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.