Business App Development: The Current Reality Facing IT Teams

With the continued evolution of digital technology, and with industrial companies embracing digital transformation, IT teams are faced with an increasing demand for developing custom business apps. At JourneyApps, we have worked with IT leadership at many Fortune 500 industrial companies to understand the reality they face in the fast-paced world of software development.

Many of the IT leaders we have worked with seem to face the difficult choice between overworking their teams, or face slowly losing control over business software as more and more business stakeholders go outside of the organization for their app development needs. This phenomenon then gives rise to shadow IT.

However, we have also seen how having the right technology strategy can propel an IT team from being seen as blocking business innovation to being seen as the go-to partners for new digital initiatives — and being given the responsibility to lay out technology roadmaps that drive the activities of all groups within the wider organization.

In this article we take a look at the current reality that IT teams are facing. There are 4 aspects of this reality: Increasing business demand, the shifting goalposts of modernization, the pervasiveness of Microsoft Excel, and the growing importance of business intelligence.


We Need More Apps: Increasing Business Demand

To many executives, process improvement involves digitizing or automating existing business processes. This is backed up by a 2018 Forrester study, which found that “accelerating digital business transformation” was the primary focus of process improvement for the second-largest group of business and IT decision-makers surveyed. When the focus turned to 2020, accelerating digital transformation became the top answer, selected almost twice as much as the second-ranked answer.

These results were similar to a 2016 study that showed that even though business leaders were aspiring to change their focus, they’ve somehow gotten stuck and were bogged down with siloed systems and human-driven processes. It seems, then, that there is widespread agreement that digital business transformation should be the destination, but few know how to navigate the waters to get there.

Business leaders have reacted to this new strategic imperative by identifying processes that are ripe for digital transformation, while IT teams are under pressure to figure out how to deliver these as fast as the business identifies new needs. The problem is critical, as a 2019 Forrester study found:

“74% of business and IT leaders cited the ‘inability to deliver as quickly as the business needs’ as a challenge that ‘impedes’ or ‘significantly impedes’ their ability to deliver on digital transformation priorities.”

The Shifting Goal Posts of Modernization

As the digital revolution has swept the business world, expectations of what a digital business app can do has shifted. It is no longer sufficient that an app is purely functional, and this has been driven by a number of modern app needs. Some of the needs that have forced business apps to move with the times include end-to-end process digitization, centralized business intelligence platforms, flexible bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies and increasing cybersecurity risk.

Furthermore, the upkeep requirements of legacy systems reduce the productivity of IT teams by placing a burden on IT capacity, often pigeon-holing highly-skilled employees who could otherwise make a significant impact on new digital initiatives.

Even if you disregard the need to modernize systems, it makes sense that both business and IT stakeholders would want modern digital business apps that:

  • Can function across different end-user devices.
  • Can encapsulate data and functions in the app and make them available as web services via an application programming interface (API).
  • Fit within a modern infrastructure strategy.
  • Can easily share data with business intelligence platforms to allow for data visualization and interrogation.
  • Can keep up with the most demanding data security standards and compliance requirements.

The Old Guard: Microsoft Excel

Many companies still have Microsoft Excel as the core technology on which a vast share of their business processes are running. This wide adoption is a testament to the flexibility and utility of Excel as a business app “platform”, as well as the determination of many employees to learn and build the tools that they want, with the limited skills and resources that they have.

In the digital era, many companies are stopping to re-think the suitability of Excel’s use to execute core business processes.

Some of the risks behind pervasive use of Excel include:

  • How easy it is for employees to deviate from an Excel-driven process.
  • Conversely, how difficult it is to ensure that all employees are using the latest version of a workbook, and enforce standards and process requirements.
  • The significant burden of manually aggregating data from separate workbooks into a single, often static, report.
  • The security risk of having company data stored in a format so easy to share, and so difficult to protect properly.

Therefore, a part of the challenge for IT teams is to figure out how to curb the use of Excel for mission-critical processes, and find a safer, more modern and more reliable replacement.

The Growing Importance of Business Intelligence

According to a 2019 study by Dresner Advisory Services surveying 5,000 organizations, the primary business roles that were driving business intelligence (BI) adoption in 2018 were, in order:

  1. Executive Management
  2. Operations
  3. Sales

It should come as no surprise that executive management and operations are the primary roles driving BI adoption. After all, managers are taught, “you cannot manage what you cannot measure”.

The ability to interrogate operational trends through a BI platform is fast becoming a necessity for managers who, according to the same study, see their top four BI objectives as:

  1. Making better decisions
  2. Improving operational efficiencies
  3. Growing Revenues
  4. Increasing Competitive Advantage

This has resulted in names such as Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, Looker, Alteryx, Spotfire and OBIEE becoming well-known within organizations of all sizes. BI teams have sprung up within IT and operations groups, many with a mandate to focus on the continuous development of purpose-built management dashboards.

For IT teams, another important consequence is that sharing data with BI platforms has become a standard output requirement for digital business apps. If data is being captured digitally, in real-time, you can bet that someone is going to want to see that data on a dashboard, in real-time.

In Conclusion

It’s clear that any strategy around the development of digital business apps is going to be influenced by the reality of increasing demand for business apps, the need to modernize legacy systems, managing the transition away from Excel-based processes, and the growing importance of business intelligence.

Understanding this reality plays an important role in defining a successful digital app strategy. Read more about what a successful digital app strategy can look like by downloading our 2020 Business App Strategy Guide.

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