“Cius is about control,” said Kara Wilson, VP-marketing for collaboration solutions at Cisco. For Cisco, that control starts with the IT department; but really it's about putting the business, rather than the individual mobile user, back in control.
Palomar Pomerado Health, one of the first adopters of Cisco's tablet, used the new AppHQ app store to distribute a new mobile app that provides easier access to patient records and enables doctor-to-doctor consultations via email and videoconferencing, said Orlando Portale, the health system's chief innovation officer. “The app gives physicians a better collaboration tool, with access to real-time data, regardless of location, in order to help them make more timely decisions,” he said.
Such private app stores also represent a much more traditional distribution channel for b-to-b marketers. To reach users, marketers cut deals for priority placement and distribution to an entire organization instead of trying to reach users one-by-one.
Cisco isn't alone in trying to flip traditional app store models on their head. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is also focused on delivering business-ready apps, while Microsoft and its new partner, Nokia, are likely to have a major business focus as well—leaving consumer apps to market leaders Apple and Google.
That's not to say Apple and Google don't have business users in sight as well. Apple, for instance, has been touting business users of its iPad and has created the iOS Enterprise Developer Program, a $299 solution to assist companies in building iPhone/iPad apps in-house that can be distributed via private app stores. Among the companies taking advantage of Apple's private approach is Medtronic Inc., which told Forbes it is distributing 55 applications internally via its own app “store”—essentially providing an iTunes-like storefront with everything under its control.
Other large companies, such as General Electric Co., are building internal app stores with solutions for multiple apparatuses, including the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android devices, that enable individual workers to choose their devices while reining in the apps they can install. Not surprising, GE is also distributing its own custom mobile apps, including its Transformer Monitoring app for managing gas turbine inventory and electric transformers.
Such private app stores could be a first step to creating a more vibrant b-to-b mobile marketing environment, which is coming, albeit slowly. Forrester Research analyst Michael Greene expects b-to-b mobile marketing spending to increase from $26 million in 2009 to $106 million in 2014—not a big number, especially compared with Forrester's projection of $4.8 billion in overall b-to-b interactive marketing spending in 2014. But it does show b-to-b marketing activity increasing.
And distribution of b-to-b apps through more traditional channels, including public app stores, will be a big part of that growth as well. For instance, b-to-b information provider Hoover's has developed two apps—Near Here, for localized lead management, and Connect+, for capturing customer data—that are available through the iPhone app store. Meanwhile, GE isn't just delivering mobile apps internally; its GE Capital unit has launched WattWise, a mobile app that lets its franchise restaurant customers such as Taco Bell analyze their lighting costs. GE distributes the app directly to interested customers.
The biggest challenge in distributing mobile apps may be getting noticed. Preferred placement in private app stores may help, but the apps themselves need to stand out as well. Oil and gas equipment provider Schlumberger, for instance, has built an interactive iPad “game” that lets customers try out drill bits, which lease for $50,000 per day and up, in simulated drilling environments. “Over and over these days, we see executives coming into client meetings and almost every single one of them has an iPad,” said Sam Gaddis, CMO of Mutual Mobile, which built the app for Schlumberger.
While creating a tablet app is still new enough to create some buzz among customers, Gaddis said, getting it noticed, downloaded and used ultimately leads marketers back to the same tactics they use for any online b-to-b campaign, such as email lists and trade show marketing. “Once you've built a mobile app, there's nothing really unique or special about how you market it,” Gaddis said. “You have to find a way to get it into the hands of your customers.”