Sunday, August 7, 2011

How is revitalizing Application Development?

The other day I caught up with an old friend. We spent about 5 years together, working on Microsoft technologies and developing a slew of applications. Invariably, the topic veered towards technology and application development. I asked him what he was up to, and discovered that he was part of a team working on an application for a large enterprise. Some of the features read like this...

(No "ideas" were shared, these are pretty common features of all apps!)

--- Data model that supports related records
--- Large scale Business validations on forms
--- A Facebook clone for the social connect
--- Approval mechanisms, Notifications, Security, etc.

He was going on and on, so I stopped him to ask what his role in the entire exercise was and how they were planning for future versions. I learnt that he was a Lead Developer for one of the modules at one of the locations. Incidentally, the project was being worked on from four different geographies each of them sharing a significant Development piece. They were yet to come up with the first version and the project has been running for 15 months. As for the cost, your guess is better than his!

I said wow! This sounded familiar, but hang on, what are we building here? An aircraft carrier?

My heart goes out to the CIO and the end users of the application. By the time they get to realize any value out of the applications, their priorities in life would have changed. And it must have been one hell of a CFO to have approved the budget in the middle of uncertain and trying times.

OK, let's get pragmatic to understand the reason for my frustration.
(Disclaimer: I've been a fan of the platform since it's inception, and have partnered in building a Company around it, but that's after working on Microsoft technologies for many years before that, and I am still a keen follower)

Traditional Application Development follows an approach similar to this:
Code, Test, Assemble, Bundle, Deploy, Resolve, Release, Fix
This is characteristic of any technology that forces Developers to interact with libraries and have them worry about making the code work after writing it. But, as Application Development evolved in general and the way has adapted in particular, this approach has become redundant. And, here's why.

We hear it all the time - Application Developers must focus on Innovation. But, is the front runner,  if not the only technology that lets Application Developers do that. Everything else is what's called as plumbing code. So, when you do any of the following (and more), you are essentially plumbing your code.

--- Write code (or use Design mode in IDEs) for Data validations, and even common Business validations
--- Importing libraries and fretting over getting all the files in one folder to ward of the "Assembly not found" error
--- Use multiple frameworks to imitate a 3-tier architecture, making your code bulky
--- Write classes for Notifications, Messaging, Role hierarchy, etc.
--- Move from one Remote m/c to another to deploy your code before seeing your page go bust with an Invalid reference error

Sample this - how can you expect your Developer to be innovative if he is plumbing for 75% of his time?
This is exactly where wins - with Visualforce, Apex and the platform, it helps Application Developers ideate. They get a Zen like feeling. It's the holy grail of Application Development platforms.

How does achieve this? I'll cover that in detail over the next few posts, but for starters, the crux lies in how the platform provides for a combination of common feature sets bundled with an exciting user experience, and how Developers are able to leverage a Business data model with easy to build validations and formulae through clicks. As a Developer, that's making it available on a platter for me! My interest to ideate is enhanced when I look at what I already have on There can't be a better motivation to build great apps.

I can't but mention about the social connection, and how Business and Enterprise apps have the social toolbox ready to go on Chatter.

It is not all about the plumbing though, its how you have a wonderful user experience that makes it graceful that adds all the value. There are umpteen stories of how CEOs have built up the entire environment on leaving only the code for the Developers, which is essentially about 20-25% of the entire effort.

The technology industry has been known to fade out geographical barriers, but are the IT behemoths doing it in the most efficient way for their Clients? No. 3-year, 5-year budget cycles spread over millions of dollars cannot be a sustainable approach for a technological implementation. Bordering uncertain times, CIOs must demand the best approach, the best technology and the best ROI and must leave behind the baggage of legacy brands.
In the next post, I'll write about how dilutes geographical barriers in the best possible way, thereby letting in more of the innovation in to your apps.

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