I am obviously old enough to remember Charles Bronson in his most famous acting role: as a vigilante, ruthlessly taking care of any criminal crossing his path. Deserted by the police and judges, he has nothing but himself – and a few nasty street fighting skills – to get his justice. And he is quite good at it too, although admittedly half of the city is blown up and the resulting mess takes weeks to clean up.
Not exactly your regular art film house movie, no.
But a useful metaphor here: slowly but surely we are seeing the birth of IT Vigilantes: people outside the scope of the IT department that create their own solutions, simply because they feel that they are not enough supported by the corporate entities. In our TechnoVision approach we refer to it as a pent-up demand: as consumers, we know exactly how to use technology to achieve our goals. And we expect nothing less than the same experience when we return to the offices on Monday morning. If there is a gap – and usually there is – this can lead to a lot of frustration, especially with the IT department in denial or too absorbed by the challenge of keeping their existing, aging systems alive.
Left to their own devices, people will start to develop applications themselves, even bring their own laptops to work. And it easier than ever to create solutions. Gartner notices the trend as well: analyst Erik Knipps coins the concept of Citizen Developers (with 0.95 certainty more politically correct than IT Vigilante) for it. He mentions four areas that help citizen development to advance: the possibility to customise software for personal use – in our TechnoVision approach described as the You Experience -, the delivery of services through the cloud, – software as a service -, the growing digital awareness among workers and the availability of easy-to-use, yet powerful development tools.

Indeed, there are virtually no barriers anymore to buy and use applications from cloud-providers like Salesforce.com, Google Applications, Cordys and NetSuite, requiring nothing more than access to the Internet and a browser. Also, with tools such as JackBe and Corizon, building enterprise mashups on top of whatever is available internally and externally, feels like a snap. Not to mention Microsoft, bringing ‘Self-service Business Intelligence’ for office workers, through project ‘Gemini’, cloud provider Good Data that supports open, collaborative development of intelligence applications and platforms such as Ning and Yammer on which entire social networks can be build.
From the perspective of the IT department these seemingly rogue developers at the business side can be considered a threat that must be hunted and stopped at all cost (and indeed, some of the more desperately enlightened refer to the good, old practice of closing firewall ports and blocking URL’s). But from the positive side, citizen developers have exactly the right business insight, skills and street credibility to build the solutions that are needed on the spot. Unleashing that potential can both liberate the IT department, freeing up space to work on more complex challenges and will increase the satisfaction with IT at the business side.
Of course, this requires the right amount of open standards, architectural thinking and an invisible infostructure. And it should be nobody else than the CIO, driving the creating of such a platform for citizen development.
It is a necessity to keep things manageable and effective. After all, we don’t really want our IT landscape wrecked by raging Charles Bronsons (it’s fun in the movies, though).