Salesforce, Shadow IT & the Growing Threat of Corporate IT on Citizen Developers


Citizen developers are here to stay and will fundamentally change the future of IT work.  How you embrace them will determine the future of IT within your organization and the role IT plays in the creation of new innovative business practices. – Mike Rollings (Gartner), Citizen Development: Reinventing the Shadows of IT

Corporate IT is starting to strangle citizen developers on the Salesforce platform.

The Salesforce platform has been a tremendous gift to citizen developers. Citizen developers are end users who create business applications without the involvement, or with limited involvement of corporate IT. This collective effort across the organization is often referred to as Shadow IT.

In the bad old days, Shadow IT actually worked in the shadows – hiding their applications from the disapproving eyes of corporate IT. These makeshift solutions, including large, complex spreadsheets, homegrown databases, and ad hoc custom software development, were being done beyond the oversight, control, and expertise of IT.

The problem with Shadow IT

Corporate IT had reason to be concerned – the tools that were being used by citizen developers to build applications had many problems associated with them. Many of these problems were unnoticed by citizen developers, but they nevertheless existed. Here are just a few:

  • Servers without security and backup.
  • Lack of scalability.
  • Exposed credit card and other confidential information, and ignored compliance rules.
  • Proliferating silos of data leading to significant time wasting and error-prone engineering to combine or extract data using cut-and-paste or import/exports.
  • Duplicated data that is often not current, and many times inaccurate.
  • Difficulty aggregating and reporting across applications.
  • Invisibility of calculations and other business rules to the rest of the organization.
  • No audit trail, and difficulty preventing tampering without expending significant effort.
  • Sub-standard quality applications with complex data structures and poorly developed logic.
  • No version control and change control and no single source of truth.
  • The need to be involved in taking care of the underlying hardware and software, keeping it up-to-date, dealing with licensing issues, creating and maintaining databases that are readily available elsewhere – the accumulated amount of time users devote to these activities reduces the time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Salesforce to the rescue!

When the Salesforce platform came along offering excellent tools for citizen developers, almost all these problems either disappeared, or were made much easier to deal with. For example:

  • A single, unified platform that offers all the typical functionality a citizen developer may need, with easy-to-use tools.
  • The consistent use of the same security profiles and authentication methods across all solutions.
  • A single place for information sharing is provided through a common repository that includes databases and content.
  • A holistic view of the organization across applications, departments and information silos is facilitated.
  • Access to an extensive ecosystem of developers, applications and services that can simply “plug in” to the platform, thereby eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Decreased time to market by eliminating the decision-making process regarding what technology to use, what hardware to procure, and what software to install and maintain.
  • Reduced training and support costs, by making community support more effective with a greater number of participants.
  • Effective social networking by having everyone on a single platform.
  • A single place for customers to interact with your organization, instead of having multiple points of contact.
  • License costs spread across multiple applications.
  • A database that becomes more complete and reflective of the organization.
  • The ability to implement cross-functional workflows.
  • A cadre of experts in the platform emerges faster.
  • Over time, the value of the platform increases. Because the platform provides a consistent approach to applications, the organization benefits from reuse across multiple projects – reuse of processes, technology, and people and their skills.
  • Organizations can start small, realize immediate value, then scale quickly to meet more and different business demands.
  • When new functionality is provided by the platform, all the applications already built on the platform automatically and immediately inherit that functionality.

So what’s the problem?

For decades, many IT organizations have been dealing with developers outside of the IT department as if they were insurgents – their weapons were Excel and Access. – Mike Rollings (Gartner), Citizen Development: Reinventing the Shadows of IT

In the early days of Salesforce, IT was rarely involved. In fact, Salesforce was a perfect Shadow IT solution. For one thing, being in the cloud, there was no need to go to IT to provide servers or buy software. IT thought Salesforce was a Mickey Mouse application, and didn’t want to get involved. 

As time went on, it became apparent that the Salesforce platform was a powerful alternative for developing complex custom application. Slowly but surely, IT became more and more involved.

But now the problem is that corporate IT is starting to take full control of the platform, and it’s becoming much more difficult for users to simply select an app off AppExchange and install it, or outsource development of applications for their needs that will run on the platform.

While some measure of control is essential, asserting too much control, and vetting what users can and cannot install and build, is beginning to seriously hamper the burgeoning Salesforce-based Shadow IT. 

It manifests itself most readily in the “not invented here” attitude that IT is so prone to express. “We can do it better and cheaper” is a common refrain.

This is a serious obstacle to a flourishing Shadow IT that is now finally in the light.

If this continues, we will be back to the bad old days. Shadow IT will retreat into the darkness, away from the prying eyes of IT, and the same types of problems that plagued Shadow IT before will start rearing their ugly heads.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For those organizations that understand the power of facilitating citizen developers on the Salesforce platform, the benefits will grow exponentially. Those that don’t will miss a golden opportunity to leverage the full potential of a robust group of citizen developers.

The citizen developer sits on the front lines of experimentation and business innovation. The innovation sought is not solely big-bang innovation, but all types of innovation that happen within the flow of business execution.  – Mike Rollings (Gartner), Citizen Development: Reinventing the Shadows of IT

2 thoughts on “Salesforce, Shadow IT & the Growing Threat of Corporate IT on Citizen Developers

  1. I partially agree with this.
    I believe in the need of a Business Systems type team, separate from IT, but not the Citizen Dev.
    I’m all for giving a citizen developer a sandbox to go play in, test and figure out if what they are building actually works, but that’s as far as they should go.
    Then governance needs to kick in. That’s where a solid release cycle and documentation kick in.
    The Business Systems team needs to own the release, run the governance and make sure work has gone through UAT.

  2. Hi Adam. Thanks for the input.

    I agree with you, that would be the ideal situation. The key is to prevent IT from being a roadblock, and giving users a way to get things done quickly.

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