Enabling ‘low coders’ can turn the tide in the war against shadow IT

The traditional approach to enterprise application development has been a frustrating one for both IT organisations and their users

The traditional approach to enterprise application development has been a frustrating one for both IT organisations and their users. Typically, a business unit would submit a request to IT, and wait months for IT to deliver it. IT had a monopoly on app development, but simply did not have the manpower or resources to meet users’ requests.

The result has been a decades-long strain in the relationship between the two sides. The rise of cloud computing has also helped lead to the rise of Shadow IT, in which users began adopting cloud applications without IT’s permission – or even knowledge.

Now, users are able to take advantage of cloud platforms that enable them to easily develop their own customised applications with little coding knowledge. At first glance, this may appear to make IT’s quest to stamp out Shadow IT even more difficult. But in fact, just the opposite is true. Facilitating these so-called “low code” developers presents an opportunity for IT to speed up software development and delivery timetables without sacrificing performance or security.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 75 percent of application purchases supporting digital business will be built, not bought. Progressive organisations that identify this trend and adapt to it quickly will be in the best position to reap significant cost and time savings, as well as increased productivity and security levels.

While low code apps enable the enterprise to innovate with the speed of a startup, let’s be clear on two points. First is that IT must provide a platform for development with tools that are easy to use and protect the integrity of the IT system and data.

We call this ‘delegated development’.Second, the expectation is that low code apps are not expected to become the next million-dollar app that will stand alongside Uber or Facebook in the App Store. Instead, IT is trying to replicate the experience of using those popular consumer apps to make life at the office as easy and efficient to use as consumer technology experiences.

Today we can accomplish so much with just the click of a mouse or a few taps on a mobile device screen. We can shop, do our banking, book vacations and arrange for a car to pick us up. But when we get to our work places, that ease and efficiency disappear. Everyday tasks like requesting a purchase order or initiating the on-boarding process for a new employee requires sending out dozens of emails, updating spreadsheets or other frustrating, time-wasting manual processes.

Now IT can provide low-coders in Facilities, Legal, HR, Shipping and other departments with a platform featuring templates they can be used to build apps without administrative privileges.Line of business users have the freedom to create apps that help them get their work done, but within metaphorical guard rails that prevent them from accessing data they don’t have permission to see.

Departments can share what they create with one another instead of asking IT to create multiple variations. For example, the HR department may develop an application that includes an up-to-date list of employees. Chances are the legal and finance departments would also benefit from having that list available, and with a delegated development policy can easily access it on the network. IT evolves from its old role as Keeper of the Data Center to a modern services provider that helps users solve their own problems while simultaneously getting Shadow IT under control.

Before launching a delegated development program, IT needs to take into account these five key considerations to help users to help themselves:

  • Users may already have a viable low-code platform: IT is likely running a SaaS application to support the business that low-coders are not aware is available to them. A number of SaaS platforms are built on an application platform-as-a-service (PaaS) that offers tools for declarative programming that low-coders can use to define, customise, and create new apps without writing a line of code.
  • Embrace the MVP (minimum viable product): Low-code development offers the benefit of speed. Simply put, an MVP is an app that allows the development team to collect the maximum amount of validated feedback from the end users with the least amount of effort. Getting apps in the hands of your users as quickly as possible allows for exactly this kind of feedback and iterative development. Users prefer apps that do one thing, maybe two, very well. IT can help low-coders to understand that clunky apps that try to be a Swiss Army knife fail to do any one thing well. IT should encourage development of apps with one purpose and to make sure the app is great at it.
  • Good workflow can automate manual processes: Most employees in the enterprise are stuck in the past – getting work done is unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming. A good low-code development platform should be able to replace email and spreadsheets with collaborative workspaces and automated business processes to streamline the flow of work.
  • Think horizontally, not vertically: Many organisations are trapped in an individual line of business world where optimisation is built around individual departments. This requires IT to lead the shift from the vertical, siloed and departmental approach to thinking horisontally across all departments. A good low-code platform speeds transformation by enabling IT to architect, design and implement based on the requirements across the entire company. That is what drives digital transformation.
  • Position IT as a partner, not the enemy: Mitigating the risks of Shadow IT requires a low-code development environment that IT controls through a delegated development policy but also allows users to move at the speed of business with their application requirements. This way IT transforms from just being a caretaker of technology to an internal service provider that encourages and enables innovation throughout the organisation.

By applying these points, the days of the primary job of an IT professional being to only manage infrastructure should be behind and fading away fast. And that’s a good thing. The steady migration of enterprise systems and applications from the data center to the cloud enables IT to focus more on fostering innovation among line of business users. IT can help these users to be proactive in solving issues that in the past required that they create a help desk ticket and wait (or hope) IT had the time to address it. Many of these users likely have excellent ideas for applications that will automate business processes and improve their departments’ output and productivity levels. Let them build those apps themselves – even if they don’t have much coding experience – by adopting a delegated approach to application development.

Peter Doherty is principal solutions consultant, APJ, at ServiceNow

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