The citizen developer sits on the front lines of experimentation and business innovation. The innovation sought is not solely big-bang innovation, but all types of innovation that happen within the flow of business execution.

– Mike Rollings (Gartner), Citizen Development: Reinventing the Shadows of IT

 

The last decade has seen an ever-growing demand for additional applications to respond to the ever-changing needs of individuals and communities. While the net number of users for these applications may be lower, the importance of the information, and the role of these individuals as innovators and change agents in the enterprise, has placed greater pressure on IT and procurement departments to source an ever increasing range of business applications. This demand by smaller numbers of users for higher numbers of applications has become known as the ‘Long-Tail’. In a period when businesses are trying to cut purchase and support costs for IT by reducing numbers of applications, these demands are particularly unhelpful.

The concept of the “long tail” originates from an article by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine in which he described the niche strategy of certain businesses such as Amazon.com or Netflix.  The Long Tail is the 80% of stuff that didn’t used to be worth selling, but now is worth selling because the technology is there to make it profitable.

Applying that concept to applications results in a graph (see below) that shows strategic applications at the top with a long tail at the bottom consisting of situational processs. The level of customization required for the IT department to build small applications for individuals made those applications far too expensive and labor intensive.   

Graph for Software

 

The characteristics of long tail software are quite different from traditional software.

But the whole purpose of software in business is to support the way an organization does business – from the way a business runs its hiring and firing to the way it orders materials to the way it tracks sales.  And while some of these are relatively common in name from business to business (recruiting, for example), in practice, they are usually highly customized.  There is therefore a very long tail of software applications that could be built.

Cinque Terre

However, because long tail applications have small audiences and limited relevance horizons, they tend not to make economic sense given the given way IT is.  The startup costs alone make building these applications prohibitive. By lowering the bar relative to the cost of developing such applications, these applications become much more viable.

 

Complexity of application

 

There is a long tail of applications that should be developed but can’t be, because the startup and deployment of building them is too high for the perceived value. By lowering these costs, we can make the long tail more feasible.

By themselves, these situational applications don’t compare in ROI to these core applications.  But many individual low-value items can add up to create significant value.  So while these applications may not individually be cost-effective for IT to implement, in the aggregate they represent serious money in terms of unrecognized cost savings, inefficient operations, and unrealized business opportunities. It is these small adjustments that are going to make the difference between success and failure in a constantly changing world.  Therefore, there needs to be a way to effectively address the long tail.

 

 The Agility Dividend

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