Guest Post by Pete Khanna, CEO, Trackvia
What CIOs Need to Know – And Consider Doing – About the Emergence of Build-it-Yourself Enterprise Applications
It used to be that when a department or even a single employee wanted a new business application, they submitted an IT ticket and patiently waited for an answer. IT would evaluate the request, and decide whether to buy something, build something or simply do nothing. Often, this process took weeks, months and sometimes even years.
Emboldened by the “Consumerization of IT” trend and empowered by new cloud-based build-it-yourself application platforms, more front-line workers are bypassing IT all together, using their corporate credit cards to buy, build and deploy their own enterprise-grade SaaS applications within hours or days.
Experts agree this trend is likely to continue – and even accelerate. Analyst research firm Gartner predicts that “citizen developers” will build 25 percent of all new business applications by 2014.
Early case studies showed employees were building and deploying highly specialized or one-of-a-kind ‘rogue’ applications. These were the type of applications where an off-the-shelf software or SaaS solution either didn’t do the job or simply didn’t exist. However, more and more often, workers are using these build-it-yourself applications to deploy highly customized versions of common department applications, ranging from CRM SaaS solutions and inventory applications to HR systems and even customer service software.
The benefit of building your own department solution is that it’s often as much as 80 percent more affordable than off-the-shelf software or SaaS solutions. More importantly, these build-it-yourself solutions can be designed, customized and tailored by the users to meet the exact needs and requirements of the business. So instead of departments changing their processes or workflow to match that of the solution, users can change the solution to match their own processes. Simply put, features can be added, removed, changed or tweaked with a few clicks of the mouse. This leads to both greater efficiency and satisfaction by users.
All of this poses a growing challenge to IT professionals. Namely, how does IT manage the implementation of these so-called rogue applications without impeding employee productivity? The biggest concern from IT professionals is that they don’t want to be in constant clean-up mode, fixing or supporting solutions that end-users built themselves. A close second is that they want to be assured that the application is secure, ensuring that sensitive company information isn’t being compromised.
Having worked with thousands of businesses – from small cash-strapped start-ups to Fortune 100 companies – to implement their own custom applications, we’ve complied this list of best practices.
Step 1: Surrender to Win
The first and perhaps most important (and difficult) thing to do is decide whether or not to fight or embrace the “Consumerization of IT” movement. Even in highly regulated industries like banking and healthcare, where they use airtight firewalls, employees are finding ways around the lockdown mode of their internal IT organization. Doctors are bringing iPads into the examination room with their own apps installed. Marketers within banking organizations are using social media tools to distribute information. USB ports can be used to transfer information from unsecured laptops to company computers. The simple question becomes whether or not you want to use your limited IT resources and time policing employees or educating and empowering them. Getting alignment on this critical question at the highest levels of the organization is key.
Step 2: Offer Something Secure, Scalable and Supportable
Rather than hope you’re employees find and pick a secure and reliable build-it-yourself solution, many companies get out in front of their users and identify a single platform that meets both IT’s requirements and end-users’ needs.
This is where cloud-based application platforms are showing the most favorable response from business users and IT managers alike. Most organizations have larger, more complex enterprise-level applications that on some level need some customization. By adopting and implementing a secure, cloud-based application platform, CIOs proactively meet their own requirements while still providing end-users with a solution they can use to meet their own unique individual or department-level needs.
Implementing a single platform solution also helps streamline ongoing management and support, while making it faster and easier for employees to learn. For example, if all in-house applications are built atop a single platform, employees don’t have to learn to use multiple solutions. It also means IT doesn’t have to support multiple solutions. Everyone wins.
Step 3: Consider the Reliability
Nothing gets CEOs cackling faster than an email about a server or a critical system going down and employees checking out for the rest of the day. It’s also no fun for CIOs or IT Directors who have to deal with the hundreds of emails from employees asking, “Is the server back up? When will the CRM system be back up? What’s going on?”
A recent Constellation Research study shows most SaaS vendors report internal reliability ranging from 97 percent to 99.1 percent. However, it’s not uncommon to expect or demand that your cloud vendor partner demonstrate four-nine reliability. Most vendors will bake this guarantee into a standard SLA agreement. And as always, check the vendor’s track record and ask for customer references.
The Road Ahead
Like water, businesses and workers will always find the path of least resistance when it comes to working faster, more efficiently or effectively. The role of IT has always been to help clear technical obstacles for users, and protect them along the way. That hasn’t changed.
What has changed, however, is that IT has the opportunity to get out in front of the cloud computing and the “Consumerization of IT” trends, while playing a more proactive and strategic role in the overall organization’s future, versus trying to play catch up and doing damage control.
And that’s something I think we’d all agree is a good thing.