IT Should Embrace the User Revolution

Think that you need a computer science degree to put together a business application? Not necessarily. According to a Gartner study, “citizen developers” — employees who aren’t in a technical role — will be building 25 percent of new business applications by 2014:

Gartner predicts that by 2014, at least a third of enterprises without formalized citizen developer governance policies will encounter substantial data, process integrity and security vulnerabilities.

In other words, employees, who have become tired of waiting for applications that can keep up with the pace of business will increasingly take matters into their own hands. In the process, they could turn IT operations upside down, as these inexperienced people introduce all the problems that they never learned to avoid.

What’s a smart IT professional with an information systems degree to do? Co-opt the process. There is no way that IT departments can prevent citizen developers from being active, so since you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. Traditionally, IT has considered itself the source of applications that ran processes and made data available to corporate users. However, McKinsey estimates that the amount of corporate data will grow by 40 percent annually while IT resources grow by only 5 percent. Departments will simply be unable to keep pace with the explosion of data. And yet, corporate managers and users will be unwilling to turn their backs on the opportunities the information represents.

Legacy applications cannot anticipate the new types of data that will be available, nor the forms they will take. A company needs new applications to keep competitive, and IT cannot provide them in the necessary volume and pace. Citizen developers will flourish out of frustration, the demands of their jobs, and the increasing availability of tools that let them create applications without the technical knowledge of an IT professional.

Instead of fighting the inevitable, IT departments should craft a new role for themselves. Instead of being the source of applications and delivery of data, they can create self-service platforms that make it safe for citizen developers to pursue their projects. Ironically, environments that make it safe for employees to create their own applications don’t necessarily lessen the amount of work that IT has. If anything, technology professionals face the more difficult task of giving employees freedom while keeping them from making inadvertent mistakes that could jeopardize data or infrastructure.

Furthermore, IT has to keep these self-serve customers from making significant errors that could results in bad data and worse decisions. Creating safety and ease of activity is a subtle and difficult task. IT workers should consider advanced computer programming and computer networking degrees to further their understanding of theory that can help implement such systems.

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