When moving to the cloud, the motto 'the first step is the hardest' is one that rings particularly true for the enterprise app market.
Its promise has long been touted but execution remains challenging – according to a 2014 survey from Gartner, the majority of organisations have developed and released fewer than 10 apps.
IT and digital players, as well as telcos, are ramping up their efforts to fill the void.
The market received a shot in the arm last December when Apple and IBM announced a partnership that promised iOS-based apps integrated with big data and analytics by IBM.
Martin Gale, IBM’s UK & Ireland Technical Lead for Mobile, says that things have progressed nicely with over 30 apps commercially available at the moment.
“We have a variety of apps, ranging from an app for pilots to help them determine their discretionary fuel allocation based on analytics of historical flight data, to an assisted selling app for retail store assistants to enable them to deliver great customer service and use the power of analytics to make informed recommendations,” he tells European Communications.
“We have a target of over a hundred apps targeting more than sixteen industries, focused on key roles and tasks where mobile apps can have a transformational effect on how the organisation works.”
Telcos themselves have been looking at this market for a while and their strategy can be boiled down to two approaches.
Swisscom is one of several telcos to have paired up with AppDirect, a US-based platform-as-a-service provider that allows telcos to build its app marketplace into their websites.
AppDirect presents operators with a ready-made solution offering applications from a variety of software vendors.
Its works with Swisscom has led to the operator making around 20 apps commercially available.
Jonas Krensler, Head of Messaging and Collaboration at Swisscom, says speed and scalability have proved the biggest boons of the partnership.
He says: “If you want to move quickly into an area, do you want to build it yourself and take the risks moving into an area that’s not where your core business is?
“We said, ‘Let’s partner with an agile platform.’ AppDirect specialises in this, so we benefit from that and benefit from the ecosystem they’re building up with all their partners.”
Orange Business Services has taken a different approach.
Its dedicated arm, Orange Applications for Business, claims apps that it has developed have been downloaded more than 20 million times from app stores.
Jean-Luc Vallejo, VP Marketing of Managed Mobility Services and Digital Workspace, says that its decision to tackle the marketplace alone was borne from the desire to be free from external control and keep its assets close to home.
“By creating our own app marketplace we are ensuring that we maintain autonomy in the apps space and the relationship with our partners,” he says.
“Moreover, in doing so, we maintain autonomy in our technical roadmap. Depending on our own needs, it offers us a better integration with the rest of our IT (e.g. provisioning/billing) and more flexibility to bundle with other services from our portfolio.”
Still, Vallejo doesn’t deny that the go-it-alone approach has its drawbacks.
“Of course, choosing an external platform offers a quicker - and maybe easier - time to market. But it’s a short-term view on a market that is just at the beginning,” he says.
“One downside could be the work to do for the recruitment of the partners in addition to the platform development. But on the other hand, it’s also strategic for us to choose and develop our own ecosystem of partners to create solutions for our customers.”
The decision ultimately boils down to the strategy of the telco in question. Yet as IBM’s Gale points out, the fast-moving nature of the mobile industry suggests that those that go it alone could quickly find themselves losing ground.
“The mobile market moves so fast…partnering with an organisation that already has some significant mindshare, collateral and assets that you can bring into your platform seems like the most sensible way to go,” he says.
“It’s all about putting together the differentiating capabilities of different organisations. When you do this, the whole thing becomes greater than the sum of the parts.”