November 13, 2012

End User Development: Asset or Liability?

Post by: Kurt Wondra

Kurt Wondra is high-energy, well-rounded IT consultant who started his career as a Software Engineer and quickly realized he had a knack for business analysis and project management (as his many clients can attest to).

End User Development (EUD) can be a valuable asset in a given organization while also being one of its most significant liabilities. The idea of IT projects being managed and executed by business/knowledge workers, not IT professionals, is not a new topic.

Over the years, tools like Microsoft Access and SharePoint have allowed savvy business users to craft their own solutions for themselves or their teams. Business users who “know enough to be dangerous” have been building their own solutions of varying scopes, sizes, and strategic importance outside of governance from IT.

The disconnect between the IT team and the business brought about by EUD is a significant issue. The idea of non-IT personnel designing, building, and implementing IT systems should raise immediate red flags in all our minds.

Does that mean that all EUD is bad? Not at all.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of End User Development:

Primary Benefits of End User Development

  • Faster Development Cycles
    • No waiting for approval(s) from (an) IT governance body(ies).
    • Time savings by avoiding formalized processes via e-mails, instant messages, and conference calls between the business user(s) and the developer(s) and/or project manager(s) on the IT side.
  • Higher level of End User Satisfaction
    • The business user knows exactly what they want (even if they have a hard time fully explaining it to others). Their self-developed results are very rarely anything less than “a bull’s-eye”.
  • Reduced IT Workload
    • IT will not need to budget, plan, hire, etc. for a pure EUD project; this will allow for funds, effort, and energy to be focused on higher prioritized initiatives.

Primary Risks of End User Development

  • Lack of a Quality Standard
    • Development – Think about it this way, we have a non-IT person writing some form of code. Would you let a non-Marketing team member draft your press releases? A non-HR team member draft an internal memo about your benefits?
    • QA Process – There is typically no process requiring IT approval first and then business approval second. A general feel of “Yeah, I think this will get me what I need.” is about as advanced as these quality assurance efforts go on most EUD projects.
      o Project & Product Management – No one is looking out for the long-term health of the product or its overall impact on the business. (Total cost of ownership, time invested, next phases, ROI, etc.)
  • Greater Likelihood of Errors and Issues – We all complain, and are upset, when one of our favorite sites or mobile apps has a bug or any other minor issue. These were built by professionals with years of experience and training. How sturdy and strong do you think an application built by a non-IT professional will be? Murphy’s Law tends to surface often in EUD projects.
  • Inability to Scale and Grow Effectively – Concepts of efficiency, reusability, and scalability are not normally considered in most EUD. The goal is to get from point A to point B the fastest way possible. Good IT teams know that while we want to get from A to B in a speedy manner, we need to do that in a fashion where we maximize on the work already completed and set a good basis for future enhancement requests.  We know that someday, we’ll probably also want to move from point B to C.
  • Increased Pressure on IT Team – There are inevitable points in EUD where the business users will need to call on the knowledge of the IT team. These are the points when IT feels that blame is assigned their way and are now expected to fix problems, issues, and even produce significant enhancements on something they were not a part of Implementing.

In Conclusion

Not all End User Development is bad even though one could draw that conclusion from the above. Good EUD requires special attention by IT managers. Keys to successful EUD are:

  1. Keep the scope of these projects very specific and narrow.
  2. IT should be consulted before the start of any new project. (They may have knowledge of an existing tool to help the business user(s) accomplish their task which they were not initially aware of.)
  3. .  The best EUD solutions are shared jointly between IT staff and the key business users.  The business users can articulate the problem to be solved while IT personnel can help guide for the right tool to be used to for the job.

Keeping these thoughts in mind can enable End User Development to be a valuable asset for your organization rather than having it become an ever-increasing liability.

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