In the beginning there was dBase II.
Yes, II. There was no dBase I, and shortly after dBaseIV there was 0, as superior products eclipsed this, the original end-user app dev tool.
Fast forward thirty years to the present and it appears the entire EUC (end-user computing) category is failing. This makes no sense.
No, it isn’t extinct yet. There is, for example, the venerable Microsoft Access, although anyone who thinks Microsoft is giving it much attention isn’t paying much attention. If Microsoft had any interest in the product, it long ago would have become a highly publicized Azure development environment.
At least it’s economical: $110 buys you a license.
There’s QuickBase. I know little about the product other than that from a features and functionality perspective it looks promising. And it’s cloud-based. But it costs a user-unfriendly $180 per client per year.
Also, an alarm bell: Intuit recently sold QuickBase off to a private equity firm. For the most part private equity firms buy companies, starve the P&L of investments, and flip the company before revenues crash.
Draw your own conclusions.
Apple’s FileMaker Pro is reportedly a strong product, as it should be for $330 per user license. There’s also a cloud version, priced at, as one reseller, amusingly puts it, “from $1.63/day.” Let’s see … carry the 1 … that’s $595 per year, per user. I thought the cloud was supposed to be cheap.
These are three of the more prominent EUC products. Like I say, this makes no sense, given what we’re hearing from the trend-meisters: (1) Everything is moving to the cloud; and (2) IT is going the way of the dodo: Infrastructure is leaving the data center in favor of the cloud, while app dev is leaving the IT organization to become shadow IT, embedded in the business and out of control.
If shadow IT in the cloud is supposed to be a Next Big Thing, why aren’t the big cloud players — in particular Microsoft, Amazon, and Google — fielding products to cash in on the trend?
What’s particularly strange about this situation is that we are, for the first time, in a position to field application development environments that truly could make business managers independent of IT — that could take care of just about every detail of application design.
It’s now technologically possible to create:
- Wizards that provide a dialog that results in a normalized data design (I’m old-fashioned) — one that makes use of IT’s APIs to provide meaningful integration and avoid the creation of duplicate data fields.
- Automated form generation for PCs, tablet, and smartphones that flow naturally from the data design.
- Visual workflow design tools, so systems can let users know there are forms to be opened and work to be done.
IT won’t be irrelevant in this new shadow/cloud universe we’re imagineering. But it probably does need to recognize the need to get out of the app dev business and into the integration business.
So far, this is just me grousing about the sorry state of the world — less an occupational hazard than a chronological one, but a hazard nonetheless.
What’s in it for you as an IT leader?
First and foremost, take integration seriously. It’s mostly a matter of solving a problem once instead of over and over again.
The key: Especially for IT shops that mostly license COTS and SaaS software and integrate it rather than building their own, build an architecture that makes systems of record and sources of truth separate and distinct.
Systems of record are maintained and managed by IT, which keeps track of which system is the central repository of what information and which systems have to be kept synchronized to the central repository.
Sources of truth are SOAP or REST-based APIs. When shadow IT efforts … and for that matter, formal IT efforts … need to retrieve or update information from the company’s official databases, they consult the sources of truth, not the underlying systems of record.
Next: if you want to do everyone a favor and not force them to make Excel perform unnatural acts, settle on a suitable end-user computing tool in spite of the state of the market, connect it to your APIs, and actively promote its use, both inside and outside IT.
You’ll be amazed at just how much more automation your company achieves, and how much more satisfactory it is as well.