The layers behind the move to the cloud

Microsoft's app model puts power in the end user's hand

Christian Buckley

by Christian Buckley on 4/21/2014

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"The more simple the user interface, the more complex the back-end and administration." This statement still stands out from my early years as a technical project manager working at Pacific Bell (Pacific Telesis Shared Services, to be exact). It came from a business intelligence (BI) vendors providing training for a new and very complex toolset for the power users that I supported. Having worked with SharePoint in more recent years, and with several other platforms over the years (from portfolio management systems to knowledge management platforms), I have found this statement to be true time after time.

With the shift of many key productivity applications and back-end storage platforms to the cloud, we're beginning to see the transition of corporate IT priorities and budgets. These are moving from the purview of IT management up to the front office, where marketing, legal, and administrative functions have a much stronger voice in what products and services are acquired -- and who is managing them going forward. The fact that the role of IT is shifting is not new -- we've been talking about this for a couple years now. But what is relatively new (or, I should say, now beginning to be felt) is the pressure on the business to deliver measurable results.

If the business is driving the decisions around your technology, then your solutions must be manageable by the business. I remember battling it out with more than one manager or with an end user group who believed they needed more control over their IT environments. But they then wanted IT to retain accountability over those systems, should something go wrong. It's a relatively new, yet growing scenario -- and every company will need to figure out how to address it for themselves.

The complexity of IT will hidden to most end users, until they are no longer able to walk over to IT or a dev team and ask for more features. Honestly, much of that is a good thing. Your corporate data may reside locally, or through a privately hosted service, or be available through the public cloud. Your app might be developed internally or purchased through some kind of public or private marketplace, providing a streamlined ability to buy the tools you need, point them toward your data, and be up and running.

Microsoft's app model is a clear indication of this shift. The app model puts the capability in the hands of the end user, but for the power user -- for the user who needs capability beyond what is available through the app store, things get more complex.

If you need more rich, robust solution than what can be offered through the app model, how that solution gets built and supported gets more complex, and more expensive. You may no longer have the technical know-how on your team to meet those specialty requirements. Now you'll need to work with an offsite team. Or, if you do have a shared resource within the broader company, their time is going to be scarce, their skills in high demand. Another result might be less experimentation outside of what the defined apps can provide, or even some kind of controlled innovation within the limitations of these apps and the companies that create them and/or control the marketplace.

While the cloud promises to help reduce operational IT costs, the complexity of non-standard solutions could very well drive those teams looking to innovate toward "cottage IT" solutions, where they once again allocate funds and skills and go behind closed doors to build their customized solutions.

In our rush to simplify the front-end, are we just making the back-end more complex? Is this move toward the cloud just part of the IT cycle, or does the app model change everything?

Originally posted on

Topic: Business Productivity

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