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The days of IT professionals' primary job being to manage infrastructure are behind and fading away fast. And that's a good thing. The steady migration of enterprise systems and applications from the data center to the cloud enables IT to focus more on fostering innovation among users.
IT can help users to be proactive in solving issues that used to require that they create a help desk ticket and wait until (or hope) IT had the time to address it. Many users likely have excellent ideas for applications that will automate business processes and improve their departments' output and productivity levels. Now IT can let them build those apps themselves – even if they don't have much coding experience – by adopting a delegated approach to application development.
These "low-coders" will help IT speed up software development and delivery timetables, and position the IT organization as an invaluable business partner, not a roadblock. That does not mean creating a free-for-all environment that increases the risks to systems and sensitive data.
There are five key things every enterprise should consider when approaching low-code development to ensure and maintain strict control over privileges for information and systems access, and create more self-service opportunities for users.
Forrester defines low-code development platforms as those that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment. The analyst firm sees three dominant forces shaping the landscape for low-code platforms:
1. A drive to expand and diversify the developer talent pool
2. A shift towards general-purpose usage of low-code platforms
3. Increased funding that validates the market for low-code
This does not point to a desire among users to create the next killer smartphone app or widget to compete with the likes of Uber, Facebook or Gmail. They just want to replicate the experience of how those very complex business and consumer apps make their personal lives easier and more efficient.
Today we can accomplish so much with just the click of a mouse or a few taps on a mobile device screen. We can shop, do our banking, book vacations and arrange for a car to pick us up. But when we get to the office, that ease and efficiency disappear. Everyday tasks like requesting a purchase order or initiating the on-boarding process for a new employee requires sending out dozens of emails, updating spreadsheets or other frustrating, time-wasting manual processes. Traditionally, turning to the IT department for help was just as frustrating for users.
IT organizations have been too busy maintaining servers and email to develop apps, and could not permit users to do so because of the high risks associated with assigning them the necessary administrative privileges. That led to the rise of the shadow IT trend, with users implementing third-party solutions without IT's permission or knowledge. Delegated development reverses that trend and also reduces IT's backlog of requests so that IT can focus on more strategic projects.
IT can provide low-coders in facilities, legal, HR, shipping and other departments with a platform featuring templates they can use to build apps without administrative privileges. Users have the freedom to create apps that help them get their work done, but within metaphorical guard rails that prevent them from accessing data they don't have permission to see.
Departments can share what they create with one another instead of asking IT to create multiple variations. For example, the HR department may develop an application that includes an up-to-date list of employees. Chances are the legal and finance departments would also benefit from having that list available, and can easily access it on the network. IT evolves from its old role as Keeper of the Data Center to a modern services provider that helps users solve their own problems while simultaneously getting shadow IT under control.
Allan Leinwand is CTO at ServiceNow.