Rogue applications not such rogues anymore…

In a recent column that he penned for Government Computer News, Michael Daconta, the chief technology officer at Accelerated Information Management and former metadata program manager at the Department of Homeland Security, discussed “rogue applications” being developed on Microsoft Access within government agency divisions. He also discussed the headache that they’ve become for the enterprise level IT departments.

Michael’s argument is interesting. He states that the ease of Access programming is driving divisional IT staff to create applications to help them reach their missions. These applications, however, are not necessarily scalable across the entire agency and often impede universal management and oversight from the enterprise level.

What’s also interesting, this article was written November 9th of this year. Not years ago. I honestly disagree with Michael on many of his points, due in large part with the proliferation of cloud computing and the quickly shifting federal IT landscape.

Enterprise level IT applications have large and wide-reaching implications for organizations. I compare them to aircraft carriers – they are responsible for a large pre-chartered area, house and protect large full time crews and have a lengthy but necessary supply chain. They also take a long time to start moving and are even harder to turn once they get going. This makes it critical that divisional IT shops that represent a mission, line of business or discreet operation create applications that are smaller and designed to help their particular group accomplish their tasking.

Pacing, innovation and agility comes from mission teams, not core IT. And that’s not a bad thing. The core enterprise IT department is there to put security and other infrastructure in place that allows this innovation at the divisional level.

What’s driving the creation of these “rogue applications” today is small shops embracing cloud computing. This turn to the cloud is because they don’t have large budgets. Also, they don’t want to go through the cumbersome approval channels and deal with government bureaucracy. The cloud enables this application creation without a lot of cost or red tape.

What’s even more important, if the larger enterprise IT department sees value in these applications and it comes time to scale them across the entire agency, the cloud makes it easy and seamless.

Also, core applications aren’t made on Access anymore. The new applications being constructed in divisional IT departments are true “N-tier” Web applications with data housed in SQL, MySQL, NoSQL and object based repositories. Many are premised on new rapid development frameworks like Spring, Heroku, Ruby and Groovy. This is because distributed IT enterprises have distributed application demands, which Web applications meet.

In today’s federal government, IT needs to move at a business or mission pace. Agility, flexibility, cost and scalability are beyond benefits, they’re essential. The development of these “rogue applications” is simply enabling the divisions of federal agencies to accomplish their missions faster and more effectively.

These “rogue applications” aren’t problems because of a lack of oversight and scalability. Since they’re being developed in the cloud, they are easily scalable and easily overseen by core IT. If they’re being built the right way, there’s no reason for the process to be isolated. These new applications are scalable, Web-sharable and Web-enabled, which is a byproduct of the new development frameworks and cloud computing. If your IT department and development team is doing it the old way, fire them and hire a new one.

The fact is, “rogue applications” aren’t the evil villains that Michael makes them out to be. In today’s government IT landscape, enterprise-level IT is too slow and not agile enough to help create the applications and tools needed for small divisions of agencies to better accomplish their missions. “Rogue applications” are essential in the government doing its job faster, more effectively and with increased efficiency, and the cloud is enabling them.

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