App Stores and the Institution’s Back Office

Gartner analyst Ian Finley predicts that within the next four years up to 25 percent of enterprises will have their own enterprise app stores for managing apps on both desk tops as well as mobile devices. Justification for the trend includes BYOA (bring your own app), which continues to grow from the abstraction enabled in the BYO* culture (see my post on BOYM). Gartner was referring to enterprises that will assume more control of the apps downloaded by their company’s employees, by creating their own app store containing sanctioned apps available for quick downloads and deployments. However, consider students, who are members of the culture that expects immediate access to functionality via app stores. Do institutions need to consider BYOA relative to ensuring the student experience is optimal as well as secure? This post considers two very different angles to this question, first a mobile strategy for institutions that is compatible with the immediate-access trend, and second an ERP strategy that leverages an app store to extend rapidly, enabling institutions to adapt better to the dynamically changing education environment, doing more with their student systems.

The Cloud has fueled the immediate-access culture by providing the ability to download apps and consume them in seconds. Although centered on consumers initially, this culture can indeed be extended into the institution’s back office systems in order to adapt to the rapidly changing learning domain and support the education process, improving outcomes and meeting expectations that are rising each year from students, governments and the workplace.

An example of leveraging the cloud to make available rapidly adaptable functionality is the approach found in the Ellucian Mobile architecture. This method provides configuration and servicing in the Cloud, so nothing local has to be wrestled with technically, and all apps that appear on the student’s device can be crated with standard HTML5 and are deployed immediately without the student having to take steps to download and install. It’s similar to a consumer downloading an app to their mobile device, only it’s the institution accessing an entire mobile student system in a similar fashion, which then students can then download and enable on their devices in the familiar way. The immediate-access paradigm has merged with the institution’s enterprise back-office.

Moving as much infrastructure, provisioning, computing and functionality into the cloud, while surrounding it with tons of automation is not only compatible with the expectations the immediate-access culture students are members of, but also can enhance the learning experience yielding higher outcomes and success.

From a completely different angle, consider the opportunity of enterprise applications (such as the student ERP) relative to the usual rigidity of large enterprise systems in terms of leveraging their deep feature set in new ways or extending them to fit a changing dynamic. The app store concept (if applied at the enterprise level) can turn the institution’s back office into an immediate-access paradigm, similar to the way consumers assume rapid availability of functionality from mobile app stores. Ellucian will soon be making available such an app store, called the Ellucian XE Registry (the Extensible Ecosystem Registry) which is a catalog of interfaces (RESTful API’s and other interfaces) surrounded by SOA governance, all in the cloud (to be available at xe.ellucian.com). The XE Registry not only enables google-like discoverability of interfaces, but more importantly it provides rapid orchestration and consumption of functionality such that dynamic needs can be addressed very quickly.

Further, app stores can foster amazing collaboration. The “Ecosystem” attribute in XE refers to not only the collection of interfaces from across the largest education-specific library of functionality in the world, but also it highlights the support surrounding the collaborative nature of how institutions and students share and work together naturally, fostering the very fabric of cooperation, teamwork and partnerships for the common good. Referring to this attribute Gartner said “an app store can be a natural way to share new applications within the enterprise, recognize great applications, provide feedback to development teams, and even create a bit of competition between them — all to drive the development of better solutions.”

Cloud accessible app stores and registries will indeed be powerful forces going forward, yielding immediate-access capabilities to institutions and students, enabling better adaptability to the rapidly changing dynamics in education.