businesswoman working at a desk in an office. A smartphone beside her has app icons circling above it - apps in the workplace concept
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It wasn't that long ago that productivity workers and IT managers were duking it out over which apps were allowed to be used in the enterprise. You were supposed to store your files onsite or in OneDrive not Box, not Google Drive and certainly not Dropbox. If you wanted to video conference, Skype or Skype for Business or GoToMeeting were the answer. And teams who downloaded Slack, or God forbid Zoom, were rogue workers who were putting the enterprise in danger.

That is an exaggeration, of course, but today's IT Managers are just as likely to check out the cool cloud app you just downloaded as they are to scold you. Maybe it is because they have realized that workers have a knack at picking tools that actually make them more productive, or that the powers that be have recognized that shadow IT is less prevalent if you collaborate rather than admonish. Or, it could be that "employee experience" thing that is suddenly in vogue. Management has realized that it would be better for everyone, even the bottom line, if workers liked the tools that they work with.

So, it should come as no surprise that the prevalence of apps is exploding in the enterprise. According to data gathered by identity access management (IAM) software maker Okta, large companies (defined as having more than 2000 employees) have increased their number of deployed apps by 68 percent since last year. Today they have 163 apps on average.

Related Article: Why You Need to Map the Employee Journey

Microsoft Does Not Stand Alone

Office 365 is the most widely deployed app. It's continuing to grow at a rate of 55 percent per year. G Suite is growing at a faster clip, 116 percent year-over-year.

Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder of analyst firm Constellation Research, said Office 365 often remains relevant, even when management and workers lean toward G Suite. "They can't get off Excel spreadsheets sometimes," he said. Wang also noted that the reason G Suite adoption may be growing faster than Office 365 could be generational. "Folks use different tools. With most kids are using Google in schools, it's natural for them to use Google (when they join the workforce)."

But Okta's report pointed out that workers who use Office 365 don't necessarily use OneDrive. In fact, 32 percent of those covered in Okta's study store files in Box. Not only that, but over 28 percent chat in Slack. And 24 percent are video chatting via Zoom. This doesn't surprise Jim Lundy, founder and CEO of Aragon Research. "Users continue to add best-of-breed apps to their digital workplace portfolios. We see this getting worse before it gets better. People are building their own digital work hub stack and they have the freedom to do that due to SaaS subscriptions. They can cancel if they don't like it," he said.

But it behooves one to ask whether that is not more expensive. It is, according to Wang, using his own company as an example, he said that even though Skype is free, "we pay for videoconferencing services like Zoom because it works. Sometimes free in a bundle doesn't equate to effective."

Another interesting finding was that over 28 percent of Office 365 customers also use G Suite. Analyst Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of industry analyst firm Deep Analysis, explained why this might be happening. "In our experience Office 365 customers often buy the license solely for Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc. not for the whole suite of capabilities. It can cause problems, but most people double bundle because they prefer specific aspects of the other system and juggle between them well."

Related Article: 7 Ways to Measure Workplace Collaboration and Productivity Tool Efficacy

Deployment and Engagement Vary

It's also interesting to note that just because an app is widely deployed it does not mean that it is being widely used. Consider that Salesforce was found to be second only to Microsoft Office 365 when it comes to deployment, but that it falls behind ServiceNow and Workday when it comes to the number of monthly active users. Here are the most popular workplace apps, according to the report.

  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Workday
  • ServiceNow
  • Salesforce
  • G Suite
  • Box
  • Concur
  • SuccessFactors
  • Cornerstone
  • OnDemand
  • Zscaler
  • Cisco WebEx
  • Slack
  • Sharepoint
  • Jive
  • Confluence

According to Okta's study, the fastest growing apps aren't the same as those that are most widely deployed. Security is the hot ticket now, with apps like KnowBe4 (security awareness training) growing at a rate of 178 percent. Others include LastPass (password management) at 132 percent, and ProofPoint (cloud-based cybersecurity) at 122 percent. The reason for such high rates of growth is that companies are changing their security approaches from guarding network perimeters to focusing on the user, data and location.

Other fast growing apps include the following.

  • Zoom (107 percent)
  • Adobe (100 percent)
  • Atlassian (91 percent)
  • Ring Central (73 percent)
  • Teem (73 percent)

Apps Aid Employee Experience

Okta's study found that human resources apps are becoming increasingly popular. Lundy labels them "Digital HR," noting that not only is there digital transformation occurring at large and midsized companies, but that smaller businesses, which have up until recently deployed nothing more than payroll, are embracing the capabilities that vendors like Namely, Gusto and Zenefits, among others, offer. Wang offered that providing delightful employee experiences are a competitive advantage and that starting with great human resources apps at the point of on-boarding is smart.

But how many apps is too many? Just like you don't want too many apps on your phone, managers are starting to ask how many, and which, cloud apps they should have in the enterprise. There is an academic paper (completely unrelated to the Okta report) that offers an approach toward application portfolio rationalization for managers who feel they have reached their limits.