When It Comes To iOS Apps, IT Needs To Rethink Volume Purchasing

When It Comes To iOS Apps, IT Needs To Rethink Volume Purchasing

The sheer volume of available apps is one selling point for iOS. For those using the iPad or iPhone in the workplace, there is an ever-growing selection of business and productivity tools. Some of these, like the apps from Salesforce.com, tie into existing business solutions and are available at no charge. Others may not be free but fill critical business needs like those that provide the ability to view and edit Office documents (examples include Quickoffice, Documents to Go, Office2, and Apple’s iWork apps).

This presents a conundrum to some IT professionals. In business environments most desktop applications (Mac or Windows) are purchased using volume or site licenses and delivered to workers using mass deployment tools. The software, or more accurately the license to run it, is purchased as and remains company property.

iOS apps, on the other hand, are treated by Apple much like music tracks or TV episodes. They’re purchased using an iTunes Store account and can be installed on any iOS devices tied to that account. Essentially, they become the property of the person who has purchased or downloaded them. That flies in the face of traditional IT tactics – a point reported by Network World as a constant source of issue to IT departments and a point of discussion at the MacIT conference that ran alongside MacWorld | iWorld last week.

It’s certainly easy to see the challenge here. Tying apps to specific users rather than to a company begs the question of should the employee or the company be responsible for the cost? Can a employee take those apps with him or her when they move on?

Apple’s attempt to address the situation is its volume purchase plan, which is available for both schools and businesses. The VPP allows an organization to purchase apps in bulk and provide iTunes redemption codes that can be distributed to users. Users enter the codes and get the apps. The process is somewhat similar to gifting an app using iTunes and places the cost with the employer but the responsibility of installation with the user.

That runs counter to the way IT departments are used to working. One comment made at MacIT is that the cost of the apps could be construed as compensation since they’re tied to a user’s personal account – definitely an issue in a BYOD-style deployment where the iPhone or iPad belongs to the user.

One comment made was that this process “may require huge changes in your accounting procedures.” That’s a scary sounding prospect – particularly since there’s always a bit of tension between accounting/finance and IT.

But in order for VPP purchases, gifting apps, or reimbursing users for app purchases to mandate “huge” changes for accounting and finance glosses over a simple fact: virtually all businesses already have to do similar things. If you use your personal vehicle for business errands, you’re entitled to be reimbursed for that milage by a formula the IRS computes every year. If you have a corporate credit card and you use it to make purchases that can be considered business and personal – like a meal or hotel room while on a work trip, accounting needs to reconcile that process.

Expenses like that should be anticipated in any business. Any accounting software or system should allow for such tasks. There may be approval types or limits that need to be tweaked, but there’s no reason to act like buying apps for users is horrifically different from handling other types of employee related expenses.

The difference is that IT is not used to thinking in those terms. Ironically, it’s easy to argue that this process simplifies the life of IT. If apps are purchased in volume, IT is only responsible with distributing redemption codes. If they are purchased by users and reimbursed, IT doesn’t even need to be concerned with the process – which may be an even better option in some companies. As with other facets of the consumerization of IT, this is an area where IT professionals need to learn to relinquish control a bit, particularly when they’re dealing with devices that are individually owned.

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  • m_hardwick

    Worth pointing out that VPP is only available in the states. Secondly, it does tie the apps to the accounts the purchases are allocated to (the ones who “redeem” the code), if this is a personal account and that user moves on you’ve effectively lost that app (or that is the way Apple have led me to believe it works, but without being able to test the system as I live outside the states, I can’t confirm). That still leaves the people trying to deal with an estate, such as myself, at a loss as to what to do.

    The way we’ve gone about it is giving everybody an Apple account which is tied to their work email address. We then use a corporate account centrally to purchase gift codes for users for apps we are willing to pay for. For these, we have come to terms with the fact that part of giving an iPad to a user (part of the cost if you like) is the cost of iWorks and one or two others to these users. Even though the user will hand the iPad back at the end of their contract/term the Apple account and it’s purchases will have the email address changed and be that users’ – and any apps that they want to purchase (outside of iWorks etc.) they do so at their own cost.

    For the iPads that are kept internally for specific tasks, only IT know the password and there is a “corporate” account that purchases the apps as gifts they are then redeemed on which every iPad.

    This is workable, but certainly isn’t an ideal solution.

  • ddevito

    Great article.

    Which is one of the many reasons iOS won’t dominate the workplace.

  • r3tali8

    Really, when you think about it, a lot of these apps cost $9.99 or less. More will probably be spent on office supplies and other expenses over the course of that worker’s employment. So if they walk away with a copy of Pages, not a huge loss. Usually, we just have the worker purchase apps under their personal iTunes account and get reimbursed from their departments. The morass of having two accounts (one for personal and one for business) is just too problematic. Because lets be serious; people are going to use these devices for fun stuff as well as business, it’s just easier to keep under one account. And if they leave,we keep the device anyway, so they may still own the app but now they have to buy their own device to use it.

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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