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An Expanding Career Path for System Administrators: Low-Code Development

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An Expanding Career Path for System Administrators: Low-Code Development

November 02, 2016

Just as cloud taketh away traditional IT jobs, the cloud giveth too. 

System Admins are a prime example. Like all IT professionals, System Administrators must come to the realization that the days of their primary job being to manage infrastructure are in the past.  Cloud-first movement enables  the traditional role of the system administrator to evolve and expand in unexpected ways.

System administrators sometimes find themselves tasked with performing debugging duties, and that requires a familiarity with computer coding and programming. Cloud-based application development platforms provide an opportunity to system administrators to take a lead role in facilitating their organizations’ shift to a cloud-first IT architecture.

While cloud has been an option for more than a decade, we’ve finally reached a historic milestone where the majority of enterprises see the cloud as their first choice. According to a recent survey by ServiceNow (News - Alert), 52 percent of respondents report being cloud-first (i.e., that new apps and services are hosted in the cloud as opposed to on infrastructure enterprise owns and manages).  This 52 percent grows to 77 percent within two years, showing that this cloud-first shift is moving fast.

This shift has significant implications for IT departments:

  • Eighty-nine percent of cloud-first companies say IT lacked the necessary skills to help them make this shift
  • Eighty-eight percent feel cloud could be a replacement for a formal IT department

Interestingly, when asked what is driving this shift, 76 percent of respondents said the rise of DevOps was a somewhat to extremely large driver.

These findings all point to the need for system administrators (SAs) to acquire new skills that will qualify them to expedite and manage the transition. This rise in the need for knowledge workers with programming skills presents SAs with an opportunity to broaden and shift their skill sets towards building business apps. This means they need to be able to analyze requirements for new applications, understand data architecture, design thinking, and testing and deploying applications. This will also allow SAs to be closer to the business problem and have a front-row seat at where digital transformation occurs.

The enterprise that implements a delegated development policy, in which IT provides a platform for development with tools that are easy to use but within metaphorical “guard rails” that  protect the integrity of the IT system and data as well as prevents line of business users  from accessing data they don’t have permission to see, encourages system administrators and other low coders to build apps that automate manual processes and improve their productivity levels.  System administrators will serve themselves well by learning some basic coding skills so that they are able to implement the growing demand for a delegated and low-code development approach. 

Forrester (News - Alert) defines low-code development platforms as those that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment. The analyst firm sees three dominant forces shaping the landscape for low-code platforms:

  1. A drive to expand and diversify the developer talent pool
  2. A shift towards general-purpose usage of low-code platforms
  3. Increased funding that validates the market for low-code

Chances are many enterprises already have a viable low code platform, and potential low coders don’t even realize it. System Administrators may likely be running a SaaS (News - Alert) application to support the business that low coders are not aware is available to them. A number of SaaS platforms are built on an application platform-as-a-service (PaaS) that offers tools for declarative programming that low coders can use to define, customize, and create new apps without writing a line of code.  By having the skills to enable and implement this process safely, System Administrators can become the champions of this new self-service IT model -- which should not be mistaken as Shadow IT.

This does not lobby for the creation of a free-for-all environment that increases the risks to systems and sensitive data. Mitigating the risks of Shadow IT requires a low-code development environment where IT maintains complete control over privileges for information and systems access. What changes is that IT goes from being the roadblock and a constant source of frustration for users to an internal service provider that encourages and enables innovation throughout the organization.

Further, these key considerations below support the reasons for SAs to add coding to their skill set in order to launch a delegated and low-code development program that will increase the productivity of their enterprise: 

  1. Embrace the MVP (minimum viable product): Low code development offers the benefit of speed. Getting apps in the hands of your users as quickly as possible allows for quick feedback and iterative development. Users prefer apps that do one thing, maybe two, very well. Help them understand that clunky apps that try to be a Swiss Army knife fail to do any one thing well. Rather than building apps that are Swiss Army knives, find one purpose for your app and make sure it is great at it.
  2. Good workflow can automate manual processes: Most employees in your enterprise are stuck in the past – getting work done is unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming. A good low-code development platform should be able to replace email and spreadsheets with collaborative workspaces and automated business processes to streamline the flow of work.
  3. Think horizontally, not vertically: Many organizations are trapped in an individual line of business world where optimization is built around individual departments. This requires you to lead the shift from the vertical, siloed and departmental approach to thinking horizontally across all departments. A good low code platform speeds transformation by enabling you to architect, design and implement based on the requirements across the entire company. That is what drives digital transformation.

System administrators, like all IT professionals, must come to the realization that the days of their primary job being to manage infrastructure are in the past. And that’s a good thing. The steady migration of enterprise systems and applications from the data center to the cloud enables them to focus more on fostering innovation among all users and giving them options so as not to go around IT policies and best practices. System administrators can help to set the example for all users and prove that working with IT will lead to faster turnaround times and more customized solutions. What’s needed is a delegated and low-code development environment that IT can control but at the same time allow the line of business to move at the speed of business with their application requirements.

About the Author

Robert Duffner is a Senior Director of Product Marketing and Enterprise Cloud Evangelist for ServiceNow, the enterprise cloud company. Robert is a cloud computing and enterprise software industry veteran and has held key product roles for BEA (News - Alert) Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Apigee and Salesforce. He launched Microsoft Azure back in 2010 as the product manager and launched Salesforce Lightning in 2014 where he led technical platform marketing. Robert headed product marketing for Apigee in 2012 and afterwards advised APIphany as its CMO (acquired by Microsoft (News - Alert) in 2013).

Edited by Alicia Young

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