With benefits come risks. The cloud has returned computing power to the people, enabling IT projects to be quickly and efficiently shaped by business users. Agility and responsiveness are the new technical goals, and they’re being delivered by empowering business users and less-technical developers alike with new and easy-to-use tools. These tools offer low-code development with user-friendly drag-and-drop interfaces and familiar dashboards.
The benefit? Projects that a decade ago would have taken a team of expert developers months to complete can now be done in just days – or even hours. Not only does this new approach increase developer productivity and agility through automation, but it also produces software that more closely meets the needs of business users.
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But with a platform that’s so easy to use, will citizen developers and integrators always follow IT best practices? Will their projects scale to the needs of both the larger business and future projects? And are they introducing new security and compliance risks that can sabotage business value?
Learning From the Past
Prior to the software as a service (SaaS) era, enterprise applications were large, expensive, monolithic and difficult to customise. Because these applications were so costly and complex, they were exclusively under the control of the central IT department. CIOs and their architects would select the applications. Software developers would then customise them, sometimes with the help of highly paid consultants. Data Center professionals would manage them. And business users? They’d take what they were given.
Business users had little choice. They had to accept the ways these applications handled their business processes and workflows. Even though these applications were bought for the business, it was the business, more often than not, that ended up conforming to the applications. Sometimes this was about as comfortable as squeezing a size 8 shoe on a size 10 foot. While applications could be customised somewhat, they rarely delivered exactly what the business wanted. Any further changes or corrections would require executive approval, likely leading to the return of those high-priced consultants.
Then came SaaS. Suddenly, applications could be deployed quickly and easily. Signing up was as simple as filling out a short web form, entering a credit card number and clicking “submit.” What’s more, SaaS applications were simple yet specialised. Instead of providing a single application that promised a buffet of features for everyone, SaaS applications provided features tailored to specific departments and roles: Salesforce for sales, Workday for HR, and so on. These technologies also made customisation and updates easy.
In this way, SaaS applications promised a new era of productivity and agility for business users, IT departments and the business overall. Business users who most closely understood the need for a new application could select the best specialised solution. This made the business more agile and responsive, driving faster business growth. Or so went the thinking. Did SaaS actually deliver? Yes and no.
To be sure, with SaaS, business users were no longer at the mercy of IT’s long project timelines. SaaS adoption was explosive and not entirely in IT’s control. As early as 2015, a survey by Cisco found that CIOs grossly underestimated the number of applications they ran. More specifically, CIOs estimated that their organisations were running an average of just 51 cloud applications; but due to Shadow IT, the actual number was more like 790. Large as that gap was, since then the numbers have only continued to grow.
So as SaaS made life business users easier, it also made life for IT organisations harder. But even for the business, SaaS could create unanticipated costs and risks. For example, were these new applications secure? What kinds of data did they house, and was this data clean? Was access being controlled properly, blocking the “wrong” kinds of people, such as former employees? Were all the applications truly required, or did some of them unnecessarily duplicate and overlap others?
Faced with this long list of questions, many IT organisations found themselves scrambling to retake control of their data and services. To help them, many new product and service categories came into being. These focused on several important goals: providing security for shadow IT and cloud apps, helping IT organisations get a better handle on application utilisation, and assisting businesses to comply with data-privacy and data-security regulations in this new age of anything-goes provisioning.
As Went ERP, so Goes ESB
Today, a similar story is playing out around data integration and workflow automation.
In the early days of heavyweight ERP applications, Enterprise Service Buses (ESBs) were the integration technology of choice. They promised to connect all key applications and data stores in the organization. However, ESBs were also expensive, difficult to program, and entirely under the control of the IT department. In other words, they shared many traits with old monolithic applications such as legacy ERP applications and on-premise CRM systems.
Then a solution arrived in the form of integration platform as a service – a technology created by Boomi – providing a low-code, easy-to-use development environment. Now IT users could replace their cumbersome ESBs with a tool that was easy to use, fast and scalable. And business users could use iPaaS to design and build integrations, data transformations, and workflow automations.
Today the key questions are: Does iPaaS – by empowering business users to build their own integrations and workflows – threaten to unleash a new generation of programmatic misfires? Does iPaaS inevitably lead to ill-conceived designs and lax data practices? And will IT end up spending more time maintaining and fixing iPaaS projects than it saves?
The answer to all of the above is yes, if the focus is solely on enabling business users. But not if iPaaS is done right. This means first recognising the critical roles that IT and business users each play in software development, and then providing them both with the powerful tools they need to work synergistically, complete projects and achieve business outcomes quickly.
About this author
David Irecki, is the director – solution consulting APJ at Boomi, a Dell Technologies business. Boomi is a corporate member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.