Business Unit Coders Are No Threat to IT

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An increasing number of corporate workers are taking it upon themselves to develop business technology solutions without the participation of IT. While that could sound like a threat to professional developers, it’s probably not: Forrester Research notes there’s a dearth of development talent out there, and that most of the applications being built by these “citizen developers” address some kind of problem that’s been backlogged by the technology department. “Most of the software built by ‘citizen developers’ addresses requests on that backlog list,” Forrester Analyst John Rymer told InfoWorld. “[This is] stuff that is too small or too low a priority to get the attention of the corporate app dev teams.”

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The rise of layperson developers was noted in a survey by TrackVia, a Denver company that provides a do-it-yourself application program for people with no coding experience. Though the company’s ax to grind is obvious, the survey of 1,000 U.S. workers uncovered some interesting traits about the people who are taking app-building into their own hands.

  • First, workers between 18 and 29 are most likely to develop their own solutions, and 7 percent more likely than workers between the ages of 45 and 60.
  • They’re also more ambitious. More than half — 53 percent — expect to be promoted in the next 12 months compared to 40 percent of those who rely on IT. Roughly the same proportion said they’d already been promoted this year.
  • Citizen developers tend to be more aggressive in negotiating salary when they join a company. Again, more than half want to talk about compensation before they accept an offer, compared to 40 percent of other candidates.
  • Nearly two thirds are ready to go around IT when it comes time to find the technology they need, and more than 50 percent say they’re more qualified than IT or their manager to pick the applications they use.

Charles Var, TrackVia’s vice president of marketing, told Re/code that the citizen developer approach provides companies with several advantages. First off, this kind of solution can be cheaper than off-the-shelf products like A brand-name enterprise app can run between $65 and $125 per user per month, he said, while apps built using TrackVia run about $25 per user per month.

Plus, user-built apps can be tailored more easily for specialized needs, Var maintains. He tells of one company that built an application to manage and track the shipment of its “products” — body parts and cadavers that go to medical schools. Observed Var: “They weren’t exactly going to find a generic commercial application for that.”

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2 Responses to “Business Unit Coders Are No Threat to IT”

  1. I’m well familiar with this from many years on the IT side (and more recently, the business side). These small applications, “Crapplications”, or “Craplets” as I used to refer to them, DO meet a business need. When they proliferate, it’s a sign that IT is NOT responding to business demand, especially the business need for quick turnaround.

    And that’s a bad position to be in for customer-focused IT people with important business clients. Unfortunately, we IT folks tend to ask pesky questions of our business partners that want to create their own applications. Questions like…

    Was the application tested and certified in a formal process by an independent test team? Can we see the written test cases and results? Does the application conform to the enterprise security model? Is it running on a desktop in the corner of an office? Is it being backed up? Do the backups conform with corporate governance and legal requirements for storage and retention? What’s the support structure for the application? If the server goes down, what happens to business continuity? If the server disappears, what’s the liability to the enterprise due to data theft?

    Does the application get standard data from enterprise wide domain data sources like tax rates, zip codes, and state codes? Are the data types and lengths the same as in other enterprise wide data sets? Does the application respect primary keys? Does it create a potential mastering problem at sometime down the road?

    If the business wants to hand it off to a professional internal support team, does the application come with the required package of handoff documents? Design docs, testing artifacts, production support guide, release notes, contact information?

    IT really does hate to be a drag, but all of these questions relate to business continuity, supportability, ease of use for the end users, protection of valuable corporate data, privacy for our external customers, and risk management for the enterprise

  2. With IT experience closer to 10 years than 1 year… I don’t mind writing 1 line solutions (by calling someone’s module) than writing 10,000 lines myself.
    You know, many of the coders who tend to write over 10,000 lines were either replaced by frameworks/IDEs, or offshore-outsorced…