Applications at Work: the "app culture", IT and the business

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In organisations, technology decisions are no longer the
monopoly of the information technology department. Whereas
the corporate IT budget used to be funnelled almost entirely
through the chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology
officer (CTO), research firm Gartner predicts that by 2015, only 60%
of technology expenditure will be managed centrally.1 Research
conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in early 2013 also
found that business units in almost half (46%) of companies globally
consult IT about a technology decision less than half the time.2 Such
decisions may be about purchasing a mobile device, sourcing an office
productivity tool or application, or accessing a cloud-based service,
among other things.
The phenomenon known as “shadow IT” (in which parts of the business
obtain and operate software or hardware without recourse to the IT
department) is emerging from the murk, becoming a standard part
of how the business procures and uses technology. The purchase and
development of applications, including mobile apps, is part of this
trend. An “app culture” is developing in which employees feel able—
and empowered—to identify and obtain the software they feel they
need to do the job. Some feel capable of developing the applications
themselves.

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Applications at Work: the "app culture", IT and the business

  1. 1. Applications at work The “app culture”, IT and the business* Written by The Economist Intelligence Unit The right application A In organisations, technology decisions are no longer the monopoly of the information technology department. Whereas the corporate IT budget used to be funnelled almost entirely through the chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO), research firm Gartner predicts that by 2015, only 60% of technology expenditure will be managed centrally.1 Research conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in early 2013 also found that business units in almost half (46%) of companies globally consult IT about a technology decision less than half the time.2 Such decisions may be about purchasing a mobile device, sourcing an office productivity tool or application, or accessing a cloud-based service, among other things. The phenomenon known as “shadow IT” (in which parts of the business obtain and operate software or hardware without recourse to the IT department) is emerging from the murk, becoming a standard part of how the business procures and uses technology. The purchase and development of applications, including mobile apps, is part of this trend. An “app culture” is developing in which employees feel able— and empowered—to identify and obtain the software they feel they need to do the job. Some feel capable of developing the applications themselves. *This and other articles about the challenges and opportunities of mobility, sponsored by EE, can be found at http://eefutureconnections.economist.com/. “Gartner Outsourcing Summit 2013: How digitisation is shaking up IT outsourcing”, Computer Weekly.com, September 10, 2013. 2 “Freedom to choose: What technology autonomy means for the business”, a Bluecoat report written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, June 2013. 1 The BYOD (bring your own device) trend is naturally one driver of this activity. As employees increasingly use their own smartphone, laptop or tablet to conduct their work, they, their managers and their direct colleagues are becoming familiar with the various types of applications that can help them be more productive. In this sense, BYOD has led to the growth of BYOA (bring your own application). Another factor is dissatisfaction with the time some IT departments take to procure and deploy applications and devices. “Making a request of IT can take three months, even for a simple addition to the website,” comments a senior executive at a London hospital. “Meanwhile, nurses and clinicians are downloading apps to help them in their day-to-day duties.” So lines of business are increasingly choosing to purchase or build applications, mobile or otherwise, for their own needs. The marketing department accounts for much of this activity, reflecting the evolving ways that companies are engaging with their customers. Sales and operational departments—particularly in the business-to-business sector—are also looking to create apps for their own staff, such as account managers and service teams. According to Laith Clark, managing director of mobile app development company TapMob: “We see a lot of activity where commercial or free apps and services aren’t really aligned with how the business works. Businesses have to choose whether to take an off-the-shelf app and use it as best they can, or to invest more money up front and get all the information they need.” For business units, the benefit of developing or purchasing applications themselves, rather than relying on IT, can be lower up-front cost and the (usually) reduced time spent in deploying the app. It also means the department can work in terms it understands. For example, the marketing department may have a contractual relationship with a digital agency and can express an app requirement in terms of a brief, rather than having to think in terms of a technical specification. Bring your own complexity There are naturally downsides and risks. “Marketing can ask for what they think is a quite simple front end, without too much thought about the back-end systems or questions such as data security,” says Mr s p o n s o r ed by :
  2. 2. Clarke. “These can require spending a lot of money on data integration, or can create issues which cause problems later. For example, a client-facing application for use at trade shows may be designed to synchronise data on prospects at the end of the day—but what happens if it gets stolen in the meantime?” From the CIO’s perspective, departments taking such decisions into their own hands—without always thinking of the ramifications—can lead to increased complexity, cost and risk. If something goes wrong— if corporate data is ‘leaked’ because of a poorly built app, for example— the buck still stops with IT. How are CIOs reacting to demands for such technology autonomy? In the aforementioned EIU research, nine in ten CIOs and CTOs agreed with the statement that “greater freedom for business units to make technology decisions is critical if the business is to grow”. If anything, they appear more convinced on this score than their business unit peers. Many certainly see risks in terms of cost, complexity and security, but most appear calm with expanding technology autonomy and a fast-developing app culture. The chief enabler Simon Short, CTO and head of digital services at Capgemini UK, a technology consultancy, sees two types of CIOs. “You’ve got the ones who are still fighting the battle to lock everything down, to keep control, to disallow ‘bring your own device’ and the accessing of [external technology] services. And there is another type, who says ‘Our job is about enablement.’” In their mission as business enablers, CIOs and IT departments clearly have more to gain from the flourishing of an app culture in their organisation than from its suppression. Freedom to build or buy the application most suited to their business needs, provided security and other standards are maintained, should be a boon to business units’ creativity and productivity. “This is a fantastic opportunity for CIOs,” maintains Mr Short, speaking of the “bring your own” movement. “They should embrace it.”

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