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Business Software for Citizen Developers: Beyond Tools

Business Software for Citizen Developers: Beyond Tools

June 27, 2014 0 Comments

A passport to the next generation of application development

Enabling citizen developers will take more than just tools.

Technology has changed our lives forever. That goes without saying, right? 90% of the US population owns a cell phone (Source: Pew Research Internet Project Mobile Technology Fact Sheet, January 2014). Employees are no different. They expect the applications they use at work to be as easy to use as social and other consumer experience apps. This has led to a number of trends in our industry, with packaged applications, initial hosting efforts, outsourcing, offshoring and CMO (chief marketing officer) control of IT budgets among them.

The drive for engaging business applications has also introduced the phenomenon of Shadow IT, where business does an end run around their IT departments because they can’t wait for IT to catch up. They go directly to application vendors or SaaS providers and hire their own development resources, or they build their own “apps” using tools like Microsoft Access, Excel, Lotus Notes or SharePoint. Eventually many of these business efforts fall back to IT because the business needs to expand usage or integrate with other apps or data. Perhaps the team can’t manage the production environment. Or the management realizes they may run afoul or legal, privacy or regulatory standards. Whatever the case, IT gets stuck having to save the day—and exerting even more effort that takes away from building new applications.

Citizen Developer: Fact or Fiction?

A user holds a smartphone in each hand.

Enable savvy business users to build their own apps

Gartner and Track Via have made some bold claims about the number of applications to be built by citizen developers. Whether you agree with the numbers or timeline, you have to agree about the need to break the business / IT divide. So how do you get there? Aside from just anointing a bunch of people as citizen developers and throwing tools at them, let’s consider a couple of alternative paths.

1: Getting IT Out of the Way

I recently spoke to an Enterprise Architect at a large technology enterprise who said, “We want to get IT out of the way.” This was incredibly refreshing! Instead of taking an insular, “protect-my-turf-approach,” he was looking at how to better enable end users. This would drive business benefit by making the end user more productive and allow IT to focus on more strategic, value-added stuff that is beyond their current capabilities. We talked about this some more and agreed that a step-wise approach is needed to make this transition.

Their first step was to adopt a platform that made it easier for their developers to build, deploy and manage applications. He commented that the platform must support app dev / data integration functions and mobile apps. They planned to do this with a cloud-based environment that covers the entire application lifecycle.

Once they have transitioned their development approach, they plan to expose or roll out the appropriate application development capabilities to technically adept business users. Their initial thought was to work closely with marketing analysts and sales professionals, and with analysts in the financial or operations realm. For ISVs, this process is about integrating the product management function more effectively into the development effort

2: Microsoft Access Replacement

An alternative approach is to start using a cloud-based approach as an alternative for business development efforts that rely on Access, Excel and SharePoint. The good thing about this path is if you use a cloud platform like Progress® Pacific™, it’s not all or nothing. It doesn't take a huge cross-functional team to make decisions because the organization faces little if any risk. You can use the economics of the cloud to get started without upfront capital expenses associated with hardware. You can build a new app from scratch, or even convert an existing Access application as your starting point.

On this path, you can facilitate collaboration between business and IT. Your business user can define the application model, automatically generate the GUI components and then work with IT to augment the app with JavaScript or back-end connectivity where necessary. Pacific even provides an abbreviated path to mobile, since the application components can be used as a basis for the mobilization effort.

Whatever the Approach, It Must Be IT Friendly

While you drive productivity, you have to ensure your focus is not just on initial development. You must think about the entire lifecycle. A path that manages the development effort and provides support for running and managing production applications is key. It has to support the proper level of governance and control, which typically falls under IT purview. And, it has to be sustainable, with ongoing production support, elastic scalability, the ability to leverage new platform releases seamlessly, application enhancements and more.

So what are your thoughts on Gartner’s predictions, and the new TrackVia report? What approach are you taking to address the needs of the citizen developer?

Mark Troester

Mark Troester is the Vice President of Solutions Marketing, Digital Transformation at Progress. Mark has extensive experience in bringing application development and data integration products to market. Mark previously led product marketing efforts at Sonatype, SAS and Progress DataDirect. Before moving into marketing, Mark worked as a developer and developer manager for start-ups and enterprises alike.

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