Just as enterprise IT departments are starting to get a handle on the bring your own device BYOA is what happens when employees bring their mobile devices to work. They’re not just making phone calls on their smartphones. They’re running apps, too. While that may seem obvious, many of the business implications are not so clear cut.

With nearly two million apps in the Apple and Google app stores alone, it’s nearly impossible for businesses to ensure the security and appropriateness of every app that an employee might download on a corporate or employee-owned device. Simply put, public app stores can be “digital danger zones” for businesses.

Bringing on Business Concerns

Security remains the top priority for most IT organizations. Recent break-ins at Facebook and Apple have weary IT teams double checking networks and systems for security holes. And those teams are just beginning to realize that mobile devices and the apps running on those devices are going to be the next big security target.

The millions of third-party apps in online stores can be a veritable petri dish for malware ready to infect mobile devices and corporate networks. Unsavory app developers are designing apps that have unsuspecting users handing over personal and corporate data. The bottom line is that without tight controls, you never know what you are downloading.

That explains why 71 percent of enterprises are discussing deploying custom mobile applications and 33 percent are implementing or have already implemented them, according to a recent Symantec survey. It also explains the rise of the enterprise app store. Gartner predicts that by 2017, 25 percent of enterprises will have an enterprise app store for managing corporate-sanctioned apps on mobile devices as well as PCs. Such stores are being hailed as one of the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013.

Why Enterprise App Stores?

Beyond the defensive reasons, there are plenty of benefits associated with deploying an enterprise app store. Here are just a few:

1. By controlling which apps can be downloaded and how many licenses are in use, enterprise app stores can save companies a lot of money.

2. Enterprise app stores typically feature internal app ratings, which means that an organization can eliminate licenses of apps that are not used or well-liked to realize immediate cost savings.

3. Many enterprise app store software packages integrate with public stores like Apple’s App Store and its Volume Purchase Program, offering visibility across both the enterprise app store and public app stores.

4. In-house app stores can tell IT teams who accessed which apps when, a requirement for many IT regulations including SOX.

5. The enterprise app store can even provide roles-based access to apps, whereby apps are pushed out to groups or downloadable by individuals with specific responsibilities in the organization.

6. IT can ensure that employees only connect with apps that meet corporate security policies.

MDM + App Stores

Many IT organizations are still struggling with managing their mobile devices. Fortunately, many mobile device management (MDM) vendors recognize that mobile management must extend to the apps. Consequently, vendors are starting to provide suites that integrate BYOD, mobile app management (MAM) and enterprise app stores.

This integrated approach to mobile management will provide a single interface for managing devices and the apps running on them. With a company app store in place, approved apps can be quickly deployed, configured and updated automatically when new versions are available.

BYOA Is Here to Stay

Like the BYOD trend that preceded it, IT organizations can’t afford to bury their heads in the sand and wish away the growing apps movement. They’re asking for trouble if they do. Instead, IT teams need to get ahead of the curve and proactively manage BYOA — just like they did with BYOD.

And whether they ultimately choose enterprise app stores or other automated approaches, IT teams would do well to master it sooner rather than later. After all, it’s only a matter of time before another member of the BYO family (or some distant mobile cousin) arrives on the enterprise network to offer up a whole new set of opportunities — and challenges.

Raj Sabhlok is the president of Zoho Corp., which is the parent company of Zoho.com and ManageEngine. Follow him @rajsabhlok.