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It takes a village: The changing role of IT in the app economy

The “mobile first” culture is here. Customers, employees and partners are increasingly using mobile devices as the primary means to engage, making every business a digital business - whether they’re prepared or not.

Moreover, we are now living in an “app economy.” Mobile-centric apps, and application development overall, are a vital part of the operations of truly digital businesses, along with cloud services, data analytics and, of course, mobility.

This insatiable demand for mobile first has, in a sense, turned every business to an application development company. For example, our research shows how 64 per cent of US organisations are investing in building mobile apps for customers.

IT departments are taking notice; they see the “evolve or die” message clearly. IT has traditionally been seen as a cost centre; procuring and managing an organisation’s IT infrastructure and outsourcing service delivery to save costs. To remain relevant and win in the new mobile economy, the best IT departments are now focused on helping to improve customer service and employee engagement. In other words, IT is becoming a profit and innovation centre.

In this context, it’s obvious why application development is a strategic priority for IT: app development delivers increased business agility, improves customer service and employee engagement, increases productivity, lifts revenues, and reduces costs. However, enterprises admit they face significant challenges in enabling app development success; finding the right in-house technical talent to tackle crucial app development projects is time consuming and costly.

Thankfully, the ubiquity of the internet and cloud computing platforms has created a distributed system of cloud experts all connected by the web - a virtual village. One emerging trend that solves the in-house recruiting dilemma by leveraging this worldwide system of experts is crowdsourcing, the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from an online community of experts, rather than from traditional in-house employees or suppliers.

Around 44 per cent of our enterprise respondents indicated that they are already using crowdsourcing in some form, so we are off to a good start but there is still work to be done.

Crowdsourcing enables the IT department to cultivate greater innovation within the organisation, cost-effectively, and in a way that fosters greater collaboration with the wider community. For example, Gartner predicts that by 2017 more than half of consumer goods manufacturers will receive 75 per cent of their consumer innovation and R&D capabilities from crowdsourced solutions.

Crowdsourcing doesn’t just meet the needs of the modern business – it also meets the changing desires of today’s workforce. Highly sought after talent who want to work for a number of organisations throughout their career, relishing competition while solving the world’s most interesting problems. As the mobile-first notion grows, it’s worth noting how over half of IT decision-makers (the 51 per cent already familiar with crowdsourcing) find the concept best suited for mobile apps development.

The IT function is no longer one of just a cost centre; innovative businesses expect IT to help address strategic goals and becoming a driver of disruption itself. For businesses to instil a mobile-first culture, app development must become a critical capability owned and managed by IT.

The power of the crowd enables companies to embrace the app economy in a cost-effective, time-efficient, creative way. By tapping into a global community of experts who offer solutions to a company’s challenges, a virtual village aligns itself to business success.

Tim Medforth is Senior Vice President, International at Appirio.