One of the great things about Dreamforce is that some of the world's top CIOs and technology leaders are encouraged to come forward and talk frankly about their challenges and experiences using the Salesforce platform in a public forum. I attended a number of these sessions this week, but one that really stood out saw Eurostar, online grocer Ocado and pharma giant Eli Lilly discussing how they are wanting to shift from the idea of 'shadow IT' to 'citizen development'.
Shadow IT, the phrase coined for business users circumventing the IT department to buy their own technology in the cloud, has long carried with it negative connotations, as it implies a lack of central control. CIOs typically don't like it and it can lead to messy environments. However, what was interesting about the session I attended, was that all the CIOs and CTOs on the panel were essentially advocating shadow IT – but renaming it citizen development. They want to do this, however, using the Salesforce App Cloud platform, so that there is a high level of integration, consistency across apps being created and the right controls are in place.
Paul Clarke, CIO at Ocado, began by saying that he wants to use the Salesforce App Cloud as a platform that sits somewhere in between the skills needed for spreadsheet creation and those required for full-blown application development. He said:
We have a mixed view about spreadsheets, I think they have their place and they always will do. They are part of the agile mix that people outside of the technology division that I run need to be able to play with and innovate and learn from. But clearly, although I'm not a fan of the term shadow IT, because I also view it as a positive thing, I think it can definitely go too far and the cat can get out of the bag.
I think that's where having other kinds of tools that can add another layer in that kind of series of development tools between spreadsheets at one end and full blown, tightly controlled apps at the other. I think that's been part of the journey with the Salesforce platform, to put that other layer in place to create an alternative to using spreadsheets.
Clarke added that Salesforce provides a platform that mirrors the platform that Ocado has created for its automated warehouses and supply chain distribution – in that it is horizontally integrated. He said:
We have huge automated warehouses instead of shops. But we built all that ourselves so we take for granted that we can do that horizontal integration and optimisation. We take that for granted on the external platform that we run our businesses on. But we also wanted to replicate that internally in terms of the platform that we use to create our internal apps. We didn't want to bring in apps that would do a certain thing but when you wanted to optimise or integrate across them, you hit boundaries that were outside your control.
Reporting, APIs being generated, or mobile support, commissioning – that just happens out the box and allows us to focus on adding our value, which is to build those apps that work for us and fit our business model. As opposed to changing our business model to fit an app. The other key thing is to get software developers out of the loop, because I cannot ever get internal apps at the top of the list. So getting analysts building on top of the platform is key.
Eurostar CIO Antoine De Kerviler agreed with Clarke and said that he is excited about the idea of citizen developers on the Salesforce platform because of this level integration and control. Whereas previously the IT department at Eurostar had actually been telling employees to go off and develop, which in turn created silos that are now difficult to manage. De Kerviler said:
Being a high speed train operator, we have lots of audits, safety audits and so on. And so you have a situation where an auditor will come in and they will say “this is not the way you should be doing something” – which results in you creating an Excel spreadsheet or an Access database [to do what the auditor suggested]. And the next thing you know is that the database is then an essential element of your certification. And so it can't be moved anymore and the right to run as a train company relies on an Access database that's sitting on a PC on somebody's desk. Hopefully that data file is in the G drive and it's backed up!
That's the reality because one day a guy came to IT asking for something and he needed it quite fast. IT said, what's your database schema? He didn't understand that and so he left and never came back and did it on his own. Trying to respond faster doesn't work. What we've found is we've told them to just do it. I heard the name citizen developer for the first time and I love it.
That's what we are going to try and do. We have identified ten people already that are building a centre of excellence. We are going to name that Citizen Developers, where we are telling people we are paying for this tool, it does your back-ups, its traceable, it's linked to our intranet, it will only give you benefits.
Vice President and CTO at Eli Lilly, Michael Meadows, said that the pharma company is doing something verysimilar. However, he is still trying to convince those potential citizen developers that the Salesforce platform is the easiest and quickest route to app creation. Overcoming culture and forcing new habits will be key. Meadows said:
We too are trying to strip away the negative connotations of shadow IT, to making it a positive thing of citizen development. Even citizen developers in the context of our IT guys, not just the business. The more we can make that a natural flow and easy ability, it will deal with the other issues of people thinking they just know Excel. Excel will always be a part of our lives, but key deliverables will operate through our corporate systems.
I'd say we are still moving up the educational curve. When we first committed to the Salesforce App Cloud, I remember in our kick off session, that our natural sort of gravitational forces were trying to put process and controls and documents and validation around that. And the mantra I try to get across to our team is 'if it feels light, it's about right'.
Believe me, we will put the necessary controls in place. We have to assure that. So let's focus on, how do we make this agile and viable to shift from what we always used to describe as built to last to built to adapt? However you look at it, it's about agility, flexibility and speed of response, whilst still having quality controls.
Disclaimer: Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.