How App Stores Can Become A Catalyst For A Developer-Focused IT Universe

After my panel on Friday at SXSW, Paul Underwood of Deloitte and Will Lovegrove, CEO of Datownia, approached me to talk about their companies. Their viewpoints demonstrate the direction of enterprise app development and the shift to a developer-centric IT world.

Datownia’s spreadsheet-based API platform and the scale of Deloitte’s internal apps marketplace represent two trends: Datownia shows the types of tools that are emerging to solve the he complex and intricate nature of building and connecting apps; Deloitte points to the need for ways to share and organize the rush of apps that enterprise developers are creating at unprecedented rates.

Datownia offers what it calls an API-as-a-Service. It turns a spreadsheet into an API by connecting it through Box or Dropbox and then connecting it to the Datownia platform. Once created, business data or IT systems data can be shared through the spreadsheet and accessed by any number of developers.

Deloitte has built its own “App Center,” which offers 146 apps, said Underwood, who works in the Office of Technology Innovation:

We use a common RESTful web service architecture and two HTML5 front ends (one for phones one for tablets/pc). The HTML5 front ends are embedded into native containers for iOS, Android, BB, and Windows Phone (similar to PhoneGap, but our own implementation). App Center’s UI follows an Single Page App pattern which allows us to embed the UI into the container and provide as native an experience as possible.

As companies build more apps, the value of PaaS will become apparent. Companies will not build tens of thousands of apps internally on an IT infrastructure meant for email, Word docs and old-school mission-critical apps. It’s likely they will use PaaS providers either externally, internally or both to create new apps and atomize the systems of record, such as SAP for business software or Salesforce for CRM. Those PaaS providers will then push those apps to an internal marketplace or the any number of external ones out there.

For Deloitte, the app store is a way to extend influence inside and outside the company, Underwood said. Apps are delivered in a variety of methodologies. It’s a mix of internally developed apps, vendor-produced, white label, and hybrid ones made by Deloitte and different vendors.

Deloitte is so large and there are so many teams with mobile initiatives that its difficult to conceptualize of a standardized delivery model being successful. Personally, I’ve seen the best apps come from hybrid vendor-internal teams. Vendor management is becoming an increasingly critical skill for our mobile enterprise initiatives. One of the major reasons we built App Center was after realizing the explosion of enterprise app development underway at Deloitte, we needed a place to discover what was being done and better define what excellence in mobile enterprise means. An ugly pointless app on a public app store erodes our brand. App Center brings apps to the light of day, both the good and the bad. Ultimately we hope this openness drives quality.

The influence of an intensive developer-centric model gives weight to PaaS. For example, Deloitte is adding more PaaS offerings in addition to App Center to support the various member firm goals, Underwood said. ”

I think the model is changing the value prop for IT in our complex corporate structure. We may have differing opinions on what PaaS means, but that topic deserves its own email.”

Abstracting the hardware of internal and external infrastructures has allowed Engine Yard, a PaaS provider, to put its platform behind the walls of a corporate data center. Oracle recently made an investment in Engine Yard, providing the IT giant with a service it can pop into a customer’s infrastructure.

As more apps get developed, complexities in the workflow is an issue that PaaS providers can help solve. Moving data from data stores or between apps is often a manual task. Datownia’s service abstracts the issues that developers have had in passing information between developers, IT and business users. But it does not solve the lack of common data standards around APIs. I caught up with John Musser of Programmable Web fame here at SXSW on Saturday. Musser said that it will be some time before we see open data standards, so in the meantime there will be smaller steps to take. REST-based APIs and JSON are examples of this.

But in the end, developers need easier ways to connect data sources so apps can have more depth. Datownia offers a way to sync data, which can make it easier to build out the apps users need. PaaS providers can serve as a data-“normalizing” environment so these new types of apps can be built. App stores are a natural fit and should become far more complex as evident in just the initial manifestations of Deloitte’s homegrown app store.

We’ll see how fast the demand is for internal app stores. As they do become more common, you can expect that the PaaS market will play a vital role and help fulfill the promise of turning the enterprise into a developer-centric environment.