Solutions in Days: The Rise of Rapid Application Development

Jun 2, 2015
8 Min Read

Gone are the days when one would put in a request to IT, wait, and then wait some more. Employees with little to no technical background -- in some organizations, called "citizen developers" -- are now taking the initiative to develop applications that address their everyday business needs.

In particular, for Intuit QuickBase, rapid application development (RAD) refers to the use of a low-code platform that enables citizen developers to build and customize cloud-based applications on the fly -- all while ensuring that rigorous IT governance and controls are met and maintained.

This week at the Intuit QuickBase #EMPOWER 2015 conference, John Rymer, Vice President and Principal Analyst with Forrester Research, moderated a panel featuring RAD experts Laszlo Budavolgyi, head of RAD initiatives for Ceva Sante Animale, Kevin Fish; senior director of field systems for Wingstop Restaurants; David Maskasky, software developer for Tesla Motors; Roger Sippl, chief of cloud strategies for Intuit QuickBase; and Jeffrey Wessels, continuous improvement analyst for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Here is what the panelists had to say about QuickBase and its role in RAD.

Why use a program like QuickBase?

Laszlo: Our company is growing very quickly. We receive new demands every day, and we must have a mechanism to respond to users effectively. QuickBase allows us to deliver new applications in days.

David: People start with Excel but quickly realize it only takes them so far. QuickBase has gone viral in our organization. Once people realize what it can do, they talk about it, and there’s explosive growth. We now have over 5800 users.

Kevin: This is an on demand world. Employees are no longer willing to wait for IT to develop a software solution. There’s a new generation coming up in the workplace, the millennials, and even if they are non-technical, they are ready and willing to dive right in. It’s in their blood.

Roger: It took the software industry a long time to come around to the concept of “low code.” The program Basic was supposed to allow anyone to code, but citizen development didn’t really take off until now. Why? As an industry, we’ve come to the realization that things have to be obvious and easy. The advent of the browser has made this possible.

Speaking of citizen development, what are your thoughts on this new trend?

Roger: In many situations, the backlog grows faster than what developers can produce. But fortunately, many fundamental problems have already been solved and you don’t always have to build something custom. Word processors, spreadsheets, and databases were the original citizen development tools, but they were managed by IT. QuickBase and the cloud make citizen development easier because they’ve improved the user experience. Of course, schemas and data types are still challenges, but overall non-technical users are much better equipped to participate.

David: I work in a business role and I and most of my colleagues are citizen developers. We don’t have computer science backgrounds, but we’re using QuickBase and the solutions are robust and maintainable. As long as we stay true to the program and don’t add a whole lot of code packages on, things generally don’t break or go wrong. It’s also important to have a process for developed apps, including things like breaking down users into manageable groups, deciding whose changes will be paramount, documenting and training, and integrating with other data sources. We call ours rapid process deployment.

Jeffrey: My team is comprised of process experts, and we received some consulting help as we developed our first app. Now that we feel more comfortable, we teach others through webinars and training courses.

Kevin: When you are dealing with citizen developers, you have to teach discipline. For instance, users should be instructed to work in the Sandbox, testing changes before sending them live. We encourage people to think big but start small and scale fast. The more people are willing to learn about the platform’s functionality, the faster they can earn their way to working on larger scale apps.

Laszlo: We are all about self-service IT, empowering users to develop their own applications. We can’t meet all demands at the same time, so we give our people tools and best practices and set them free. When apps get complex and/or need to scale, though, IT may need to step in. We keep an eye on things – that’s just good IT governance.

On the topic of setting people free, what do you do when people bypass core business processes?

David: Ask why users are doing this. Will they stop if you come up with a process that’s more convenient? Our goal is to ease operations. People mean well but they have their own business outcomes to consider. If a process is too cumbersome or complex, they may feel they have no choice but to bypass it.

Laszlo: Shadow IT is unfortunately an issue. The good thing about QuickBase is that it allows us to control usage through administrative rights and ongoing monitoring. It’s easier to manage than say, a standalone system like a spreadsheet.

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