App to the future – Why companies need to gear up for app development

In one way or another, I think we all work in technology

Let me explain. Whether you’re getting your dry cleaning done, organizing your Saturday night out, or even reviewing your child’s homework, tech – and in particular mobile apps – have become part of the fabric of daily life.

As a result, we have come to expect this type of technology to be integrated seamlessly into our working lives too. We want easily accessible apps that help us do our jobs better, more quickly, and from anywhere. The possibilities that the Internet of Things and AI are opening up are only increasing these expectations further.

For IT departments who are responsible for creating these apps and delivering innovation, the steady stream of user requests is fast becoming an avalanche. It’s putting added pressure on IT departments to introduce the latest technology into the workplace as it becomes available – not in months or years down the line.

With all the other areas they are responsible for, many IT departments are struggling to meet this ever-increasing demand. Using legacy systems, it can take months to update databases, introduce new systems, or even create new apps. It’s no surprise then, that employees, tired of waiting, introduce ‘under the radar’ solutions. Advisory firm CEB estimates that 40% of all IT spending now occurs outside of the IT department.

The problem is, these shadow IT solutions might not be well designed or compatible with other parts of the business. What’s more, ‘shadow’ apps often contain personal information which must adhere to data handling rules. Shadow IT solutions are manageable with good governance – for example, when the IT department has oversight of the data being used they are able to retain control. However, precisely because these apps are ‘shadow’ this is difficult to do. When it doesn’t happen, it raises serious concerns over security, governance and, most importantly, the speed at which you can engage with the customer.

Speeding up app creation

Currently, app development using legacy systems 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.

Our State of IT Report surveyed more than 2,200 CIOs worldwide, asking them about their challenges and successes. The results show 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 partly down to the time and resource saving afforded by 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.

Additionally many highly successful companies also rely on the agility resulting from having all your company’s information located on one flexible, platform. You only have to look at companies like Ocado, Treatwell and Deliveroo to see how businesses can harness the power of the cloud combined with this single-platform approach to rapidly deploy apps, that then let them ‘super-compete.’

Democratising development

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 was able to learn to develop on the platform from scratch and built three prototype apps – expenses, project lifecycle management and reporting defective equipment and facilities – in just six weeks. These are now part of a wider group of applications that Ocado has built with our platform and which are in use across their business

Appropriate governance

Let’s be clear here. A complete dismissal of IT oversight is not the right thing to do and it’s certainly not what I am suggesting. Rather, we need to find a practical, workable solution. Without integrating pop-up apps, for example, into the rest of your business, they’re not much better than old school spreadsheets on a laptop. IT departments must ensure they act as the gatekeepers within the company and assess 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’.

Good governance means that the IT department should still review all apps and ensure that they meet security and data policies and are scalable. Having an agile and vetted cloud platform makes it easier to do this as IT departments will be able to have an oversight over all areas of the business which uses the cloud platform.

This oversight is paramount with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A failure to protect customer data, regardless of who created the app it sits in, or whether it was ‘sanctioned’ by the IT department, could soon easily result in business critical fines. The control and protection of personal identifiable information is fast becoming every employee’s responsibility. This means that, more than ever before, good governance is all about balancing adequate control and flexibility.

True digital transformation cannot happen if it’s only taking place in the IT department. It requires enthusiasm and shared responsibility right across the business. It’s true that users know their organisation inside out and can leverage the tools at their fingertips to enact change. But, if they want to unlock true innovation, they can’t do it with disparate systems, local databases, or antiquated spreadsheets that can’t grow. Instead it’s by looking to cloud platforms and working closely with their IT department they will be able to deliver true transformation to their companies.


About the Author

Adam Spearing is SVP, EMEA, Platforms and Communities at Salesforce. Adam has been responsible for all aspects of the Salesforce Platform across EMEA since 2012. He spends time helping Executives understand the power of the Salesforce Platform and how to get the most value from it.

Spearing’s move to salesforce.com in 2012 follows a 20-year career in the technology industry. Spearing started his career selling applications to laboratories; was involved in the formation of the Hewlett-Packard software business; ran parts of the IBM software business in Business Intelligence, Websphere and Tivoli and ran Sun Microsystem’s Java and Identity businesses.

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