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Nationwide Taps 'Citizen Developers' For Faster Apps

A team outside IT builds small apps that wouldn't be economical with a robust development process.
Bob Cline is adamant about this point. "We absolutely do not want to do IT work," says Cline, who's VP of internal sales and service for Nationwide Financial. Why does a business leader need to make this point? Because Cline has a five-person "citizen developer" team, a group of tech-savvy non-technologists who create lightweight productivity apps using toolsets such as the automated Web development tool WaveMaker and Eglue business rules engine.

The idea behind the team is that some technology jobs don't merit IT's attention--and IT's cost and time overhead. Cline, who's in charge of the group's call center, among other responsibilities, has the team focus on apps that "fill in the gaps" around major IT systems such as CRM and ERP.

IT will create a major CRM system, Cline says, and it will meet 80% of everyone's needs, which makes it hugely successful. But then employees fill the other 20% with ad hoc Excel spreadsheets or Access databases. The citizen developer team aims to fill those gaps in a more controlled way, but without an expensive application delivery effort.

An example is the group's Firm Information Tool--FIT. Nationwide Financial sells through third-party financial advisers, and each firm has different guidelines about what information Nationwide should give that firm's advisers. FIT displays that information on a call center rep's screen.

The team built FIT in a month, back in 2005. "If I had IT build that for me, it would cost $1 million, it would take me nine months, and I wouldn't be able to make changes as my business changed," he says. FIT is used by about 600 people, which is the upper limit of end users for apps the development team will do. Some are used by as few as five people. "When you're doing something that might be used by five people, the overhead for a strong system development methodology, which is important when you're doing a big application, just kills you," Cline says.

Cline says he's had some difficult conversations with IT when they think his group is overstepping. "My response is 'What alternative are you providing me?'" he says. "And they don't have one, which helps me get them over that." Cline says you need clear ground rules to build trust; his have included that anything creating a financial transaction or going outside the firewall is central IT work, for example.

Cline emphasizes his team almost always is leveraging enterprise systems that IT implemented. "You did all the heavy lifting," he tells IT, "and we're putting the icing on the cake to let more people see it."

Go to the main story:
End User 2.0: When Employees Have All The Answers

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Greg Douglass, Global Lead for Technology Strategy & Advisory, Accenture
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter