Posts Tagged ‘Zero code’

Pimp up your site to scale new heights in performance and scalability

February 17, 2011

What is most important to you, the way something appears or the way something works?

Chances are you are not that bothered by the second factor; most users are not that interested in the ‘under the bonnet’ mechanics of an Apple iPad. They like the device for its form factor and style, not its internal engine.

Most users only become bothered about the way something works when the technology starts to go wrong. And just as people moan about the cost of potentially replacing an Apple battery, so they will start moaning about problematic connectivity in the always-on era.

Individuals have got used to the look and feel of internet-enabled life. The prevalence of social media means more and more users first thought when something happens in their lives is to update a series of collaborative platforms.

What might have seemed odd, even self indulgent, just a few years ago is now accepted as a social norm. But this always-on, always-connected mentality will have serious consequences unless executives start thinking about two core issues: performance and scalability.

A number of factors are crucial here. First, the number of people and devices connected to the web is only going to increase. The number of devices connected to the internet hit five billion earlier this year, says IMS Research, and will reach 22 billion by 2020 (see further reading, below).

Second, as well as tremendous increase in the number of web-enabled devices, the type and scale of online behaviour continues to change. Where as people used to connect to the web, they now update personal information and purchase goods on the move through smart mobile devices.

What will emerge is an internet of things, where all manner of devices are always connected to the social internet and communicating machine-to-machine. By 2020, IMS estimates that six billion mobile phones will be connected to the web, but also 1.1 billion cars and 2.5 billion televisions.

 The internet, which currently seems increasingly important to everyday life, will essentially become the core engine of modern working and social practices. As can be seen by the figures above, the scale of growth and change is likely to be remarkable. But will your business be able to offer optimum levels of performance?

Like the infamous post-Coronation Street surge in power as viewers turn on their kettles, customer service is currently geared around anticipated peaks. Always-on television would allow viewers to connect at any time, not just during the break for advertisements.

The simple answer is that your organisation will have to become more interested in the way the internet works. Lift up the bonnet and pimp your engine now to cope with the tremendous changes in performance and scalability.

Further reading:

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:

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



Providing structure through model-driven development

November 10, 2009

When you think of end-user development, you might think of IT taking a back seat as the business defines the type of applications it uses. That approach is all well and good in theory, but what about practice?

While employees might have loads of great ideas about the type of tools that could help the business work more efficiently, they are unlikely to have the requisite knowledge of programming and standards.

And unless you have the right background in place, users will not be able to create the applications that can make a real difference to day-to-day operations.

At that point, you should consider a turn towards model-driven development (MDD) – a design approach that allows your technology team to assert their presence, while providing a structured guideline to help end-users gain the software they really need.

The key to MDD is ensuring the building blocks of a business problem are understood before users take action. While MDD should aim to allow the business to create applications, the approach should rely on IT specialists using programming techniques to create the underlying components.

Open and vendor-neutral, MDD – also known as model-driven architecture – is based on the Object Management Group’s (OMG’s) established standards, including unified modelling language (UML) and the meta-object facility (MOF). OMG’s model-driven approach separates business logic from the underlying technology and allows the business to create platform-independent applications.

Rather than being created in general-purpose programming languages such as COBRA, XML, Java or .Net, MDD is created in a domain-specific language that is dedicated to a particular business problem. The break from a reliance on a particular technical flavour means users can specify the applications they require and then work with the IT team to create tools.

Such independence means underlying technology can be updated without affecting the business aspects of an application. Likewise, such platform independence means the business can generate the applications it needs without fear of a potential impact on underlying code.

So, what does the emergence of MDD – with big companies, such as Microsoft, backing its development – mean for the future of development? If the IT organisation creates applications in-line with the business specific-demands of MDD, the answer is simple: software that can make a real difference to business operations.



WYSIWYG is dead go with the flow

October 12, 2009

Since the birth of window based user interface (MAC, Microsoft Windows) application designers have adopted the What You See Is What You Get approach to creating User Interfaces. Visual Basic was one of the early tools to provide a canvas onto which a screen can be drawn by simple drag and drop of screen elements on top of the canvas. “Property” sheets allowed these controls to be specialised/designed further for example change font, size, captions etc. This paradigm of development has since stuck with us, and this post questions whether this is right and whether this is the future?

Most corporates have started to standardise front end screens to be developed in browser technology for the right reasons such as; cross platform, ease of distribution, zero install. As expected tools vendors have provided good support for browser application development. However does the WYSIWYG paradigm apply? Should you still create browser screens in the same way as desktop applications?

Browser applications typically use a “flow layout” whereby the screen layout changes according to the size of the browser window. This is very useful because users could have different screen sizes, or browser settings (e.g. lots of toolbars) or even be viewing the application on a mobile device. Using a flow layout means that screen layout will change according to the users browser window size, thereby automatically handling each of the differences above.

Using this approach however means that creating a screen using a drag and drop approach onto a canvas does not necessarily give you a view of the final screen layout, hence you have to question whether now WYSIWYG is the right development paradigm for browser applications.

Another issue is that different browsers sometimes interpret the browser differently, causing screens to appear in differently across different browsers.

There is also the issue that “look and feel” is actually separated from the screen code into a style sheet, and a screen may be presented using different syle sheets, Hence displaying a form could be drastically different depending on the stylesheet used ( some great examples of this can be seen at ).

With the above in mind is it time for a new approach? Perhaps using a more “real time design” approach. With such a tool, users would create screens and then run them to see how they would be rendered in different browsers, devices and screen sizes. With the proliferation of devices a multi-channel approach is becoming core to many organisations, and in such a world screen sizes will vary greatly, a new approach is required for creating screens because now the paradigm has changed to What You See Is What You Might And Most Probably Wont Get.


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


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,7211,54191,00.html


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. 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

The new US CIO is a fan of Google Apps

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?

World in grip of great recession

IT industry reviews innovation support

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.