Moving app development out of the shadows
The right approach can take a whiteboard full of ideas and turn them into transformational IT applications.
In Gartner’s latest mobile apps survey, Adrian Leow, a Research Director, noted that “employees increasingly have the autonomy to choose the devices, apps and even the processes with which to complete a task. This will place an increasing amount of pressure on IT to develop a larger variety of mobile apps in shorter time frames.”
Many organisations are already seeing their users turn to often unsanctioned ‘shadow IT’ projects to give them the productivity gains they want right now… because their IT departments can’t deliver the solutions they want in good time.
At OneBlink, we believe the challenge is to deal with this in a way that enables you to better service the app delivery needs of your users without backing yourself into an app development ‘dead end,’ whilst also giving your development team a turbo boost to increase its velocity.
Heading off the spectre
Shadow IT is happening everywhere and government is not immune. Software-as-a-service makes it almost too easy for business users to build their own solutions using off-the-shelf services. IT departments are rightly worried about the consequences of these ‘pop-up apps’ proliferating without the benefit of oversight in terms of compliance and support.
As an IT professional it’s likely you’re concerned about the security risks for your agency of an uncoordinated strategy where addressing vulnerabilities becomes an increasingly piecemeal process. You don’t want your agency to build up an unmanageable burden of authentication and data security. And you don’t want your users investing time and resources in dead end ‘walled garden’ solutions, using services or applications that your developers can’t take forward and integrate into your corporate systems.
What you do want is to champion an environment in which users can turn a whiteboard full of ideas into demonstrable prototypes or viable initial solutions, and then work with their IT colleagues to develop those into transformational applications.
In other words you want your users to be able to create a working ‘version 1.0’, knowing that your developers can create a properly integrated ‘version 2.0’ without throwing out the previous work.
Unfortunately, many of the well-known ‘point and click’ or WYSIWYG tools with which users can develop simple applications aren’t open systems that produce code that a development team can take forward. They maintain their simplicity by operating within a ‘closed loop’ box. This may well be appropriate for simple, self-contained apps for a particular function, but when the need is there to secure the app into the corporate environment, extend functionality and integrate it into the corporate systems, developers are usually having to ignore all this early work and start again from scratch.
On the IT side there are services such as MADPs or RMADs that accelerate app development. But these are generally aimed at developers and IT professionals, not your business analyst, project manager or ‘crafty’ tech-savvy business user who wants to run up a ‘version 1.0’ of an app to validate and field test business value. Because each tool set targets a user skill set, the result is a siloed effect wherein organisations aren’t able to scale solutions and extract maximum value from the original effort.
When researching OneBlink’s primary customer base of local and state government agencies, the results show that these silos are the single biggest barrier between app demand and app delivery — evidenced by an organisation’s app backlog, unfulfilled projects, latent opportunities and an influx of shadow IT.
Developers need help, too
Increasing app delivery velocity isn’t just about getting business-level users to be part of reducing that backlog — developers need tools that help them become more productive, too.
Whilst splitting the load will make a significant difference, it’s important to remove many development friction points, but not in a prescriptive way (developers hate being locked in). Developers can benefit from modules for implementing offline queues, uploading large objects across the network efficiently, dealing with intermittent connections and so on, which have the capacity to lockup development teams for considerable periods.
Simple means simple
As the push for digital government intensifies, what many agencies really need is a scalable succession path for developing apps, one that enables non-technical employees to build, test, deploy and measure the effectiveness of the apps they think they need and, through that process, identify those of real value that developers can enhance as required.
Business users and their managers want tools they can use immediately, without training or technical support. They want to be self-sufficient quickly and provide value speedily. And while they may not realise it, they will benefit from apps that can be taken to a ‘version 2.0’ by developers who are able to extend functionality and integrate them into corporate systems.
The key to scalable development is being able to take an app that the business has already shown has value, and do more with it — widening the capability of the app, providing better security, creating more sophisticated offline access and enabling integration with internal systems.
This concept of a single tool chain, equally serving the needs of business users and their IT departments, is a very new concept but one that is gathering momentum, particularly in government where the app backlog remains a major challenge and the political pressures to digitally transform are immense.
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