This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

The 'App Economy' and its Meaning for IT

As the activity of app-writing spreads inside corporations, IT's role will shift, but its importance to the business could grow.

Hundreds of thousands of people are creating apps. Before long they may be doing so within your company, if they aren't already. Here's how IT can make that work for everybody.

You've probably read about the new report commissioned by TechNet that attempts to quantify the size of what they christen the "app economy." The technology trade group estimates that since 2007, beginning when the iPhone opened up to developers, 466,000 US jobs have been created in the app economy. (TechNet is somewhat liberal in its definition of an "app," including not only services and tools that run on smartphones and tablets, but applications written to Facebook's platform as well. Thus the survey includes the employees and the infrastructure around Zynga and similar companies.) Of the total, 155,000 are tech-related jobs -- app developers and technical support personnel.

The app economy accounts for a fraction of the broader technology industry, which TechNet estimates at about 3.5 million. But it still represents more jobs than any of software publishing, wireless telecomm carriers, electronic shopping, or Internet publishing / search portals.

The phenomenon is spread our around the country, in part because participating in the app economy does not require any heavyweight infrastructure. An idea, an Internet connection, and a smartphone suffice. TechNet estimates that almost 70 percent of app economy jobs are located outside of California and New York.

DIY app development
As familiarity with the process of generating apps diffuses in the population, the trend is bound to show up inside corporations. Do-it-yourself (DIY) app development is spreading across corporate America, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.com. NetApp Inc. invited its 10,000 employees to develop apps for both inside and customer-facing use. The result after a year is that even workers without technical expertise are building mobile apps for use on the job. Many of them used the services of firms such as Socialize Inc.'s AppMakr, Taptera, and Mobile Roadie, which are part of a mobile-app development market that grossed $20.5 billion in 2011.

NetApp reviews employee-produced apps before allowing them into its internal app store; it has found that 90 percent of the apps require at least some rework before they are ready for a wider audience.

How IT wins
While on the face of it DIY app development looks like a threat to traditional IT roles and responsibilities, it doesn't have to be that way. IT can and should be involved in vetting internally developed apps through the traditional lenses of security and compliance. It doesn't have to be all "Dr. No," either. The agile IT department will work to establish partnerships with the lines of business in order to find the best ways to compete and succeed in the marketplace. However many people around the corporation write apps, IT will continue to be center of excellence for technology know-how, and the department can and should leverage that position to advance the goals of the agile corporation.