One of the most interesting presentations at last week’s Open Source Business Conference was not, strictly speaking, about (or even particularly connected to) open source at all.
Robert Lefkowitz (known in the open source world as r0ml) gave a talk titled “Building the Software Deli.” A link to the presentation may be found here.
The deli is his attempt (he’s a senior IT executive in a large financial services company) to avoid the bottleneck of IT application development, in which new applications are forced to follow a heavyweight process and architecture approach, even if they are extremely small and would be overwhelmed by standard IT processes.
The metaphor is a deli, in which you pay someone to prepare a quick meal for you, even though you could do it yourself. This is a way for IT to enable end users to get useful, quick, and small applications built; in other words, for IT to proffer “shadow IT” rather than force end users to circumvent IT in their efforts to get small-scale applications implemented to help them do their jobs.
Lefkowitz’s example was something he built to help the call center track calls. The notion is that IT sets up a group to examine requests, determine if they can be built in a few days, and, if so, passes them on to a developer/analyst to cobble something together. This is, to my mind, something like having a nurse practitioner assess and treat minor ailments, freeing physicians up to deal with complex situations. If you’ve tracked the health care situation at all over the past few years, you know what initiatives like nurse practitioners represent: an attempt to keep health care from becoming too expensive for anyone to afford. Health care faces an affordability crisis, and the move to shadow IT and this deli (nurse practitioner) IT response makes me wonder if IT isn’t facing its own affordability crisis. The difference, of course, is that people don’t generally self-treat for medicine, while for IT they are very capable of going to another provider (e.g., shadow IT) or doing it themselves, unpalatable as that may be for IT groups.
Lefkowitz noted that he used an outside hosting service and cheap SaaS apps to implement his app. And this is where open source enters the picture. Open source is germane to the deli in that open source software lies at the heart of the cheap services used to create these IT sandwiches; otherwise, the price points of the services would be too large to enable the deli concept.
However, one thing is lacking with the deli concept, and the shadow IT concept as well. Lacking interface points into core IT services (e.g., identity management), these external applications are islands of data disconnected from the data assets of the company. It’s critical for IT to provide access to core services to enable rapid responsiveness for end user needs; however, in the nature of organizations, the IT group may be reluctant to do so because it will reduce their control (and thereby stature). I guess the question is, does IT want to be part of the movement (i.e., help make the sandwiches in the deli) or see customers go down the street to another shop?