As enterprise technology vendors now seek to make the software procurement process simpler, safer and altogether more straightforward, the use of enterprise app stores to present a ‘curated showcase of solutions’ is an appealing customer proposition for many.
Combined with the development of what we now call micro-vertical services, there is a concerted and growing effort to ease the headaches (and in some cases heartaches) traditionally felt by the software buying team.
Enterprise software procurement should be a precise science. By its very nature as a digital entity, selecting and purchasing software should be as simple as auditing user and system requirements, provisioning for scale and connecting to a vendor’s product and services menu to complete a transaction.
Except it’s not. Software vendors, especially those in the ERP space, are often criticised for their bloated product catalogues and difficult-to-navigate buying systems. With many products and sub-products further confused by bundling, buying a chunk of software is not as simple as it sounds.
What is an enterprise app store?
An enterprise app store is an opportunity for software vendors to package and simplify their product sets. Think of this concept like going into a hardware store and buying a new electrical housing of some kind and being offered a specialised socket wrench along with it to make the fitting process easier. You might also be offered special protective gloves or some kind of sealant i.e. all the elements you need to make the job safe and long lasting.
Software vendors know that their portfolios can appear cumbersome or unwieldy, this is a way for them to group together a set of best practice tools in one place and in some cases offer them as tailored ‘productised solutions’ for specific different industry needs.
Sometimes stores will offer combined tools and processes that have been coalesced through internal product roadmap development. Other times, the application and services fusion is drawn from a process of carefully observing where other customers have had success. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best enterprise app store offerings are usually a result of both.
Navigating the software universe
“The rise of enterprise application stores is a logical enough progression in a world – no, let’s say universe – of software platforms, tools and services that appear to be booming on an ever-expanding trajectory of growth,” says Prakash Vyas, global head of portfolio marketing at software app platform company OutSystems. “Given the additional fact that multi-national organisations often work with disparate teams across multiple locations, there are (in some cases, perhaps not all) too many avenues and opportunities for one team in one place to adopt one application, while another embraces a different tool altogether. The end result is poor integration, flaky interoperability and the creation of potential security fissures.”
Vyas likens the rise of the enterprise app store to planned community housing schemes. From the outside, all the buildings look mostly the same, there’s a perfect fit between streets and sidewalks, all the roof tiles are the same colour and there are community social gatherings to address local concerns and discuss development.
Inside these homes and offices, people are obviously free to furnish their dwellings to their own custom specifications and taste, but they can do so in the knowledge that their water supply and other utilities have been engineered to the same (hopefully high) standard as their neighbour.
We’re not advocating some draconian vision of homogeneity in software or social housing – Prakash Vyas, OutSystems
“We’re not advocating some draconian vision of homogeneity in software or social housing – and this should not necessarily be a carte blanche approach to the way all technology is purchased in the future. But what this market construct does offer is a way of channelling procurement and deployment into more defined streams.
“This is a process that can lead to not only sharper and more accurate application usage – it can also help to cut down instances of shadow IT where teams have adopted (sometimes quite random) software tools that fail to align perfectly with the central IT stack,” adds Vyas.
When an enterprise app store is working well, customers get what they need at the right time and at the right price point. Much like today’s supermarket checkouts and self-scan grocery systems where the retailer barely needs to be present, the software vendor can often take a back seat here too.
By offering a searchable index of software solutions that includes and incorporates a catalogue of partner products, the enterprise app store is able to automate and streamline the whole procurement process. Customers can buy with full knowledge of product functionality and scope. Much like the way we select hotels or other products and services online today, where customers want more information they can read about other user experiences with the tools they seek to purchase.
Sales consultants and product specialists don’t need to panic just yet. As is the case with most AI and automation, this process largely allows product salespeople to focus on more complex customer requirements, which will typically be higher value and higher revenue.
All of this leads us to the subject of so-called micro-verticals and the specialisation of software to serve this notion of industry sub-sectors.
What is a micro-vertical?
As it sounds, a micro-vertical is a smaller subset of a vertical industry. If petrochemicals or aviation are verticals, then petrochemicals or aviation services for farming and agriculture requirements is a micro-vertical. We can further regionalise a micro-vertical and say that we’re looking at petrochemicals for agriculture in Romania (for example), but we don’t need to emphasise the concept any further at this stage.
The point to grasp here is that the classification of micro-verticals enables enterprise app store vendors to create pre-packaged, pre-integrated, pre-configured and pre-provisioned software to align more closely to its intended use at the coalface of deployment.
Infor chief technology officer and president of products Soma Somasundaram calls his company’s app store a ‘smart ecosystem’ designed to offer hundreds of solutions that have been pre-integrated with Infor software, or built with Infor platform technologies.
Our store is not only focussed on industry features, but also industry content, such as KPIs, workflows, benchmarks, AI-driven optimizations and RPA – Soma Somasundaram, Infor
“(These include) partner-developed apps, which support certain niche industry needs, to…visualisations, extensions and reusable widgets. [It’s] intended to showcase new and innovative solutions for our customers…not only focussed on industry features, but also industry content, such as KPIs, workflows, benchmarks, AI driven-optimisations and RPA,” according to Somasundaram.
Ten items, or fewer
As we have tried to illustrate here, the rise of the enterprise app store has a number of obvious parallels with the way we have always shopped in marketplaces since biblical times. Crucially and more importantly, the app store concept is developing on a parallel path with the way we shop today with self-service, packaged solutions and the new era of productization (let’s use a ‘z’ in deference to where the term originates from) that surrounds us.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to predict where the parallels will go next.
In the high street supermarket, some people will want pasta ready meals, some people will want spaghetti and ragu sauce sold as a combined unit ready to cook at home, while others still will want flour, tomatoes and raw meat to build from scratch.
In the enterprise app store, the food is as good as on the plate and you may get an Italian waiter thrown into the bargain too. Pass the black pepper, please.