What lies ahead for application development? Can we look forward to a less hierarchical system?
The current state of application development has an often overlooked problem: It’s inaccessible.
Top tier companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook are at a major advantage. With their large capital, they can invest in innovative development tools and round up extensive workforces of leading talent to use them—which matters, especially amid an ongoing developer drought. Meanwhile, companies lacking these privileges must make do with a leaner toolset and smaller, less cherry-picked workforce—which is not to say that they don’t make smart, creative use of what’s available to them, but that they deserve to play ball on a more equal playing field.
Unfortunately, the pandemic compounded this issue, at times bringing even greater advantages to the tech giants. To overcome what some consider a trend of software elitism, efforts have been made to accelerate the pace of application architecture for all. Employing no-code and low-code tools, for example, could help the smaller guys compete. However, as Robson Grieve, CMO of enterprise software company OutSystems sees it, “these latest approaches are mostly point solutions solving a limited set of problems.”
I recently invited Grieve to share more of his take on this issue and how he envisions a future of application development that works inclusively for a wider set of companies.
Application Development: The Other 99%
“It’s frustrating that the best, most advanced development tools have traditionally only been accessible to the largest, richest companies,” said Grieve. “Everyone else suffers with ballooning backlogs and struggles to take advantage of the latest, greatest technologies.”
While it may sound like a platform out of a Bernie Sanders speech, recognizing the advantages of the top 1% in the application development world brings up a valid line of questioning as to whether maintaining this status quo is really how we want to go forward. After all, wouldn’t it be better if more companies had access to the best technologies? Wouldn’t we all benefit from that?
Creating a More Equal Playing Field in Application Development
Luckily, we are already feeling the winds change in this department, as top tier companies are beginning to lose their stronghold on the crème de la crème of development tools. What’s beginning to change, Grieve believes, is “access to the most sophisticated tools and advanced technologies are being democratized … sophisticated, feature-rich, beautiful, and mission-critical applications are no longer the sole domain of the elites.”
How is this being realized? In many ways, it’s coming from the makers of the development tools themselves, who are bringing careful thought and creativity to tool design. Some of the strongest approaches in Grieve’s eyes include the following:
- Holistic approaches that streamline the most critical innovations into single, integrated platforms.
- Low-code approaches that help accelerate development while retaining the power and expressiveness of traditional code.
- Platform approaches that offer design, development, deployment, monitoring and management capabilities in one place.
- Multi-functional approaches that serve a diverse team, support the full DevOps life cycle and, in effect, improve productivity and collaboration. For example, platforms crafted to serve the unique needs of UI/UX experts, business analysts, professional developers and architects.
- Automated approaches that allow applications to be continuously updated and seamlessly modified once they’ve been deployed, using an AI-powered automation layer that underpins the tool, managing application dependencies and providing self-healing capabilities to ensure that regardless of what changes are made, the tool never breaks.
One thing that stands out here, according to Grieve, is the idea that broad, multi-functional development platforms reign supreme. As Grieve noted, “the most valuable tools are the ones that solve the broadest set of problems.” In general, approaches that keep in mind security, scalability, reliability and availability will be robust solutions for diverse teams, both large and small. A bonus is if the tool is visually appealing and model-driven for the best ease of usability and user experience.
All for One, and One for All
The issue of software elitism is one problem that can be seen as a clear opportunity, and that opportunity is not being missed among the smartest makers of development tools. As Grieve said, “Modern application platforms have the potential to help the vast majority of the economy succeed by offering a better approach—one that takes state-of-the-art technology and makes it more approachable, accessible and adaptable.”
Again, we see a version of AI democracy at play. This is an exciting shift for many companies and teams that exist outside the elite tier. As an example, Grieve said that instead of “procedural code or minimalistic point solutions,” modern applications platforms “harness the power of advanced technologies and AI to create efficiencies for companies outside of the tech bubble.”
This could be one way to level the playing field and allow companies of all sizes to complete the work needed, shrink backlogs, overcome developer drought with tools that are friendlier to citizen developers, support team collaboration, accelerate efficiency, and—for the underdogs—compete with the big dogs.
Looking to the Horizon
So, what does Grieve see for the future of application development? To him, it is bright if we continue on the current trajectory. “More and more,” he said, “successful development projects will require business and IT to work together and collaborate closely.”
This means investing in sophisticated technologies, with powerful built-in AI, that can help companies ensure that even though applications are built quickly and efficiently, they are built securely and reliably—and in ways that can be easily scaled and evolved.
If this is all to be realized, Grieve forecasts that we can look forward to “a bright future that is welcoming of a much more diverse and representative community of people who build applications together to solve all the most pressing problems.” It’s an optimistic view, but one that many will welcome as a fresh breath of air in what have been some particularly trying times.