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Citizen developers pull the rug out from under IT with RMAD tools

End users want mobile apps to help with basic job functions, but the cost and time it takes IT and developers to deliver those apps leads them to do-it-yourself RMAD tools.

Roger Benedict wanted to build custom mobile applications for his small business, but didn't have the time or money to hire developers. So, he decided to do it himself.

With FileMaker, an application development platform that does not require any coding, Benedict built Apple iOS apps that employees of his home carpeting and flooring company use to track inventory, check prices, log customer information, integrate calendar and email, and more.

"It takes about a day or two to build one single-purpose app," said Benedict, owner of Ruggs Benedict in Avon, Colo. "You can build these apps to do just what you want, but then you can tie them all together. We use them to run the entire business."

Simple tools enable citizen developers

Citizen developers, such as Benedict, are business leaders, end users and other non-IT and nondevelopment staff who build their own apps with easy-to-use tools. In some organizations, citizen developers are a byproduct of employees becoming impatient with IT and developers taking too long to build and deploy the mobile apps they need to do their jobs. As a result, there is an increasing number of rapid mobile app development (RMAD) tools that allow people with no programming background to build business applications.

RMAD offers templates and built-in APIs that allow users to employ little or no code and connect their apps to businesses' back-end services. Benedict chose FileMaker because he found it easy to build any apps he needed and sync them together to share data. Additionally, FileMaker is a subsidiary of Apple, so it is consistently up to date and works well with Macs and iOS devices, which Benedict uses throughout his business, he said.

"A lot of the credit goes to how easy it is to make, use, learn and implement the apps," he said.

Ruggs Benedict, a business of about 50 employees, does not have an IT department or any developers on staff. Hiring a third-party developer to build apps was never an option, Benedict said.

"It takes a lot of money and time to get an IT person to make something for you," he said.

Although RMAD tools fill a need for users, they do raise questions among IT regarding security and lack of visibility, said Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Five Nines IT Solutions, an IT consultancy in Kitchener, Ont.

If you don't control everything in your environment, then you will have a disaster where you need to recover, and you'll be at a standstill.
Douglas Grosfieldpresident and CEO of Five Nines IT Solutions

"It brings about shadow IT, which is a concern for anyone," he said. "You lose control over the environment due to non-IT staff introducing a technology. If they're using prebuilt lines of code ... and putting something together without anyone vetting what is going on in the code, then you introduce potential risks."

To gut-check citizen developers, it's important to have someone in IT vet the code and certify that the app will only do what the business wants it to do in a secure way, he added.

"If you don't control everything in your environment, then you will have a disaster where you need to recover, and you'll be at a standstill," Grosfield said.

RMAD tools on the rise

On average, it takes a business more than six months to develop and deploy a single mobile app, and it costs about $140,000, according to VDC Research Group. As a result, more organizations are turning to RMAD tools, for which the market will more than quadruple in size by 2020, the firm said in a December 2016 report.

"They are taking matters in their own hands," said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC in Natick, Mass. "They are frustrated with IT not moving quickly enough."

Large vendors, such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, SAP and Oracle, all offer general app development tools.

Smaller vendors, such as Kony, Red Hat, Capriza and Kinvey, offer RMAD platforms, but larger vendors have also invested in the technology in recent years, such as Microsoft with its PowerApps.

RMAD tools are an enticing alternative to typical app development platforms because they come at a lesser cost and are easier to use, Klein said. Plus, they can easily integrate with major back-end data sources, such as SAP and Oracle, he said.

Businesses face a challenge when deciding which tools are right for them, however.

"There is a lot of noise out there and a lot of vendors," Klein said. "If you're heavily invested in applications from those [larger] vendors, it's in your best interest to work with that vendor on mobile apps, as well. But there is a reason to do it with a third party, because they do a good job of mobilizing those apps."

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Do you think RMAD tools have the potential to replace IT? Why or why not?
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RMAD tools will democratize mobile app development - not "replace IT". IT will still -- at times -- need to customize RMAD apps that citizen developers produce to meet security, integration, and data governance requirements. Yet without RMAD, enterprises will never get all the business processes mobilized to remain competitive. It needs to be joint effort between LOB and IT - similar to how BI/analytics has evolved within enterprises.
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RMAD has been around for eons - Access and FoxPro. They can work to run a small, very low tech company. But in the enterprise these non developers create a mess, unless they really are skilled developers in which case they are using very limited tools that don't scale. It is imperative that IT organizations pickup RAD tools and make inroads into this, before too much time is wasted.
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