SAN FRANCISCO: Shadow IT has often had a negative perception, conjuring up visions of stressed-out technical staff trying to keep a handle on technology infrastructure out of their control. However, CIOs are now redefining the idea of shadow IT and adapting it into something from which the whole business can benefit: citizen development.
At Salesforce's Dreamforce user event in San Francisco this week, the IT heads of Eurostar, Ocado and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company were in all agreement that bringing end users into the development fold, as opposed to locking them out, is the only way to run a modern business.
Antoine de Kerviler, CIO at Eurostar (pictured above left), explained that the move towards a more inclusive development process at his organisation came after realising that the IT department could not always meet the needs of the company.
"Being a high-speed train operator, we have lots of audits for safety and so on. One day this guy came to IT and said: ‘I need this and I need it quite fast as the auditor comes next Friday.' And we said: 'What's your database schema?' and he didn't understand database or schema, so he left and never came back and did it on his own," de Kerviler said.
"We need to find ways where we can respond faster - and that doesn't work, so what we've found is we told them just do it."
Eurostar calls these people within its organisation ‘citizen developers', a name de Kerviler heard for the first time at Dreamforce this week and loves. Eurostar has already identified 10 people and will be putting them in a dedicated Citizen Developers group.
"They come from everywhere, the places where there's the biggest need, operations and engineers, the guys running servers under their desks. We're formally building a centre of excellence which they'll all be a part of," he added.
Michael Meadows, VP and CTO at Eli Lilly (above second left), said that his organisation is starting its citizen development efforts in the IT department with events like hackathons. "We're working in the case of the Salesforce platform to allow that to broaden, but we're starting with IT," he said.
Meadows explained that regulatory control and financial services will continue to operate through the corporate systems, but that Eli Lilly needs to make these more friendly to people.
"Human beings gravitate to what they know. The better we get at making these capabilities available - we too are also trying to shift from a negative connotation of shadow IT to a positive connotation of citizen developer, even citizen developer in the context of our IT guys in addition to end users - the more we can make that a natural flow. And the easier we can make the flow will deal with the other issues," he said.
Salesforce's own CIO, Ross Meyercord (above right), said that firms need to transform the development process so that it mirrors how people work.
"When users choose to do their own work on their own desktop, I assume positive intent. They're not trying to be malicious or to spite IT, they're trying to get the job done. Our mantra is the easiest way will be the chosen way," he said.
Paul Clarke, Ocado CIO (above second from right), said that the online grocer's decision to consider citizen developers came partly from an IT hiring problem.
"The other key bit was to get software developers out of the loop as I cannot hire them fast enough to ever get internal apps to be at the top of the list. Getting analysts building on top of the platform was the key requirement," he said.
However, de Kerviler expressed a note of caution about making sure this citizen development is done on top of the right platforms.
"The next time a user does a spreadsheet or an Access database [for an audit], the next thing you know this Access database is an essential element of your certification. It can't be moved anymore. So basically our certification to run the company, our right to operate as a train company, sits on a PC on somebody's desk - hopefully that data file is in the G: drive so it's backed up, otherwise it's on the C: drive with no backup," he pointed out.
Clarke said that this is where tools like the Salesforce development platform can help.
"Although I'm not a fan of the term shadow IT as I also view it as a positive thing, I also think it can definitely go too far, the cat can get out the bag. That's where you need other tools that can add another layer in that series of development tools between spreadsheets at one end and full-blown tightly controlled apps at the other," he said.
"Part of our journey with the Salesforce1 platform was to put that other layer in place to create an alternative to using spreadsheets."
Clarke also cautioned businesses against giving too much control to the ‘digital natives', as their technical nous may be more superficial than is often assumed.
"The democratisation of being able to build software that's come with the tools for building mobile apps is amazing," he said.
"It's lowered the bar, but unfortunately it's dumbed down the art of computer science to the point that people think that if you can build a mobile app, you can build a robust, production-hardened system that scales, that clusters, that has all the reporting required.
"One of the challenges we see sometimes with some of the graduates we hire is that building something that does what you want it to do under normal conditions is the very easy part. Making it deal with real users and not break at 3am is the hard part."
Not all loose ends tied yet, admits Bain backer SK Hynix
It's Stack Overflow's second calculator, and first for external devs
Theresa May always the keenest cabinet voice in favour of draconian online censorship, surveillance and controls
No need to waste time on Google launch planned for 4 October