Posts Tagged ‘No coding’

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/

Mobile usability

December 4, 2009

The business world’s suddenly gone mobile, with workers logging on to enterprise applications through handheld devices. Sounds good, but are mobiles really ready?

Increasing hype surrounding cloud computing suggests more and more enterprise apps will be accessed online. Email is already a mobile mainstay, thanks in large part to the speed of BlackBerry Enterprise Server. But for many other tools, there is still some way to go before mobile working becomes a business reality.

The most obvious facet of mobile devices is their size; they are – of course – much smaller than their desktop cousins. Which means that for content heavy processes, creating usable apps for smaller devices can be a difficult task.

Think of your key enterprise tools; think of how much space you need to work with and manipulate the information held on your spreadsheets. Now think about undertaking that manipulation on a web-based mobile device.

For enterprises, going truly mobile means making sure form and function supports usability. So, what do we need to do that is special for handheld devices?

Some experts believe the first port of call should be the programming language, with proponents keen to push the significance of XHTML Mobile Profile (XHTML MP), a hypertextual standard designed specifically for mobile devices. However, such a harbour would be the wrong destination for two key reasons.

First, XHTML MP is by no means a common framework; different devices require specific tweaks and adaptations. Second, processor power means mobile devices are no longer constrained and creating a specific framework is a waste of time and effort.

Technology has moved on and browser capability has improved. Flash and Java-based applications are also beginning to find a suitable home on portable technologies.

But other problems do remain paramount – and, notably, the screen is still small. If you are going to work with enterprise information, you will need a bigger display. And when it comes to displays for mobile devices, I am open to potential solutions.

Philips has pioneered developments in rollable screen technology, which could help users work on larger mobile devices. High definition colour and video-based formats are still some time away, however.

Plastic Logic, meanwhile, is just months away from launching the first electronic screen, an A4-sized intelligent display. But again, the company doubts the market is currently ready for the roll-out screen.

Give it time. In a few years, we will be all carrying enterprise-ready mobile devices that allow us to manipulate information on the move. And when I am right, you can remember that you heard it here first.

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Further reading

http://econsultancy.com/blog/4260-mobile-website-usability-is-poor-nielsen

http://news.cnet.com/Philips-unit-to-launch-rollable-screen-handheld/2100-1041_3-6157513.html

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/technology/article6736859.ece#cid=OTC-RSS&attr=1185799

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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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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

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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