Tag Archives: Application Development

How will cloud computing change the IT organization?

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With the proliferation of 2011 forecasts for Cloud Computing, it might be worthwhile to take a step back and look at a longer term horizon. Clearly, Cloud Computing would significantly impact the IT organization. I am probably not the only one to expect it to push IT further away from the technical terrain to the functional one.

That trend is not new. About 30 years ago , Alvin Toffler wrote In his futurology book “The Third Wave” that most upcoming IT professionals would not do programming but rather adapt pre-programmed software to business needs. Indeed, Enterprise Architects, Solution Specialists and Business Process Experts have already substituted Programmers and System Analysts in most IT organizations (in the Enterprise). It is about time for a name change: from IT to BT (Business Technology)…

Cloud Computing brings what might be “The Forth Wave”, in which the technology itself is abstracted –replaced by increasingly complex and intertwined application services which support business processes. The technology – both the hardware infrastructure and the fine grained software functions – is being offered as a consumable commodity, often as a service. BT is about selecting and orchestrating these consumables to fit and support the business activity of the enterprise. Programming and Software Development is relegated to specialized organizations. Analogies that come to my mind are car manufacturers and garages, although their products and services are much simpler.

Banking is a major early adopter of computing, and this move to BT is very visible when one examines the personnel composition of a bank. BT has taken over many processes that were previously performed by specialized back-office employees, and many consumers prefer to use self-service BT processes rather than be waited upon. That’s Convergence – a topic that merits quite a few dedicated discussions.

So here’s my question – how would you define the profession of a banking BT employee – a Banker, or a Computing Professional?

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A reality check on “citizen development”

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The topic of Citizen Development recently received a lot of attention – the latest coming from new Gartner report and from ebizQ forums. So I’d like to revisit it.

The temptation of “citizen” application development dates back to the prehistory of the PC – the introduction of micro computers and products such as Framework and dBase. That was the time when we entered the market with Magic Software, and I supported the thesis that 4GL’s enable line of business experts to directly implement business applications shortcutting much of the traditional development and programming process. Reality proved otherwise, showing that such easy to use tools actually amplify lack of IT skills, which sometimes led to very unhappy endings. We revised our approach very fast to target system analysts rather than LOB professionals, and observed amazing results – very small teams providing very rich and comprehensive applications (an example in More about Enterprise RIA in practice).

Nowadays, I believe that citizen development can be effective provided the following combination: easy and intuitive assembly and composition tools with adequately enforced governance, and a professionally developed collection of services (building blocks). A good example of such a mix is Convertigo.com, which evolved from Programmatic Integration to Enterprise Mashup’s and now to SOA backend enablement (targeted at IT professionals via an Eclipse based studio) and Front-End composition (targeted at citizen developers with Convertigo’s own Composer as well as other popular composition tools).

What do you think about Citizen Development?

About application developers, platform licensing and bananas.

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I took the time yesterday evening to catch up with my reading, and came across some great posts about Application Platforms. Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri was inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Man in the mirror” and posted “Do Application Developers Need To Change Their Ways?”. He makes four recommendations to application developers – Understand the business in your bones”, “Be a developer not a coder”, “Use new technologies, but only when they make a difference”, and “Become Architects again”. As someone who evangelizes the abstraction of technological issues as a way to facilitate quality application development with a focus on the business solution, I am fully in agreement with Mike’s post. My recent post about A broader perspective on Google’s CHROME OS is very much along the same lines.

Another entry that I found highly relevant is John Rymer’s “Developers Want Unrestricted Downloads” (also on the Forrester blog). John relates to the recent work he did with Mike on CEP platforms, and forwards the argument that Platform vendors should offer unrestricted downloads for developers, in order to encourage them to adopt the platform and use it in production projects. And as far as survival goes, those vendors would collect revenue “as serious shops come back for deployment support including paid licenses”. We have the same passionate discussion time and again at Magic Software, in each licensing and pricing policy meeting. It is much easier said than done, in particular when your core product is the Platform. Megavendors such as Microsoft or IBM can and do promote much of their development technologies as lost leaders, compensating the freebies via (sometimes hefty) licenses on other parts of their technology that are required to complement the application environment. Most pure play vendors cannot afford that luxury, and in order to continue and innovate and support their operations they need to get revenue from almost any value added activity they perform. And when it comes to Open Source, the harsh reality is that there are very few vendors in this space who manage to survive independently for an extended period – most flare and then are either acquired or just fade away.

Let’s take both posts together – after all, it’s all about application development and John and Mike jointly report about it. Paraphrasing on Jackson’s song, Mike asks “What if application development professionals look in the mirror? What changes would you make to develop better applications?”. They also report that “Developers consistently tell us they want unrestricted platform downloads — no time bombs, no forced contacts with the vendor’s sales staff, no limited-function versions”. Let me take this reasoning boldly further. In other words, those developers who want unrestricted free platform downloads should be willing to do their own development work for free – hoping that their employer would find their work useful enough to pay them for subsequent support! Or maybe they should look in the mirror, and apply the same criteria they’d like for themselves to their fellow developers who develop platforms.

There’s also something to be learned from the banana merchants and the Max Havelaar foundation (incidently, the original story is related to Java – the island…). The foundation promotes fair trade and pay, and certifies that a minimal fair portion of the revenue from agricultural products from developing countries reaches the farmers who produced it. In the supermarket, Max Havelaar branded bananas are a bit more expensive than the non certified ones, yet they are very popular and sell well.

Would you rather buy Max Havelaar bananas? How about seriously evaluating a non-production version of an application platform that supports Mike’s recommendations?

How about a “Personal Cloud”?

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Mike Gualtieri recently posted “Cloudmania: Developers Need A Personal Cloud”, which I find very pertinent and descriptive of developer’s views. I must say that  I do not know professional developers who entertain the idea of their development baby being hooked with an umbilical cord to another mother (such as a hosted PaaS). But they certainly want the ability to test it whenever they want in the target environment.

One thing that probably contributes to the confusion is the almost non-existent distinction between situational applications and core applications. Mike evoked in the past the emergence of “enlightened developers”, who produce situational apps with highly abstracting Platform as a Service environments. But what he is discussing here are not those type of apps and developers but the more professional breed, that develops Enterprise Applications.

I am still perplex at the reasons that made the Application Development community regress from the productive 4GL platforms that emerged in the early 90’s back to 3GL environments such as C and Java. The increasing technical complexity of the Cloud finally halted this and is a fertile ground for the revival and emergence of Metadata Driven Application Platforms, which abstract the technical constraints by pre-programming optimized engines, which feed on Metadata based business logic. And we have to distinguish here very clearly between platforms designed for situational applications, with coarse grained widgets and services, and platforms designed for enterprise applications, that offer the entire granularity spectrum from application and process templates down to embedding code snippets.

Salesforce.com showed the way with Force.com, but it is still Cloud only and pretty much tied to the basic CRM environment. uniPaaS from Magic Software is leveraging its past 4GL experience to provide probably the first Application Platform that corresponds to what you describe as “a Personal Cloud that would allow them to configure their local environment in multiple way and take it with them wherever they go”. My recent interactions at industry events such as RIA World and with many enterprises and ISV’s confirm the growing interest and adoption of these platforms. That’s good news for us all.

Qualifying the need for Enterprise RIA

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I have frequently written and commented about Enterprise RIA’s, here and elsewhere. One of my concerns in relation to RIA is terminology, and I’ve asked around for idea’s about a more appropriate name – to no avail. Yet, my colleagues did relate to it and brought up a few ideas and findings.

You might want to have a look at Ofer Spiegel’s blog posting on the topic. Also Amit Ben-Zvi recently summarized a discussion on this topic that a group of us had recently, trying to define the application context best suited for Enterprise Rich Internet Applications. We identified 5 key attributes, which need to be present simultaneously in order to qualify a good context for a RIA:

  • The users are away from the office, and require remote (Internet) access
  • The application is actually a stateful process, is highly interactive, and requires a rich and dynamic front end with many data fields. If a static HTML form is good enough for the process then look no further – but if it is a dynamic form that keeps changing according to the input provided then RIA might be appropriate
  • The application should be a core process for the organization (e.g. CRM, finance/ERP, marketing, inventory)
  • Requires on-line connectivity/synchronization
  • It is a centralized process with significant human interaction

We did find, though, a pretty broad consens in differentiating Enterprise from Consumer RIA’s:  the “Richness” in Enterprise RIA’s is first and foremost about the interaction, in contrast to Consumer RIA’s which focus essentially on Rich Media output (which brings me back to propose to use different terms for Enterprise RIA and Consumer RIA ).

Enterprise 2.0 Applications actually deliver their promised value

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Last week I spent a lot of time going over case stories around application platform, trying to crystallize drivers and benefits. Yesterday came up a very related question at the ebizQ Web 2.0 Forum (www.ebizq.net/blogs/ebizq_forum/2009/05), in which I am a regular commentator: In What Area of an Enterprise is Web 2.0 Most Underutilized?. Here’s my comment on that.

While collaboration at large (including wikis, blogs and networking) is probably the most widespread Web 2.0 practice to penetrate the enterprise, I find that Enterprise 2.0 applications and UI’s are the most underutilized. That is understandable, since it is in that area that enterprises have extensive investments and legacies, and changing and evolving applications is complex and expensive. Yet, that is probably the area that will have a very significant business impact. We start to see the first implementations, which are indeed delivering the expected benefits. Here’s a recent example I came across – a project which I think is pretty representative of Enterprise 2.0 applications – in the general context of Web 2.0 and “millennial” lifestyle.

The enterprise at the heart of this story produces an innovative “millennial” outdoors consumer product, which is taking its time penetrating the market. In order to accelerate the penetration, they decided to accompany the web and viral marketing campaigns with group events, in which they let groups experience the product. That required their channel partners to organize such events, publish details, register participants, and handle the logistics. The solution had to deal with a combination of requirements that are usually handled by distinct software product – Content Management, Process Management, Procurement, Accounting, Resource Allocation and more. The business case did not justify a long and expensive project and the acquisition and integration of several systems, and this was well beyond the scope of Situational Applications. so the CIO saw here an opportunity to use one of the new platforms that claim agile development and Enterprise 2.0 capabilities. The objective was to provide the various functions in a “cloud” manner, from a single location and a single application to partners and visitors wherever they are. The specification described a Rich Internet Application for the use of the channel partners and implementers, and a dynamic web portal to promote the events and handle registration. Using one of the new RIA platforms (Magic Software’s uniPaaS in this case), they were able to address in one project the varied user personas and use cases, with the appropriate mix of Browser based interaction for visitors and rich interactive clients for power users – all part of a single application. Moreover, given the pure Web Architecture, the entire deployment is in a single data center and no local installation is required. It enables to on-board new partners and scale up the channel with practically no IT hassle – a truly agile operation.

I think that one of the reasons for the slow adoption is also the scarcity of appropriate application infrastructure. But it is probably only a matter of time before this would change.

“Private Cloud” and RIA gain momentum alongside SaaS

I wanted to share with you some results from a campaign we’re just concluding. The campaign targeted at CIO’s and Chief Architects of Switzerland’s large enterprises. We asked them about their interest or experience with RIA and Cloud development and implementations. Over 16%  responded positively – are both developing in-house and considering RIA’s.

I think that we see here a fundamental architectural shift, which is more visible perhaps in the SaaS application market but is nevertheless gaining significant foothold as “private cloud”.

It might be useful to segment the SaaS phenomenon between the Usability aspect and the Business Model. Private Clouds and RIA go after the Usability, which I start to think is a stronger driver than the Business Model.

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