How to cope when mobile app development goes rogue

Business units often develop mobile apps on their own, turning to IT only when things go wrong. Better governance around business units and their mobile app demands can help alleviate the worst pain points.

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When Independence Blue Cross released its first mobile app in 2012, it simultaneously embraced the tech trend of the moment and perpetuated the legacy of shadow IT.

That's because the app came from the company's marketing department -- without any involvement from IT.

And like most shadow IT projects, that came back to haunt both marketing and IT.

The app, which offered patients mobile access to Independence's member website, fulfilled marketing's goal of getting a presence in the mobile space, but it was problematic nearly from the start, says Ken Russo, who was director of enterprise architecture at the Philadelphia-based nonprofit health insurance company when the app made its debut.

Developed by an outside agency hired by marketing, the app relied upon screen scraping to interface with the website. So the app broke every time the company's portal changed, which was often. That sent marketing first back to the vendor for fixes and then to IT for help.

"The solution was very fragile. It required excessive maintenance from the vendor, and the cost became prohibitive. Also, a defect fixed on one platform wasn't always fixed on the others. We needed a better way," says Russo.

That experience demonstrated to company leadership the need for a better approach. Russo was given a new role and title -- director of consumer and mobile solution delivery -- and charged with establishing a technology strategy for mobile applications. He settled on a process that includes using the Kony mobile app development platform to get apps completed as quickly as business units needed.

As organizations rush to establish a coveted mobile presence, business units are developing and deploying apps on their own, and that means IT departments are facing a whole new era of shadow IT. In fact, research firm Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 70% of mobile apps used within the enterprise will be created or adopted without IT's involvement.

The fact that so many mobile apps are developed outside of IT might seem like a blessing to overworked tech departments already facing lengthy lists of mission-critical tasks. But the situation rarely translates into fewer headaches for the tech team. In fact, outside development can cause a host of problems to land on IT's doorstep -- as Russo's experience shows.

The potential problems with rogue mobile apps can go well beyond simply taxing IT's time. Analysts say such apps could introduce infrastructure security risks if not configured and integrated properly. Similarly, such apps could put data at risk by not sufficiently protecting it from loss or theft. They also could add costs and inefficiencies to the organization if (a) different departments contract for the same services, (b) business sponsors fail to consider maintenance needs as well as integration requirements when launching pet apps, (c) they develop and deploy poor-quality apps that then fall back to IT to fix, or (d) all of the above.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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