How to Ensure Your App Ideas Get the Thumbs up From IT
Trying to innovate in a large company can sometimes feel like you’re swimming against the current: you know you need to innovate to survive, but at the same time there are all sorts of things slowing you down. IT is probably one of them.
“IT is simply not nimble enough to support the pace of innovation that LoB [Line of Business] departments must deliver in our fast moving digital age,”
says Mark Rogers, CEO of Logicalis, in his CXO Unplugged blog post from November of last year.
What can citizen developers do to prevent this from happening? The first step is to understand the problem from the perspectives of both the business and IT departments.
Why is app creation stalled by IT?
IT has a tough job in large organizations. No matter what, it must keep all IT infrastructure and business systems running smoothly at all times.
The top three priorities for an IT department are:
- Uptime – IT works hard to ensure that downtime is kept to an absolute minimum
- Security – All IT infrastructure and business systems must be protected from unauthorized use and attacks
- Performance – IT must ensure that business systems and apps operate at optimum speed and efficiency
The IT department spends a significant part of each day on these critical tasks to keep the business up and running.
A severe shortage of qualified IT professionals has left IT departments shorthanded, forcing IT teams to work longer hours. App projects are delayed, assigned much lower priority than mission-critical IT tasks.
“Project backlogs are growing, there are more systems to integrate with, the demands for mobile and IoT are increasing, and the scarcity of skilled developers are top concerns,” says Steve Rotter, CMO at Outsystems, in their recent report on the state of app development in 2017.
As projects pile up, delays grow longer, frustrating citizen developers who really need those apps. So what can you do to prevent your innovative app ideas from being stalled at this stage of the process?
Use a Rapid Mobile App Development platform
Technically savvy people in the line of business (also known as ‘Citizen Developers’), have begun taking matters into their own hands, and rightly so. With Rapid Mobile Application Development (RMAD) platforms, a citizen developer can quickly build an app through a drag-and-drop User Interface (UI).
The risk is that IT might take a dim view of apps built on these platforms, considering them to be so-called ‘shadow IT’. Such apps are often assumed to be inherently insecure and difficult to integrate.
Add to that the fact that IT departments are not flexible enough to quickly adapt to the pace of innovation, and it becomes readily apparent why apps are stalled when IT gets involved. It might be advisable for IT to take on more of a consultant role while still providing app integrations on the backend.
“Some CIOs certainly see ‘shadow’ IT as a negative, hence the less flattering terms ‘feral’ or ‘rogue’ IT, but more progressive CIOs know that, given today’s technology and the increasing savvy of the business, it’s in their best interest to embrace shadow IT.”
Have a strategy to bring IT in at the right time
Your app’s success depends largely upon gaining the support of IT.
It may be helpful to talk with key people in IT to gain a better understanding of their concerns. At the same time, it’s also important to help IT to understand that citizen developers need to innovate at a fast pace in order to maintain a competitive edge.
The idea is for both sides to come together and reach an understanding and walk away as partners working together.
Prepare the answers IT needs, in advance
When it’s time to develop an app strategy, what will IT need to know? In a nutshell, IT will want to know how you plan to handle their main concerns, plus other needs such as tech support and integration.
“As digital business evolves, the IT department will make fewer technology decisions, and individual business units will begin selecting technology for their teams.”
The RMAD platform you choose must have the maximum uptime possible. The platform vendor should also have a robust incident reporting system in place to deal with malfunctions and crashes in apps built on their platform.
This may well be the most challenging of the criteria. Several questions about the app must be answered in order to provide an accurate, realistic assessment of its security:
- What the app will be used for
- Will it be used to access and share proprietary and/or sensitive information?
- How does the app protect the information shared through it?
- Who will use it
- What are the titles/positions of the employees who will be using it?
- Does the app have a customer-facing aspect?
- How will user permissions be managed to prevent unauthorized sharing of information?
- Can users be blocked from the app?
- When will they use it
- During regular business hours?
- After hours?
- If after hours, what kind of tech support will be needed, if any?
- Does the platform provide after-hours support?
- Where will they use it
- Will the app be used only on company property?
- Will it be used on public networks?
- Will it be used at home?
- How does the app handle security over public and home networks?
- Is it using a secure connection, such as through an SSL VPN?
- How are users authorized for access to the app when on a public network?
- Can a device be blocked if it is reported lost or stolen?
A fact-based, thorough security risk assessment will help IT see that you are not only trying to build an app, you are also aware of the importance of robust app security.
The rise of mobile has placed tremendous pressure on RMAD and Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendors to provide app components that load quickly and perform well. While IT may not be directly responsible for the performance of your app, they will be more likely to back an app that can keep up with the other apps they already developed.
Some IT managers believe that only those with the technical skills and qualifications should be allowed to develop apps within an organization. They often consider any effort to build apps as ‘shadow IT’ and may be resistant to giving up control over app development.
Apps that require a lot of custom integration work from IT will almost certainly die in its tracks. IT teams are often stretched thin and have little extra time to invest in a laborious integration that can last weeks.
When thinking about the app, learn enough about your company’s IT infrastructure then look for a platform that provides drag & drop integrations for as much of the app as possible.
Some RMAD platforms offer custom integration services to take the burden off overworked IT teams.
Although it’s not on the list of IT concerns, this is important, too. An app that requires a lot of company IT tech support will have a much harder time getting IT backing than one that requires little or no tech support from your IT help desk.
Putting it all Together
An effective app strategy begins with identifying and addressing each of IT’s concerns:
- Reliability – Does the app platform have at least a 99.99% uptime?
- Security – Does IT need to be directly involved with app security? How secure is the platform?
- Performance – Does the app have performance characteristics similar to apps in the organization?
- Labor – How much time, if any, will IT have to spend on integrations and upkeep?
The strategy should be centered around the idea of creating a partnership with IT — one in which they are called upon only as necessary to perform integration or offer guidance and/or recommendations.
Show IT that you understand what it takes to effectively manage apps and keep them secure. Once IT sees that you ‘get it’, they will be much more likely to let you manage the apps built on sanctioned IT RMAD platforms.