The Appification of IT
The App. Another word we can thank Steve Jobs for bringing into our lexicon, along with i-anything. Before the launch of the iPhone in 2007 about the only time you would hear the word app was short for a job application, as in “I went to 7-Eleven and filled out an app”. Today, virtually everyone uses the word to mean “a self-contained program or piece of software designed to fulfill a particular purpose; an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device” (dictionary.com).
Back in my day (did I just say that?) as a COBOL programmer, we worked on applications, short for “application program” or “application software”. Typically, these were huge, monolithic programs with thousands if not tens of thousands lines of code. They were difficult to use and almost impossible to maintain. It took an army of programmers, analysts, computer operators and others to manage, maintain and run these monstrosities. In the 90’s and 2000’s, we pulled together dozens of these applications and called them ERP systems, the systems that could do all things for all people.
With the birth of the internet and the World Wide Web, we evolved these applications to web-based applications standardizing the access method to a web browser. If a company didn’t have a website, it was dead or dying. With the explosion of smart phones, we are again at a point where if a company doesn’t have an app, we are likely to move on to its competitor that does.
Since 2012, industry pundits have been describing the “appification of everything” as the intersection of mobile devices and web sites, but with a very consumer focus. Urging companies (and rightly so) to converge the experience on mobile and web into a single experience for their customers. (Doesn’t it drive you crazy when a mobile app doesn’t retain your personalization settings from your smartphone, to your tablet, and to your PC?)
I believe the appification of IT goes beyond our consumer facing interactions. The appification and consumerization of IT means that our employees are going to demand our business applications work just like their consumer applications. We have already seen many business application providers develop and deploy mobile versions (apps) of their software. Some of these do better than others in unifying the experience across platforms. One of the first ones that I personally have used is the Workday app (I am not saying Workday was the first to do this, I am just saying it was the first one I personally used). With the app version of the Workday HRIS system, I can perform most the tasks on the app that I can on the web application, it remembers my profile from one device to the next, as well as immediately recognizing actions I have taken across devices.
Those of us in corporate IT need to follow suit and take a mobile view of our application development. Instead of churning out applications with endless lines of code, break them down into manageable app-sized chunks, releasing our end-users from behind their PCs and enabling them to become mobile. Our App Stores should contain, not only productivity apps, but our enterprise apps, those small, but mighty, gateways to our enterprise systems.
What does appification mean to the CIO? It means, driving your teams toward a unified design across all platforms. Apps should function the same from any device. This may mean bringing your app developers, together with your web developers. It may mean working even closer with the CMO to understand the customer experience to ensure a seamless experience, not only for your customer facing apps, but for your internal ones as well. It may mean new skills are needed for your team, or it may mean you need new members on your team.
This is a continuation of a series of posts looking at the confluence of changes impacting the CIO and IT leadership. Next up “Sometimes BYOD feels like it should be BYOB”.
Jeffrey Ton is the SVP of Corporate Connectivity and Chief Information Officer for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, providing vision and leadership in the continued development and implementation of the enterprise-wide information technology and marketing portfolios, including applications, information & data management, infrastructure, security and telecommunications.
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