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Some thoughts on the future of application development

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Mike Gualtieri of Forrester had a blog post a few months back that I missed then but that he pointed out to me this week – What Is Your Future? In it he outlines two scenarios at either end of a continuum. One is that application development changes in incremental ways such that “The application development professional role remains largely unchanged, but they become more effective.” The other is a more extreme one that will “shift much of the responsibility of development to businesspeople”.

I believe that both scenarios will be widespread, but for different kinds of services or components. As the move to a component- or service-oriented architecture continues and as application development comes to mean composite application development, there will no longer be one application development scenario. Some components will remain the primary responsibility of people who look very like today’s application developers. Others will become the primary responsibility of business users or of business analysts. Others still might become the responsibility of analytic or statistical types.

For instance, services that manipulate technical components such as machines or sensors might remain in the hands of developers while those that make decisions as to what to do when a sensor tells you something specific would be developed by more business focused people. A business user might build a component that allows them to manipulate the information held about a customer that uses a more technical component that integrates the various data feeds from third party data sources with the internal databases involved as well as more analytical services developed to infer characteristics of customers from their past behavior. No one approach will work for all components.

I see this already, with the question of who is developing decision services become blurred with business, IT and analytic folks all working on them in different ways. Similarly, more business users are building their own portlets, reports and screens than ever before, even while most data and infrastructure services still require developers.

Clearly the development of different kinds of technology and the willingness of new generations of workers to use them and of management to allow them will be a big factor. The details of the resulting distribution of work are therefore hard to predict. What is clear is that technologies that empower the business and IT (and analytics) to collaborate will become more and more important and that organizations that get good at this kind of collaboration and at the development of decision services in this way will have an edge.

I have blogged about the good work Forrester is doing on dynamic business applications before and also about the role of business rules in building a digital business architecture and for concurrent business engineering. I will also be at the Forrester IT Forum so find me and say hi if you are there or subscribe to get the blog posts from the event as I write them.

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  • Mike Gualtieri May 8, 2008, 8:31 pm

    Hi James,
    I agree there will be multiple application development scenarios. I have been giving a lot of thought to how business domain specific  design/development tools will help enable  a business developer scenario.   Most tools are general  to all domains.   For example, most of the BI, BPM, and business rules platforms are designed as general purpose tools. An example, of a domain specific dev tool is Experian’s business rules platform.   Risk Managers get Experian right away because it is designed for them.   But, a business user in manufacturing or logistics would not understand it. Are business domain tools necessary to enable a non-trivial development role for businesspeople?

  • Mark Eastwood May 11, 2008, 12:32 pm

    James, While I agree somewhat with Mike’s thinking about horizontal BI, BPM, and business rules platforms, I think he misses something here too. Tools like Blaze Advisor while horizontal are infinitely customizable to create the business friendly experience he cites as an advantage to Experian’s tool. Everyday the horizontal capabilities of Blaze Advisor are used to develop customized rule maintenance applications (a browser-based business user rule authoring environment) specific not only to a particular industry (for the originations environment Fair Isaac pre-built Capstone Decision Accelerator) but to a particular player in that industry. Leveraging the Enterprise Policy Hub concept, businesses competing against one another in a single industry define policies and have procedures and sometimes a unique “language” they use to define these policies. The Blaze Advisor rule maintenance application is effectively custom built (from existing components) for a particular client organization. Its the ultimate in horizontal functionality meets built-for-purpose business user rule authoring environment.