Not all companies will embrace the use of apps created by employees outside the IT department due to security and resource allocation concerns, noted an analyst. He added that there are benefits to be had, though.
Ian Finley, vice president at research firm Gartner, pointed out in his e-mail that the nature of one's business and work culture are important factors in assessing whether business applications built by non-IT employees will be accepted within the organization.
Elaborating, he said organizations that operate in a tightly-regulated environment such as financial services institutions are "poor candidates" as the risk to information and internal processes outweighs any benefits.
On the other hand, companies operating in less regulated conditions and have a pool of young, educated "knowledge workers", also known as digital natives, are more likely to utilize such apps, said Finley. This demographic of employees are generally more comfortable with technology and willing to develop their own software, he explained.
Additionally, the analyst said the organization's working culture is "very important" to encouraging employees to explore developing their own apps.
"The best citizen developer organizations are flat organizations that seek to empower individual and team innovation," Finley pointed out. "Mistakes will be made in citizen development and the organization needs to embrace those mistakes as part of becoming a better company."
Consequently, hierarchically-oriented enterprises that adopt top-down decision-making processes and value conformity over flexibility will not be ideal for budding citizen developers, he added.
The Gartner vice president was elaborating on what a June report from the research firm had revealed. In the report, it was predicted that end-user developed apps will make up at least 25 percent of new business apps by 2014.
Engage citizen developers
With that in mind, Finley reckons that IT should make efforts to understand the benefits of engaging their colleagues and get them to become "good citizen developers".
He pointed out that empowering these budding developers to build simple, low-risk applications could result in companies getting greater business value from existing IT assets. These apps are rarely built by internal IT departments because of resource constraints, he added.
John Mullins, business unit executive at IBM Asean's industry solutions division, attests to the benefits of such user-driven developments. In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, he said traditional application development processes meant projects with narrower goals and for smaller user groups would not have been initiated as IT departments would be "hard-pressed to justify the cost".
As such, Mullins declared that Big Blue is a proponent of "enabling end-users to develop applications quickly and without support of an IT department". To back his assertions, he noted the company has provided toolsets for end-user app development "for years" to "tremendous success globally".
The IBM Mashup Center software, for example, is one such tool, he revealed. The software allows business professionals to "rapidly assemble new applications in minutes, improving productivity by finding, customizing and using information more intelligently", said the executive.
Be aware of inherent risks
Despite the benefits, Finley cautioned that there will be risks involved using these apps.
Public Web applications, for example, could be an entry point for cybercriminals to steal or compromise business-sensitive information, he pointed out. "Now, it's actually easier for users to build applications outside the firewall where sensitive data and processes are at risk."
As for apps that gain traction and value within the organization, Finley said IT departments would then have to sacrifice much-needed manpower and money to maintain and upgrade the software.
"IT can become increasingly burdened with supporting applications that it didn't anticipate and were not designed to be easy to support," he stated.