Opinion: IT comes in from the cold – building apps for a brighter future


We’ve all heard stories of harassed IT staff who spend all day trying to keep the metaphorical lights on. In fact, you could argue that an on-premise IT system is old the very day after you buy it.

What’s more, if your existing infrastructure can’t keep up with the needs of your users, then you’re in danger of shadow IT appearing as staff use their own resources to develop solutions. This raises serious concerns over security, control of your IT systems and, most importantly, IT spending.

Worse still, legacy systems, because they consume so much time and resource, are stifling creativity. Initiatives that have sprung from within the business may never get to see the light of day. What makes this problem worse is that it leads to decreased confidence in the department’s ability to deliver solutions the company needs.

App development timescales

Our 2016 State of IT Report surveyed more than 2,200 CIOs worldwide and asked them about their challenges and successes. What’s turning heads is the ability of companies to rapidly develop apps that allow them to work smarter. Traditional legacy app development can take more than 12 months from start to finish. That’s far too long in our modern age where the speed of business is continually increasing. The report says 72% of high-performing companies can develop an app in three months or less; only 46% of underperformers do the same.

How are these high-performers doing this? It’s all down to cloud computing. Our research shows that almost three-quarters (72%) of the top-performing companies are moving to the cloud – lifting the burden of maintenance and security from their own IT teams. Only 37% of underperforming companies do the same. You only have to look at companies like Uber, Skype, and Deliveroo to see how businesses can harness the power of the cloud to rapidly deploy apps, that then let them ‘super-compete.’

Democratising app development

Moving to the cloud is just the first step in speeding up app development. The second is opening up app development to a wider audience. These days app development isn’t just for coders. We’re now seeing non-technical departments developing their own digital skills as the walls between IT and the rest of the company are torn down.

For example, marketing, HR, finance or sales teams can create non-mission critical, simplified apps, such as payroll systems, or order tracking processes. The development of template-based coding, with drag and drop elements, has made it possible for business users with no real coding skills to create apps that bring to life many of their own initiatives.

One example of this is online grocery retailer Ocado. Using Salesforce, the Ocado team was able to empower its analysts with the tools to develop their own solutions to build internal apps quickly and cheaply so they could be used for one-off events or campaigns. Using Salesforce Community Cloud and Force.com, an analyst at the company learnt the platform from scratch and built three apps: expenses, project lifecycle management and reporting defective equipment and facilities in just six weeks.  These apps are now used across the business.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating a complete dismissal of IT oversight. Good governance means that the IT department should still review all apps and ensure that they meet security and data policies. But having an agile and vetted cloud platform makes it easier to do this. It’s about balancing control and flexibility.

All together now

The demand for apps has been steadily increasing as we live a more mobile life. But as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes reality, this steady stream will soon be a tsunami. The only way IT departments will be able to cope is by adopting cloud-based development models and a user-developer approach. It’s time for the IT department to start acting as a jury, assessing the apps that can be built simply on existing platforms – with no extra costs – and those that have to be dealt with by the ‘experts’.

Digital transformation cannot happen if it’s only taking place in the IT department. It requires support from the top down, right across the organisation. A shared enthusiasm and responsibility for IT development across a company can make innovation part of the core culture.

Do you agree with Spearing's views? Let us know in the comments.

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