At Blueprint technologies, one of our key Practice Areas is application development. We find that many do not understand the basics of application development, nor do they properly estimate the benefits of a strong application development practice. We interviewed our Software Development Lead and application development expert, Andrew Redman, to help answer some of the most asked questions.
What are some of the common challenges in application development?
A couple jump right to mind. The first lies in the people running and managing your application development practice. A new or modernized application represents change. You must have the right team of change-loving developers and organizational buy-in so you can hit your goals quickly. You don’t have time to deal with people who don’t want to change the way they work or the tools they use in their job. It’s crucial to get the right people and commitments in place from the beginning.
The other challenge lies in how application development is viewed by leadership. Many times, application development is seen as a cost center or, at best, a vehicle for reducing costs. In some cases, the people leading the team can’t adequately explain how they add value to the company beyond reducing expenses, and that’s to their detriment. Many of the functions of an application development team should be focused on adding that demonstrable value to the bottom line, and quickly. There are numerous opportunities for companies to differentiate themselves based on the quality of their application development, but they can be hamstrung if the company is dedicated to purchasing off-the-shelf applications rather than developing their own custom applications. If a team can demonstrate that ability to contribute to the bottom line, it will be much easier to make the “Build over Buy” argument.
What are the general steps of an application development project?
The first step is for someone to identify a problem in the organization that has become large enough to cause a lot of trouble or get a lot of attention. Usually, it stems from the manual steps in processes being overwhelmed by the workload or becoming a hindrance to growth.
Once the problem is recognized and its effects understood, the search for a solution begins. This inevitably kicks off that “Buy or Build” debate. If the organization doesn’t have an established application development team, or at least some staff with experience in the practice, they often think that buying something off-the-shelf is their only option, which is certainly not the case.
Once a company has its — hopefully custom-built — application, it is delivered into the organization ecosystem. This is such an important step. You can build the best application ever, but if you don’t deploy it in the best fashion, train users on how to get the most out of it and provide them a roadmap of possibilities for the future, you’ve lowered your prospects for success from the start.
How does an organization know it’s the right time to invest in application development?
I don’t want to get too narrow, because it’s always a good time to invest in application development, but there are a few tell-tale signs.
The first is when your reports are constantly requesting more staff. Assuming your team is made of hard-working, talented people, this is a strong indicator that you don’t have enough automation in your processes. With an effective application development practice, you can focus computers on the repetitive, speed-critical tasks they excel at, leaving your people to the work they do best.
Another big sign is if your organization is having a hard time getting the data or answers it needs due to communication issues between several purchased software packages. This is a common kick-off for application development projects because the inability to make smart, data-driven decisions isn’t a situation that leadership can tolerate for long.
Finally, and this one doesn’t come up as much as it used to, when you find your organization is still dealing with a lot of paper. If there is a lot of paper being processed, if you have staff literally fling paper, you need some application development help. There are much better ways to handle those processes and free your personnel for more important work.
What industries would benefit most from an established application development practice?
This will sound salesy, but it’s hard for me to think of an industry that wouldn’t benefit from a focus on application development. The healthcare, energy, payroll processing and retail industries have all invested heavily in application development and reaped huge benefits from those investments. Even a small mom and pop shop could take advantage of application development to improve inventory management, online sales and many other functions.
What is a cool example of application development you’ve done at Blueprint?
My favorite was a project I worked on for an oil and gas company that was having its field employees log locations and hours worked manually and then log them manually in an Excel file. Aside from being wildly inefficient, that manual process resulted in a high number of errors and really hampered the company’s ability to accurately forecast activity costs. We built them an application that could be downloaded on employees’ mobile devices, allowing them to quickly, accurately and easily record that field data and then transfer it to the company’s main systems. That simple ability has allowed them to shift literally hundreds of hours of employee time to more productive tasks and increased revenue by improving cost forecasting.
Forward-thinking application development can be a major business differentiator. Blueprint Technologies is here to help architect your next application with growth in mind.