Application development is starting to look like an attractive place to be. Always the backroom boys of the brilliant displays that business users view on their screens, application developers are coming up as the number one information technology skill in 2012.
“Application development is not as risky as once it was, but good development skills are hard to find,” says Neal Donnan, application development executive of information solutions specialist EnterpriseWorx.
“The build versus buy debate has been raging for a long time,” he says. “Simple business software for functions such as accounting, inventory and human resources systems have been proven over a number of years. The software is stable and pretty much standard, so it makes sense to buy rather than build.“
On the other hand, it is appropriate to build custom applications in areas where no commercial applications are available or where you need to differentiate your business from the competition. This is often the case in the banking, insurance and healthcare sectors, where proprietary products and services have their own complex formulae and algorithms.”
According to the 2011 JCSE-ITWeb Skills Survey, for the third consecutive year, application development is the top priority for local companies across a range of industry sectors.“
Application development is not as risky and time-consuming as it was 20 years ago, where every line of code had to be developed from scratch,” says Donnan. “There are a variety of frameworks available that developers can download with free code and libraries. Using open source makes development a lot quicker. It removes a lot of the work since the amount of code to be written is limited. These frameworks allow developers to easily create core web services and other applications.”
Companies are tending to buy a range of best-of-breed software, develop small subsets if needed and then integrate the whole. “The trend is to combine different applications to form an overall platform,” says Donnan. “Many off-the-shelf-products allow for writing new modules and adding them in. Microsoft, for example, has a platform that allows developers to write code and deploy applications in the cloud. Open source options also offer platforms for integration into products like SAP and Salesforce.”
IT professionals able to integrate the cloud into application development are a critical, and scarce, resource. According to IBM’s 2011 Tech Trends Report, developing new applications will be the top cloud adoption activity in the next 24 months.
According to Donnan, there are very few developers who have more than a decade of experience of enterprise systems and also understand the web services standards, technologies, platforms and application programming interfaces (APIs) required to run applications in the cloud. One example of technology growth is evident in the fact that the number of APIs that connect functionality from one website to another has increased 5 000-fold since 2005.
“University curricula are a few years behind industry trends, and there are no textbook templates for dealing with a myriad of new technologies,” says Donnan. “We conduct a lot of training in-house, because the technology is new and developing so quickly. This is supported by self-study and research on the Internet.”