Apperian Targets Big Enterprises for Mobile App Management in BYOD Era

If you’re like me, the biggest question about the iPhone 5 is how far you can dropkick it.

Ditto the Nokia/Microsoft Lumia 820, the Motorola/Google Droid Razr M, the Kindle Fire HD…and pretty much every new device du jour. (I’m an equal-opportunity hater of screens—especially screens advertised incessantly on other screens—but I’m resigned to using them as a neo-Luddite.)

Big companies’ IT departments might feel the same way, but for different reasons. As Chuck Goldman, the founder of Boston-based Apperian (and a former Apple exec) puts it, “This is the first major hardware refresh since BYOD.”

He’s talking about “Bring Your Own Device,” the business policy of letting employees use their own smartphones and tablets for work purposes. The practice has become widespread over the past year, and it can be a headache for big businesses when new devices and software versions are showing up almost weekly. Employees’ devices need to be accounted for, and the software and corporate data they access needs to be secured. What’s more, when employees leave a company, the firm has to make sure they’re not taking proprietary data with them.

Apperian, a three-year-old software startup, has grown up amidst the enterprise mobile fray, and it is positioning itself as a one-stop solution to these problems. A couple years ago, I thought of Apperian as a mobile development startup, focused on building consumer-facing apps for brands like Estee Lauder and Timberland. But then the company went after a bigger market: creating a mobile-app platform for enterprises to develop and deploy their own internal apps, sort of like an enterprise app store. The platform, called EASE (Enterprise Application Services Environment), is used by big customers including Cisco, NetApp, Nvidia, and Proctor & Gamble. Now the company is emphasizing its app management chops to said customers.

In the meantime, the whole enterprise mobile landscape has become much more sophisticated, even though the market is still young. “We’re in the first inning of a nine-inning ballgame,” says David Patrick, Apperian’s CEO. “Over the last 12 months, with most enterprises [going] BYOD, everything they’ve been really good at for the last 15 years, they’ve lost control of.” He’s talking about IT issues such as who gets what device; which generation of operation system is on each device; and how to secure corporate apps and information.

Another challenge: “Apple innovates with the consumer [in mind] first,” says Goldman. “Things like Siri, better core location, better cameras. Enterprise thinks, ‘We just locked down that, and here are all these new challenges.’ That’s the nature of the beast. We try to anticipate some of that stuff with EASE, and make it painless for enterprise.” (As Goldman says, chief information officers spend half their lives trying not to get fired.)

Apperian is also fighting an acronym war of sorts. The company touts its mobile application management (MAM) approach, as opposed to the more traditional mobile device management (MDM) model, in which IT departments control devices at the OS level and do things like wipe entire devices clean when employees leave. Apperian’s platform is Web-based and free to try out, and to hear the company talk about it, it is much easier to use for enterprises that need to deploy and secure apps for tens of thousands of employees.

Case in point: An insurance company with 70,000 workers used Apperian’s system to release an internal communications app in the cloud and to invite employees to use it via e-mail. The company’s IT administrator could do things like control the distribution list, add security policies, delete the app if necessary, and track its use.

Another use case is a large regional bank which used Apperian’s software to manage internal apps so that they would show different content based on individual employees’ roles in the company, and have different security wrapping based on the sensitivity of the data.

The big theme here? Mobile security and management at the app level, rather than the device level, is an emerging business area. If done right (as Apperian says it’s doing), the approach is more nimble and can lead to greater adoption and usage of enterprise apps. “Applications are the new endpoint,” says Alan Murray, Apperian’s senior vice president of products. “MAM is where innovation is taking place.” To that end, Murray says, Apperian is working on things like helping businesses make their apps more context-aware—deciding whether they should be disabled in certain physical locations or when the device is connected to public Wi-Fi, say, or not run when certain other apps are running.

All of that said, mobile device management is still part of the puzzle for companies and IT organizations. “We go in as a complement to MDM,” says Patrick.

Now Patrick is overseeing a transition whereby Apperian is ramping up to target its sales and marketing to big Fortune 2000 enterprises. “We’ll be well set up for 2013,” he says. “We see a big opportunity to build a long-term, big company.”

Apperian started in early 2009 and raised seed funding from CommonAngels before closing a $9.5 million Series A round from North Bridge Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2011. The startup competes with more traditional mobile software companies such as AirWatch, MobileIron, and Sybase.

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