Posts Tagged ‘Coding’

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/


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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


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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.


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Small is most definitely beautiful

July 1, 2009

Compliance remains a crucial technology issue. IT leaders have been smothered by a raft of regulatory requirements in the last few years, and the combined hit of environmental concerns and the economic downturn is only likely to make matters worse.

Take the finance sector, where a recent survey by the International Securities Association for Institutional Trade Communication noted that 25% of firms have already been affected by increased compliance requirements due to the economic crisis.

Understanding and dealing with compliance is, therefore, crucial. But be warned, big vendors and system integrators are likely to push issues like governance, quality assurance and lifecycle management.

While important in the right business context, such issues are also likely to provide an opportunity to become tied to processes and standards. And an obsession with standards creates the need for big models and increased complexity.

Such an obsession is likely to be a hindrance to what is actually useful for the business. And at a time of increased regulatory compliance, further processes and standards are just what your business does not need.

The chief executive will need you to cut through the waffle and provide a simple means for staying up-to-date and compliant. Thankfully, the composite nature of service-oriented architecture (SOA) provides a way round complex compliance and allows you to create small, successful systems.

Rather than creating vast and unconnected applications, SOA allows the IT leader to re-use resources and create applications on-demand. Such agility will allow you to promote a flexible architecture that is ready for fast-changing compliance requirements.

Forget the fear that you will have to fit systems to laws retrospectively. SOA will allow the IT department to integrate with the business and create compliant systems as new regulations emerge.

And the front-tier of SOA will be particularly crucial, allowing you to create a useful presentation layer that allows line-of-business executives to monitor information and ensure new targets are being met.

Take note, then, of agility, integration, presentation – the three watchwords that will help you use SOA to ensure your business responds flexibly to changing compliance demands.


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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.

Time for a virtual reality check

March 31, 2009

Regular readers will know my passion for end-user development (EUD), a means for giving more power to the business to create useful applications.

Line-of-business employees now have the knowledge and tools to produce their own useful applications. And while EUD might have seemed a ‘nice to have’ several months ago, it has quickly moved to a ‘business must have’.

A heady mix of limited cash, increased consumerisation of IT and fast-changing business priorities mean the trend is catching on. But despite the benefits of EUD, there is one potential downside – applications designed by end users might not work across multiple environments.

A tool that works fine on an individual’s desktop might not install successfully across the corporate network. And if an application is to help boost business efficiency, it will have to work for many users in many different circumstances.

But do not be too concerned by the potential downside, because a good EUD tool will overcome such concerns. One possible route to success is model driven architecture (MDA), a software design approach for the development of software systems.

MDA is a platform-independent model that allows end-users to separate design and architecture issues. The result should be de-coupling and the easy transference of applications across multiple environments.

Despite the promise of MDA, some concerns remain – notably that the approach relies on incomplete technical standards and that its forward-looking method is too realistic for many real-world situations.

For EUD to become de facto, technology and business teams need to know the resources to help develop applications are easily are at-hand. And virtualisation provides another method for EUD, a cost effective solution that allows your IT team and your end users to run and test multiple applications.

Virtualisation allows IT managers to partition existing resources to run multiple versions of an operating system. The approach could be your best friend during testing times.

If you’re thinking of moving to EUD, don’t be put off by the thought of needing more resources. New applications might suggest the need for new hosting environments and large scale testing programmes. But such fears are misplaced.

Rather than having to retrofit applications, IT leaders can use the easily deployed resources of virtualisation to run a potential solution across multiple end-user desktop environments.

Companies continue to look to virtualisation, despite wider cost constraints – analyst Gartner says spending will increase by 43% this year, from $US1.9bn in 2008 to $US2.7bn.

Most of you will have already seen some of the benefits of virtualisation at an infrastructure level. Now it’s time to start thinking about how the approach can be used to create useful applications in challenging times.

End of development or end user development?

July 9, 2008

Don’t worry programmers, coding is here to stay. However should all development be done by programmers, I’d argue that business applications should be developed by business users with specialised tools provided by programmers. And there is nothing new about my prophecy, it is aligned with a trend called End User Development (EUD).

 

End user development is not the end of the road for the IT department

 

Allowing non-professional developers to create or modify technology resources sounds like an IT manager’s worst nightmare.

 

After all, giving control of development to untrained users is likely to involve complicated logistics. And who needs programmers if the business can develop its own code?

 

IT managers should chill out. End user development (EUD) – the activity of allowing users to create code – is happening and will continue to increase. A recent US-focused survey estimated the number of end user developers will hit 12 million by 2012.

 

The good news for firms fearing the transformation is that EUD can help cut costs and boost efficiencies across a wide range of technology areas, such as web design, collaboration and modelling.

 

Non-IT professionals will become involved in code development for a number of reasons.

 

Sometimes unsuspecting employees create ad hoc solutions for specific business problems, such as macros in Microsoft Excel. On other occasions, end users respond to gaps in existing technology provision and search out new resources.

 

You should get involved now and understand business needs around EUD.

Create policies to help ensure compliance is prioritised and programming errors are minimised.

 

A group of academics from the Manchester Business School are already analysing the potential benefits of EUD and IT managers can discuss their own experiences at: http://eud.survey.sgizmo.com

 

You will probably find that giving non-IT professionals an opportunity to develop resources offers a route to smarter technology management, rather than the end of the road for the IT department.

 

So, be brave and investigate the potential of end user development; because if you don’t, your competitors soon will.


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