Posts Tagged ‘Code free’

AppInventor to drop out of school

February 3, 2011

Something odd is happening. While children have never been more involved in computing, fewer and fewer young people are studying technology.

 Any parent of young children will be able to regale you with tales of their offspring multitasking with various devices and apps. The modern, younger generation has grown up only knowing a technology-enabled world and they are a product of that interaction.

 However, that high level of interactivity has not created a rise in interest in the academic side of IT. Just 4,065 students were awarded computing A-levels this year, compared with 4,710 this time last year – a drop of 13.7% (see further reading, below).

 The jury is out on what such developments mean for the UK: while companies continue to offshore certain technology tasks, a core of highly-skilled technicians must exist in the UK. So, how can we get kids interested in the behind-the-scenes coding that supports their multi-tasking lifestyle?

 One possibility comes in the form of Google’s App Inventor, a system that claims to enable non-coders to develop Android software. Instead of writing code, interested individuals visually design the way an app looks and use blocks to specify software behaviour.

 The plus point, at least as far as getting junior programmers on board, is that App Inventor is easy to use. Code is simply snapped together to allow basic events to take place.

 That, however, is also part of the problem. As developers become more adept, the limitations of snapping blocks together – in comparison to being able to write code – become exposed.

 As Darien Graham-Smith concluded in a recent review of App Inventor for PC Pro (see further reading: “Anyone with the programming nous to make full use of App Inventor’s abilities will surely prefer a language that doesn’t force you to pedantically assemble every function, procedure and event out of multicoloured blocks.”

 Google acknowledges App Inventors’ educational route, paying deference to MIT’s Scratch project. But while the system is driven by an educational perspective, it remains restricted by its approach. In fact, Graham-Smith believes App Inventor could actually drive people away from programming unless the Blocks Editor improves.

 The system is, in short, a nice attempt to get people interested in the finer elements of programming. But successful apps are inherently much more complex than pushing Lego together.

Further reading:

 http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2010/08/19/242454/A-level-results-mark-39worrying-trend39-for-IT.htm

 http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2010/09/07/googles-app-inventor/

 http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/about/

AppInventor won’t solve your end user development opportunity

November 29, 2010

Once again, don’t believe the hype. Google recently launched App Inventor, a system that claims to enable non-coders to develop Android software.

The principle is sound enough – instead of writing code, interested individuals visually design the way an app looks and use blocks to specify software behaviour. The open platform for developers, meanwhile, could lead to vast array of specialised apps from people who are traditionally viewed as non-developers (see further reading, below).

However, don’t get the party bunting out just yet. The hype might suggest Google has created end-user computing for Android but the reality is slightly more complex.

Yes, the system allows individuals to work with blocks of code. And the system should be intuitive – it has been in development for more than a year and user testing has been mainly completed in schools (see further reading).

But while the drag-and-drop system of App Inventor is reminiscent of fitting Lego blocks together, experienced reviewers believe the fit is not quite as snug as it could be.

TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid, for example, has experience of programming and attempted to put together a couple of apps. He concludes that the Google software is far from perfect and is by no means a short cut to back room, smart phone development (see further reading).

App Inventor, then, is a neat, graphical programming tool. The concept is innovative and refreshing. It is not, however, a tool for non-programmers. Google have created another step towards end-user development but this is by no means an end-point.

Senior executives should not be swayed by the hype and should not expect non-technical employees to start creating powerful Android apps. In fact, there is a strong argument for suggesting that the focus should not just be on the creation of new apps.

For some employees, end-user development is a real possibility – and Google’s App Inventor represents another staging post. At the same time, more apps create more maintenance, especially if increasing numbers of non-programmers are really going to get their hands on code.

 Proper end-user development must consider how apps can be maintained without the need for IT to run modifications and changes. Once again, good end-user development comes down to good management.

 End-users can create apps but only if the IT department is able to support such computing easily and cost effectively.

Further reading

 http://mashable.com/2010/07/12/google-app-inventor/

 ttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/technology/12google.html?_r=2

 http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/12/android-app-inventor-demo/


Digg!

The new legacy is HTML !

November 22, 2010

The legacy of past computing decisions is one of the biggest technology challenges facing businesses. What’s more, lessons from the past are not being heeded.

Let’s start with the most famous legacy code of them all – because if you’ve encountered COBOL, you’ve encountered legacy. Invented in 1959, the object-oriented language became a mainstay of business computing for the next four decades.

The legacy, however, quickly turned into a significant burden. Gartner reported that 80% of the world’s business ran on COBOL in 1997, with more than 200 billion lines of code in existence and an estimated 5 billion lines of new code produced annually (see further reading, below).

The reliance on that rate of production came home to roost towards the end of the last century, when language problems led to the panic associated to Y2K. The story since then has been one of decline. The continued move of business online has led to a clamour for new, sleeker and internet-ready programming languages.

First specified in 1990, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) became the predominant web development language. Its use ran alongside the development of open standards, such as JavaScript and the Cascading Style Sheets of CSS.

Such languages and styles helped to define the layout of the Web. But that is far from the end of the story. Online development in the era of HTML has become increasingly patchy, with more and more developers using varying styles of code.

Additional online tools, such as Silverlight and Flex, create further complexity. The result is that HTML, and an associated collection of standards and tools, are fast becoming the new legacy.

Just as in the case of COBOL, more and more lines of code are being produced. The disparate pace of online development is such that we will end up with reams of legacy HTML, JavaScript and CSS code.

Learn from history and get to grips with the problem now. Make sure you have proper documentation and standards. Select tools that are integrated with the rest of your business processes and which allow users to make the most of earlier development projects.

Think about how certain approaches – such as a mix of HTML/JavaScript and Ajax-server based technologies – will allow your business, and even your end-users, to use the same development techniques on desktop and mobile environments.

Also look to the future and take a look at HTML5, which is currently under development as the next major revision of the HTML standard, including features that previously required third-party plug-ins, such as Flash. Don’t stop there carry on with CSS3, Web Worker and WebFonts all new evolutions of current web technologies that will tomorrow be mainstream.

The end result should be the end of fragmented development and a legacy of useful web applications, rather than unusable and unidentifiable code.
Further reading:

http://www.wired.com/thisdayintech/2010/05/0528cobol-conference/


Digg!

Take your IT department forward by putting end user development at the front

November 19, 2010

Here’s a wake up call for the IT department – end-user computing will definitely become dominant; it’s just a matter of time.

 Proof comes in the form of modern business practices. Increasing numbers of executives are now saying that time to market is absolutely critical. A slow moving organisation is one that loses.

 For many firms, the ability to move quickly is underpinned by technology. The pace of change and centrality of IT to contemporary business means every organisation, whatever the sector, relies on technology to help maintain information flows and to help its employees deal with customers.

 Such reliance should be good news for the traditional technology team. But there’s a significant catch. The business wants to make changes and add products quickly. Technology, as the underpinning structure, should be set up to create speed.

 Unfortunately, this simply is not the case for many businesses.  The integral nature of IT to business processes means that line-of-business executives have to go through IT when they want to make changes.

 In many organisations, the traditional cycle of IT delivery is far too slow. One step forwards – in the form of the business’ recognition of the need to create a new product offering – is often several steps back for the IT department.

 Rather than being able to respond with agility to business need, IT development takes place across an elongated cycle, where each change needs to checked, re-checked and checked again. Businesses, if they are going to be agile, need to stop such lethargy.

 Focus remains on the IT department – and the focus has to be on technology because it is at the core of modern business practice. But smart executives are beginning to ask what can be done so that business change can swerve round the elongated cycle of IT delivery.

 For technology workers, such transformations might seem like a coup d’etat. But there is no need to be scared. IT workers that embrace the change and help the business move towards end-user computing will not be overthrown.

 Your role should be at the higher level, helping the businesses to understand how web interfaces – the new desktop – can be used to help executives avoid the traditional IT cycle of checking and testing.

 Employees want to be able to create instant changes to text that can help inform customers. They want to be able to manage data using their own business rules, creating drop down lists of crucial information.

 Permissions need to be granted and re-granted; workflow needs to be easily manageable, so that the business can use the web to drive agile processes. True agility comes in the form of end-user development.

 And the forward-thinking IT department will recognise it needs to help drive the end-user revolution, not hold it back.


Digg!

Project failures can be good news

October 5, 2009

When it comes to software development, the latest research from the Standish Group presents very little in the way of good news. Failures are up and projects are considered less successful.

Just 32% of all projects deliver on time and on budget, with required features and functions (see further reading, below). Standish estimates that 44% of software projects are late, and over budget, and another 24% fail and are cancelled prior to completion, or delivered and never used.

The figures do not make impressive reading for IT executives, especially at a time when the business is putting pressure on the technology department to deliver more with less.

One thing is for certain; the current economic climate definitely does not help. Standish suggests the recession has helped push IT project failure rates higher and estimates that as much as 20 to 25% of failures during the last two years could have been caused by the economy forcing project cancellations (see further reading).

The upside is that IT departments are being persuaded, or even forced, to re-evaluate technology initiatives. Projects that might previously have stumbled towards completion are being canned as a result of the recession.

Good IT can help users work more effectively and efficiently, saving the business time and money. Bad technology is a money pit and too many IT executives end up pouring good money after bad, attempting to fix projects that do not provide a usable interface.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. While new economic realities help executives cull costly IT projects, remaining projects will still regularly fail to meet user expectations, as the Standish report confirms.

For your remaining projects, look for specialist approaches and tools that can help ensure your projects run in-line with user demands. An agile development approach will help you to make such tests on an iterative basis.

edge IPK offers such a strategy, its Early Visualisation Approach (EVA) provides an agile development lifecycle that allows business analysts to focus on online and offline front end applications.

Supported by the edgeConnect platform, which enables much faster entry points to development than traditional tools, analysts estimate EVA can reduce development cycles by as much as 85%.

With project failure rates rising and IT executives struggling to justify the cost of technology initiatives, investing in an iterative development approach could be your must successful decision of the year.

Further reading

http://www.cbronline.com/news/software_project_failures_hit_5_year_high_220609

http://www.cio.com/article/495306/Recession_Causes_Rising_IT_Project_Failure_Rates_?page=2


Digg!

What will happen to the in-house IT professional?

August 25, 2009

The new generation of all-knowing users are the future of your IT department, using development tools – such as spreadsheet macros, process models and collaborative wikis – to create winning applications.

As a recent Forrester report suggests (see further reading, below), such business people do not want to be developers; they just want to get things done. And in a new age of collaboration and consumerisation, taking development into your own hands is sometimes seen as the quickest route to usable apps – especially in a slow-moving corporate leviathan.

It sounds like a double-headed winner: businesses get to implement software quicker and users get the applications they need. But not everyone is smiling. After all, what does the rise of end-user development mean for existing IT professionals?

The simple answer is professionalism. While it is great that users can help the business create the applications they need, such users are unlikely to be skilled technology experts.

Just like ‘Sunday morning mechanics’ can run a simple oil change for their car on the drive way, significant problems and modifications are likely to require the skilled intervention of a specialist engineer.

As the Forrester report suggests, end-user enthusiasm can lead to poorly designed, insecure and unscalable applications. The problem is then inherited by the application development professionals, who are left to pick up the pieces of bad business practice.

Do not let it get to this stage. Continue to embrace end-user development because your internal customers know what tools they need and their interaction with collaborative technology means they are only likely to become more IT-savvy.

Rather than letting users develop applications in isolation, IT professionals should take on a new management role, helping end-users to hone their contributions so that the business receives usable and scalable applications.

IT professionals have untapped skills, such as the ability to understand the technical rules that underlie business processes. Marrying such professionals with end-users will allow line-of-business employees to work with freedom and without fear of compromising established best practice.

In short, technology professionals need not fear the upsurge of non-technical development. Well-schooled end-users will allow for the development of technical tools that hold real value for the business.

The process will also allow IT professionals to engage with individuals across the company and prove the benefits of the much-maligned technology organisation.

Despite the rise of end-user development, the role of talented technology professional is more indispensable than ever.

 

Further reading

 http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,54191,00.html


Digg!

Disposable software

July 13, 2009

So, you have finally taken the plunge and given your end-users more power to create useful applications. The job, however, is far from done. 

A criticism often levelled at end-user development (EUD) is that IT managers are putting the responsibility for creation in the hands of non-technical specialists. The result could be developments that are hard to maintain or inflexible to change.

 Such criticisms would be fair enough if your business allowed users to create bespoke applications that cannot be updated in-line with wider organisational transformation. But what would be the point of that approach?

 A well thought through EUD approach allows line-of-business employees to create tools easily and certainly quicker than through in-house development that relies on traditional programming.

 In the current economic climate, quick and easy development is likely to curry favour with your demanding boss. More importantly, the approach is extremely cost effective.

 As a rule, many companies tend to hang on to technology for too long. Take the financial services industry, where many firms rely on bespoke banking systems running on legacy code.

 But an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ policy can have a damaging long-term effect. While many of the systems still run effectively, it can be very difficult to modify legacy technologies.

 The legacy mode of engineering often relies on outdated skills, meaning firms find it extremely difficult to retrofit code into modern architectures. The issue has become increasingly pertinent, with such outmoded systems looking cumbersome in comparison to much off today’s web-enabled infrastructure.

 Putting development tools – such as spreadsheet macros, process models and collaborative wikis – in the hands of your users is likely to help you create winning applications that could improve your current technology set up.

 While IT professionals are likely to have an idea of the broad sweep of tools that could help employees work more effectively, users will have an exact knowledge of the types of interface that could help them make the most of business information.

 The inherent nature of EUD means applications can be configured easily, thrown away at the end of their useful life and new applications redeveloped quickly.

 Such an approach means that with careful guidance and well-defined rules, your employees can use EUD to develop applications cost-effectively and in-line with changing business demand.


Digg!

Wake up to the power of the web browser

May 11, 2009

Are you still using the desktop; still choosing to access enterprise applications through Windows?

It can be difficult to break away from accepted ways of working. Managing such a break is even more complicated when the business is bamboozled by a series of marketing buzzwords.

The big hype of the moment is cloud computing, a generic term used to describe the provision of scalable enterprise services over the web. Rather than having to access applications through a traditional desktop interface, businesses can use the cloud to host applications and store data.

As many as nine out of ten C-level executives know what cloud computing is and what it can do, according to a recent survey by consultancy Avanade and Kelton Research (see further reading, below).

But at the same time, 61% of senior managers are not currently using cloud technologies. For the majority, it is probably time you woke up to the power of the web browser.

Working through a web browser is no longer a niche activity. Salesfore.com and Google Apps are high profile and popular examples of how users can access applications through a web browser.

Such cloud-based software suites mean users can enter the browser and work collaboratively on essential documents. The high quality of services also means users can also benefit from the functionality of traditional desktop software, such as drag and drop, and multiple interfaces.

There are still issues to overcome, of course. Some businesses remained concerned about hosting information outside the corporate firewall. And recent problems with Google Mail show how failure of the cloud could derail essential business processes.

Such issues mean providers will have to develop secure methods for accessing browser-based applications offline, as well as online. However, such problems are minimal given the quick development of cloud computing.

Businesses often need a high profile sponsor to help push new technologies. When it comes to browser-based apps, there can be no more prestigious supporter than Vivek Kundra, the new CIO of the United States and a confirmed fan of Google Apps (see further reading).

What’s more, the recession is likely to push interest in cost effective and hosted applications. The Avanade and Kelton research also found that 54% of executives use technology to cut costs.

In these economically sensitive times and with an increasing high level of functionality, the web browser can help your IT department provide a great customer experience.

Further reading

Cloud computing is a two-edged sword
http://blogs.zdnet.com/Gardner/?p=2841

The new US CIO is a fan of Google Apps
http://blogs.computerworld.com/obama_cio_vivek_kundra_white_house_cio

What is the marketplace asking for?

May 11, 2009

There are a lot of people with their heads in the clouds. Proof comes in the form of the recession, with many so-called experts suggesting the financial situation is far from horrific.

Prominent business leaders remain hopeful, with some suggesting the upturn could come by the end of the year (see further reading, below). It is time to get real.

Such sentiment is dangerous because the worst is still to come, with other stories emanating from the media elucidating quite how dire the situation has become.

The Times reported recently that the UK is expected to be the worst hit of the major EU economies, with the British jobless total set to hit 2.55 million by the end of the year.

It also noted that consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers has told its clients to ensure their business can bear a 5% decline in the economy during 2009.

Smart IT leaders have already realised that the downturn is here to stay. Don’t expect an upturn by the end of this year. Next year will also be hard and we might not see the much-desired green shoots of recovery until 2011.

In such an economically constrained environment, how can small companies focus on development processes that lower costs and meet specific business issues?

UK IT trade body Intellect believes that when the upturn comes the technology industry will be at the core of new growth opportunities. And the entrepreneurial nature of Britain’s small businesses will help drive innovation.

Such opportunities will rely on small firms establishing the right approach to technology. The best-placed firms will look at how automation can remove cost from the business and improve efficiency.

Entrepreneurial spirit comes from a desire to give talented workers the power to create and innovate. Technology is clearly no exception to this rule and you should investigate how your valued employees can become end-user developers.

The devolution of IT development power will give your firm the flexibility to meet the changing demands of clients. Remember that what the marketplace is asking for right now is smart, flexible processes.

Small businesses have an inherent advantage over their larger, slower-moving rivals. Enjoy the opportunity to change.

Further reading

A way out of the recession?
http://www.mad.co.uk/Main/News/Articlex/8ecb83dde88f41048a60635e5ed54408/Marketers-can-lead-way-out-of-recession.html

World in grip of great recession
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article5880559.ece

IT industry reviews innovation support
http://www.publictechnology.net/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=19310

Does SOA mean software-oriented agility?

April 6, 2009

What was previously very bad just got a whole lot worse. Last year, everyone was talking about a downturn. Now the word is recession.

It’s an important difference: the downturn might have been a temporary blip, but the recession is likely to be prolonged and deep.

With financial budgets likely to be constrained, your options are likely to be limited and meeting business needs is likely to be tougher than ever. So do you want to engineer a way out of the recession?

Your first port of call should be software-oriented architecture, a system for linking resources on-demand that allows you to re-use existing components in new and exciting combinations.

Sounds good – but IT captains steering the choppy waves of the recession should avoid simply dropping anchor at SOA.

The word ‘architecture’ in SOA suggests a once-and-for model; an all-encompassing method for matching user needs with computing resources. If only it was that it easy.

The fast pace of economic and business change means your model for technology use will have to be adapted. It means service-orientation should be seen as no more than a initial destination that helps you work your IT resources smarter and more effectively.

Instead, successful IT departments and successful SOA strategies will be agile, able to respond to changing business demands as quickly and easily as possible.

SOA should be more usefully viewed as software-oriented agility, a flexible way to meet business needs in a time of increasing financial prudence.

Agile software development methodologies promote reflection, inspection and adaptation. Its inherent practices encourage business and IT alignment, providing a snug fit with the re-use principles of software-oriented architecture.

Which means you can start to breath easily again. The recession will provide constraints but IT leaders that adopt software-oriented agility are likely to be best prepared.