It may be the age of cloud, but IT workloads just keep growing

Are IT departments being crushed by increasing digital business demands? A survey of 470 IT professionals suggests this may be the case.

With all the talk of cloud computing these days, one can be forgiven for thinking that enterprise IT shops may be seeing lighter development workloads. Actually, the opposite seems to be occurring -- development workloads are growing to the point IT shops are being crushed by the demand. IT are being overwhelmed by the digital business boom.

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That's the takeaway of a new survey conducted by Mendix among 470 North American and European IT professionals, which finds that demand for custom business applications is growing, fueled by the need for mobile and customer-facing apps. "However, because IT teams lack sufficient capabilities for rapid app delivery, output isn’t keeping pace, performance is suffering and backlogs are growing," the report concludes.

The survey revealed growing demand for custom business applications, particularly customer-facing and mobile apps, cited by 69 percent and 75 percent of respondents respectively. Of those with a mobile agenda, 68 percent report needing multi-device, multi-channel apps versus standalone smartphone or tablet apps.

At the same time, nearly three quarters of IT professionals, 71 percent, admit that their departments aren’t equipped to handle this increasing business demand for custom applications. Overall, 82 percent of respondents report having a project backlog while 89 percent were unable to reduce their backlog year over year.

What's the problem here? The factors contributing to lackluster IT performance in the face of business demand include fairly rigid development environments and corporate cultures, the Mendix survey suggests. Thirty-six percent report using agile methodologies, while another 36 percent report still using "waterfall." Many development environments lack "key elements to enable rapid, iterative and collaborative cycles." For example, 75 percent of developers surveyed said they can’t easily create and share working prototypes for end user feedback, and 78 percent of companies lack sufficient tools for enabling business-level developers to build apps.

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As a result, it takes too long to get apps out the door. Close to half of the respondents, 46 percent, say it takes one or more quarters to turn around a new app. Only six percent are capable of delivering apps in a matter of weeks. To implement change requests takes months or longer in most respondents' shops.

Mendix offers three pieces of advice to help turn things around, to keep up with business demands:

Implement an "application strategy": "Respondents that have implemented methods, such as Gartner’s Pace-Layered Application Strategy (a methodology for categorizing applications and developing a differentiated management and governance process that reflects how they are used and their rate of change), reported higher percentages of applications delivered on time, under budget, meeting requirements and generating value."

Encourage "citizen developers": "Respondents that listed high levels of IT-business collaboration and enabled citizen developers to build apps scored significantly higher on each of the above project success criteria."

Modernize the development environment: The survey noted that most sites use Java and .NET frameworks, which in the authors' opinion, smacks of "legacy." This may or may not be the case, but the authors do urge IT managers to look at lighter-weight platforms that facilitate more rapid iterations. "Organizations with more advanced development environments that facilitate easy sharing of prototypes for user feedback and include an integrated deployment environment are more successful than their peers."