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New development tools that empower employees are becoming available, and it feels like the '90s again. But can we avoid the pain of the late 2000s that resulted from user-developed business applications?
Remember when Visual Basic, Access, and Office macros were used to solve business problems either by individuals or by little bands of self-motivated people? Many of us will have fond memories of those days, solving real business problems close to the user (or even as the user) with short turnaround and flexible requirements. "RAD" (rapid application development) was the acronym of the day. This meant developing solutions quickly with simple distribution and almost zero deployment issues. With the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, it was a great time to be involved in software. For the first time, practical solutions could be developed for problems we touch and feel every day.

Fast forward 10 years and we have realized that our organizations were running on hundreds of small applications developed by people that no longer work for the company. War stories of mainframe reports being processed through a script in a spreadsheet created by Bob, before being processed through an Access database developed by Jill, and then finally enhanced by another spreadsheet created by Ian are all too common. Each well-intentioned person (Bob, Jill, and Ian) was incrementally building in complexity using the tool they were most comfortable with. Many organizations are in still in this situation, and a number have issues upgrading office software due to this embedded debt.

Fast forward to today, and consumerization of technology has now evolved to give general users access to powerful, simple-to-use automation and app development tools. The new RAD is rapid app development: born in the cloud, delivered by a browser or mobile phone, with a zero-deployment footprint. Linking online services with tools like IFTTT (If This Then That), Muzzley, Stringify, and Microsoft Flow, people are automating their personal digital world.

Fairly recently (corporate time, not internet time), Microsoft Flow has been made available for Office 365, SharePoint 365, and Dynamics 365, delivering its power into the hands of corporate IT users. This end-user automation and integration capability, with a low barrier to entry, adds a new dimension to enterprises trying to quantify and manage shadow IT.

Are we headed to another mess of small unsupported and unknown applications linking all our critical systems together?

The answer, as always, is: it depends. It depends on your preparedness for change and embracing the benefits of the new "as-a-service" world. For most cloud services, resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency of usage at the business level. Unlike the '90s, it is the provider's hardware that is running your applications. Enterprises need to use this transparency to actively manage the use and uptake of these new workflow and integration tools. For instance, using Microsoft Flow's management tools, administrators can create environments and data protection policies that will allow organizations to leverage the capability and creativity of their staff while ensuring security, cost, and compliance are managed.

We recommend finding your "power users" and early adopters and creating a Flow environment with just the connectors they use, balancing data protection policies to enable users while protecting the organization. 

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