Why visionary IT departments allow business units to make software themselves

Jesse Meijers

We meet with a lot of CIO’s and IT managers when companies are interested in using Triggre. Usually, a business unit will be interested to make software themselves. This can be caused by understaffing on the IT department (a huge issue these days), the need to hire external IT consultants (which can have a major negative impact) or simply because of budgeting issues.

IT departments and CIOs however, can be scared of letting business units make software themselves. This fear has led to such phrasing as ‘shadow IT’. And I fully understand this issue. IT departments have a hard time doing things right in the eyes of others. Because if they do things right, everything works and hardly anyone thinks to thank them for everything working. Only when things go awry, people tend to talk to the IT department. Complaining that ‘nothing is working’…

Therefore, it is nothing less than completely understandable that the department that is responsible to keep everything up and running, is not very happy when business units want to make software without their support. So why then, should IT departments be happy with platforms such as Triggre, that allow business units to make their own software?

A brief history of programming

In my previous post I discussed the evolution of programming. From the 1950s, when computers and programming were introduced, to today, there is a clear trend. Using computers has become ever easier, allowing more and more people to use them. The same is true for making software. Where the first programming languages were hard to understand and use, the languages we use today have become more accessible. While still hard, at least it doesn’t take a genius mathematician anymore to program a computer.

But what is more interesting is what happens if we connect those dots forward. It would mean that making software becomes accessible to more people, because it will be easier. This simply means that it is inevitable that more people will be able to make software. There is no stopping it. And while IT departments can frantically try to keep things the way they are, the visionary IT managers and CIOs actually see this evolution as a huge chance.

Problems IT departments face

All CIOs and IT departments must find solutions to some major problems they are facing. And if they don’t face them today, certainly in the next 3 years. These problems are, first and foremost, the huge shortage of qualified IT staff, leading to an increase in cost. Either because hiring externally becomes more expensive or simply because the salaries in the IT market have been increasing dramatically and will continue to do so. Second, there is an increasing need for software that automates and supports business processes. This software must also be quickly adapted to change, if the market circumstances so demand.

These problems obviously influence each other. The increasing need for software, combined with the decreased availability of qualified professionals, leads to a grinding halt. Big multinational companies can likely still afford to hire expensive IT consultants, but most companies will face a deadlock.

The IT department of tomorrow

Visionary IT departments recognize this problem and act accordingly. The solution lies in letting business units make their own software. While the challenge is to do so in a safe manner, taking into account data integrity and core processes. What this means is that the IT department must take on a support role, in which it offers services instead of complete solutions. The IT department guards the core data and its integrity, as well as the core processes, and offers simple APIs and other services to allow business units to make software themselves on top of that.

In one of my previous posts on this topic, I explained how this is very similar to how we currently work with email, file access and communication for example. Companies used to provide employees with completely configured machines, where everything was controlled by the IT department. There was no choice in how to access email, files or how to communicate. You just used the company issued machine.

These days however, employees want to use their own phone to access email and corporate communications and they want access to files from their home PC. Thus, IT departments have started offering this access as services. You can now install any email client you want, use any brand of smartphone you like and you can still access your email and use the corporate communications software (e.g. Skype, Hangouts, Slack). File access can be provided over VPN, which in some cases even allows employees to access files from their phones.

This service-oriented way of working can also be adopted on the software inside the company. In this case, the core systems are all maintained by the IT department, as well as a layer that supplies access to those systems (e.g. an Enterprise Service Bus like Bizztalk, WebMethods or Mule). In the core systems, the company can keep track of the most important information such as customer names and contact information and product information. It can offer a way to invoice a customer, making sure that the invoicing is done correctly at all time. But apart from that, departments can make their own software applications to support customers. When these applications need customer or product data, it can be gotten from the core systems. Any additional information and processes can be kept in the department specific systems, which they can develop themselves, using the right tools.

How Triggre helps the IT department

In my next post I will talk about how Triggre helps IT departments get the much needed ease of mind that is required when business units develop their own software.

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