A decade of the App Store: where next for enterprise applications?

2018 marks 10 years since Apple launched its App Store. In the intervening period, apps have gone from being relatively unheard of to a key part of our modern tech ecosystem. They are now critical to almost every smartphone user, and according to Flurry’s last State of Mobile report, app usage is continuing to rise.  

The App Store started with just 500 apps in 2008 and grew to more than 900,000 in 2013. Today, there are more than 2.2 million. Meanwhile, Android users can choose from 2.8 million apps. While the latest consumer facing apps tend to get the lion’s share of attention for the entertainment, fun and usefulness they bring, apps in the enterprise have been around for decades, quietly doing their important and diligent work – from simplifying business processes to increasing productivity.

You won’t find most B2B applications in app stores however, mainly because businesses often develop their mission-critical applications tailored to meet their unique needs, in-house – either from scratch or as customised versions of “off the shelf” software. Many of today’s enterprises run on applications that were developed 10 or 20 years ago and are integral to the business, collecting and processing extraordinary amounts of data about the company, employees and customers. These systems range back office support systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), and HR applications, to transactional systems like payment and supply chain systems – all of which are continually greasing the wheels of business.

However, the legacy apps of the past will not enable businesses to compete in a digital, cloud-driven future. Modernising critical business systems is paramount to organisations’ competitive advantage in a world where customers in every sector expect on-demand access to goods and services. Adding to the urgency around modernising legacy apps is the fact it takes time and soon it may be too late for businesses that haven’t already embraced modernisation.

Finding the right path to application modernisation

The major trends driving modernisation of business applications are three-fold; reducing time to market of new features and functionality to keep pace with competition, the reliability and maturity of increasingly available technology, and market and user expectations.

The explosion of open source technologies in the last decade has led to an unprecedented amount of free, stable, maintained, and configurable tools and applications. This has been enhanced by the move to an “as a service” tech economy.

Shifting costs from CapEx to OpEx has caused challenges for enterprises. But early adopters have paved the way for the late majority. Capital costs for data centres which can leave businesses tied in to expensive long terms programmes are being replaced by operating expenditures that can provide a lean cost model and easier expansion. This combination of enterprise-class open source tools and cloud services provide the necessary ingredients to begin a modernisation strategy with relatively low capital outlay.

Both of those factors have meant that there is already significant cloud use amongst enterprises. The majority of businesses are cloud users in some form and as we look forward to 2019, it’s safe to say cloud is well beyond its ‘early adopter’ phase.

The final driver for change is the fact that people have grown to expect highly robust and integrated experiences from the applications they use. Whether it’s controlling their lights, doing their banking, or booking a table, people expect apps to be constantly updated with new capabilities, and for these updates to happen without intervention or downtime. If there is one thing that the current business cycle has proved, evidenced by the severe difficulties that many traditionally operated companies have experienced across sectors, it is that there will always be a business prepared to offer the same products and services with an improved digital experience for the customer. The innovation in the consumer space has created the expectation that enterprise applications run as smoothly as the top-rated apps on the App Store.

The good news is the technology, processes and experience to modernise legacy apps is readily available. Of course, execution remains a challenge and thus planning, patience, and an incremental, progressive approach to modernisation are keys to success. Transforming over time, not overnight, is the most reliable and effective way to modernise. Companies must examine and deeply understand their infrastructure, development processes, and application architecture before embarking on any modernisation initiative.

Once enterprise technology teams understand the scope of their technology estate and have prioritised apps for modernisation, only then can they leverage cloud, open source software, and modern development processes to evolve critical business applications. You can’t simply “lift and shift” a monolithic application to a hyperscale cloud and expect it to work like a mobile app, just like you can’t tell developers and operations to “do DevOps” and expect high velocity software delivery. Approach modernisation is an ongoing, collaborative process, with specific goals at each stage, so you gain benefits throughout and enable teams to participate fully in their own success.

On the anniversary of the App Store, now is the ideal time to consider the whole spectrum of applications — not just the consumer-facing apps, but also the longstanding, mission-critical enterprise apps that run businesses everywhere.

It will be the modernisation of these core business apps, and not anything you’ll find in the App Store, which will define the value of the app in the decade to come.

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