Opinion: The Accidental App Developer

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/baona)

Since the economic downturn, many IT budgets have remained flat while the need for new applications has risen dramatically. As a result, business users are seeking new ways to deliver apps. Cue the accidental app developer.

Accidental app developers don’t intend to create apps. Most have never even written a line of code and would never consider themselves developers. Yet, every organisation has them – they are line of business managers, salespeople, and other executives who try their hand at building applications to help themselves or their teams to do their jobs better. They are tomorrow’s leaders. They just don’t know it yet.

Unfortunately, many take one wrong step, and never reach their potential.

The misstep that many take is turning to spreadsheets and database applications – tools that have sat on their desktop for years. This is part of the larger trend toward Shadow IT in which, by 2015, Gartner expects a full 35 percent of IT expenditures for most organisations to be managed outside of the IT department – this is driven by the tremendous thirst for apps, productivity, and innovation.

The motivation is right, and for a while, this strategy may work – until it’s IT’s fault that a critical app is no longer available because someone’s laptop died, an app is in breach of corporate governance or needs to be shut down due to risk, or apps containing errors become incorporated into business processes.

R.I.P. accidental app developer – you just missed your opportunity to influence the entire organisation.

So, what do you do? How can we transform accidental app developers into the business heroes of tomorrow? The answer lies in cloud platforms and the right tools that span across business and developer needs.

Cloud Platforms

Cloud platforms like Apple, Google and Salesforce offer approaches for business users to create, and consume apps via point and click tools. Depending on the platform, this may involve listing an app in a public or private store, adding integrated calendaring and videoconference to daily activities, or creating complete data models and powerful workflows and approvals for entirely new apps.

Where cloud platforms truly excel is in providing an effortless way to rid the need for on-premise apps – whether they’re on a server, or an employee’s laptop. Here, only the tools of the platform limit the accidental app developer. Some have based their entire career on a solid understanding of cloud platform features. The secret ingredient to finally ridding the world of those spreadsheet-based apps is convincing users that cloud platforms must be easier than the alternative. If they’re not, they’ll use another alternative – typically the tools they know. 

Bridge from Apps to Processes

Many business users love Evernote. It’s incredibly easy to collect notes, snap screenshots and more. Evernote, and other similar apps, quickly become accidental apps for business. But these apps often cause IT to cringe. They pop-up in organisations, solve a real need, and grow unchecked. Without integrating these pop-up apps to the rest of your business however, they’re not much better than old school spreadsheets on a laptop.

Accidental app developers bridge apps to business processes, often created in the very cloud platforms identified above. And, in Evernote’s case, that’s exactly what they did with Evernote for Business. Evernote is not the only app that follows this pattern, more and more action-orientated apps like Dispatch, or services like IFTTT, can turn any standalone app into the next killer accidental app for the enterprise. 

Embrace Accidental Apps

The truth about accidental apps, and their creators, is that they solve a real need. But there’s a tipping point where an accidental app outgrows its creator. Cloud platforms, and in particular open APIs, let these accidental apps mature and grow. It might not be the actual app itself, perhaps just the data, or the workflow, but building it on a platform means everything is API-first. That means professional developers can take these accidental apps and integrate them into the business.

Accidental app developers know the business, and leverage the tools they know to enact change. But, if they want to be the heroes of tomorrow, they can’t do it with pop-up apps, local databases, or antiquated spreadsheets that can’t grow. Instead they must look to cloud platforms and bridges across apps.

Do you think cloud platforms help the “accidental app developer” to find success? Let us know in the comments.

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