October 27, 2016

Long tail apps and the shadow IT problem

In today’s world, applications and software are at the crux of any enterprise. Whether it is a humble spreadsheet dashboard or a mission-critical transaction processing platform, each application has a role to play despite the varying degree of IT focus accorded to them.

One way to look at the enterprise application portfolio is from the lens of their rate of change, as explained by Gartner in their Pace-Layered Application Strategy. This strategy divides applications into three application categories, or “layers,” to distinguish application types based on their rate of change.

A closer examination reveals that these layers also denote the proportion of focus and budget traditionally accorded by enterprises. And if one were to analyze the number of applications with respect to their popularity (with respect to IT focus and budget), the distribution would be a long tail one as shown below.


It is apparent that Systems of Innovation and to some extent Systems of Differentiation fall under the long tail apps category.

Long-tail apps: Definition and characteristics

The diverse set of heterogeneous applications that are used by small sets of employees or teams for a specific purpose and are typically beyond the scope of IT governance can be classified as long-tail apps.

Long-tail applications generally have the following characteristics:

  • situational or need-based
  • driven by urgent business needs and hence, cannot wait in the IT queue
  • require a quick turnaround time
  • multiple apps for the same need
  • created using ad-hoc technologies
  • very large in number but used by small sets of employees or teams
  • created by non-technical or business users
  • beyond the scope of IT governance

Long tail apps and shadow IT

Businesses want innovation and change. IT wants stability and control. With tight budgets, IT can rarely get to all of the custom apps the business needs. Hence, business teams or groups end up creating long-tail applications which are not approved by IT and are generally rely on non-standard and proprietary technologies. The result is a smorgasbord of systems and applications generally called as “shadow IT” or “stealth IT”.

Issues migrating long-tail apps

When IT does try to migrate long-tail applications, they face the following problems:

  • unavailability of platforms that can consolidate all the long tail apps and be used by both non-technical users and developers
  • skill gap due to underlying heterogeneous and, often, proprietary technologies
  • high cost of migration due to proprietary technologies and platforms
  • resistance from business users as they may not be able to modify the apps on their own after migration

How to fix the problem of shadow IT created by long-tail apps?

When 81% of line-of-business workers and 83% of IT staff admit to using non-approved SaaS apps (Source: CIO Insight), it is a daunting task to banish shadow IT especially when traditional ways of delivering applications work against innovation – which is usually found in the long tail as we have discussed earlier.

In order for organizations to quickly deliver apps that users want without compromising on IT security and governance, enterprises need to follow a two-fold approach:

  1. Innovate: Enable business units to build their own apps but on technologies sanctioned by IT by making sure that the tools to create new applications are widely available and easy to consume.
  2. Renovate: Migrate existing long tail applications by liberating them from proprietary technologies using proven modernization techniques and platforms.

We have been able to successfully help enterprises across the globe navigate the shadow IT problems due to long-tail apps. WaveMaker Rapid Application Development Platform is a proven choice for both innovation and renovation because of the following reasons:

  • Visual development that delivers web and mobile apps at the speed of business
  • Instant migration of legacy applications based on proprietary technologies such as Lotus Notes, MS Access, Oracle Forms, etc.
  • Centralized IT for all the applications with hassle-free continuous integration and release management
  • A single platform that works for business users as well as professional developers
  • The future-proof platform that is based on open standards and technologies trusted by millions of developers
  • No vendor lock-in with flexible deployment and export options
  • Offers the lowest total cost of ownership and transparent pricing