more of a top-down model of application selection and distribution. Interaction with users was limited to surveys or the collection of user feedback that IT would interpret when it was ready.
A new paradigm is emerging that is much more collaborative. IT should understand that users may know—better than IT does—what app is best for them. Or, users often will learn about a new app before IT does. So there needs to be a feedback loop to let IT know, “Here are some new apps that users think are better.” Indeed there will be a qualification process to make sure the new apps meet whatever corporate standards there are.
PwC: Do you think the tablet form factor is having a disruptive influence on the interest in enterprise app stores?
SL: I think so. When we first started with the consumerization of IT, businesses thought they would do apps designed just for their mobile workforce, such as people in sales, the field force, and others. That’s definitely a no-brainer. But now with other computing devices such as tablets, so much more can be done more efficiently just on that form factor—even if there is a corresponding application sitting on the desktop.
Tablets are definitely a disruptor. There is literally the potential to replace a lot of the desktop-based applications and make work more efficient—even for non-mobile workers.
PwC: What advice do you give your customers?
SL: We advise customers: Don’t get too fancy too quick. Don’t worry about trying to put too many apps in a store too quick. Rather, focus on things that will be truly useful to a set of users. Also, when you roll out, you don’t need to roll out enterprise-wide. Roll it out to a finite group of people, do a pilot, collect feedback, fix any issues, and then distribute broadly.