Low-code tools may be a developer’s best friend, according to experienced coders-turned-entrepreneurs in the field. Mark Roemers, founder of the pharmaceutical-centric SCM applications and hardware provider AntTail, successfully used new, low-code tools to help him get his company off the ground, and he has some crucial advice for enterprise-based developers.
AntTail’s job is to produce and maintain both the software and sensors that help users keep track of important pharmaceutical deliveries and make sure that they arrive both at the right time and at the right temperature. But by leveraging the support of a low-code solution provider called Mendix, a Boston-based PaaS provider that is now available on IBM Bluemix Roemers said he is able to rapidly develop either apps or portals for his customers that can specifically target the precise needs of their customers and integrates with the sensors they produce.
And even though Roemers is an experienced programmer, he still was able to find value in the capabilities provided in free, low-code tools. He admitted that he had not programmed for close to 20 years, but despite that fact — and his initial skepticism — it did not take him long to learn how to use the tool and produce a quality portal. Now he says he can produce a portal in three to four weeks, all without the typical backend support and overhead that is usually associated with enterprise portals.
Does it really work?
Roemers said that there is a steep learning curve for those even those experienced with languages like Java, but that it took only a few weeks to become extremely productive with Mendix’s services. He advised that other developers should look into these low-code tools as a way to create valuable proof-of-concepts without reaching into either their company or personal budget.
“You can get yourself up to speed and knowledgeable … without incurring any costs,” he said. “As a company, you can build a complete application [and] demo it as a portal or an application on a tablet,” adding that his company did not even purchase any licensing fees until they had their first paying customer.
Roemers said that the time spent developing is brought to a minimum with the tool. His entire “team” consists solely of him and one other partner, and they do not even spend the majority of their time writing code or building the apps.
“I spend about maybe 10% of my time programming, and it’s basically adding little stuff that people ask,” he said. “So we do a release about every four weeks.”
Moving out of the dark ages
Roemers strongly believes that better productivity can only come from utilizing better technology, likening old, large-team development processes to the use of dikes for water as opposed to the use of modern water-management technology.
“That’s a bit how we make code. If you’re coding Java or Angular by hand, let’s say, it’s a bit like shoveling a dike,” he said. “Now we use pumps and sand and water and large shovels, large equipment … it’s more efficient.”
Time for a new image?
The other aspect of development that Roemers stresses is the inclusion of coders in business meetings. He believes it’s important that the coder be able to sit in on a meeting, have someone lay out the business needs and have the coder put together a working prototype as the needs are being laid out. Roemers does, however, recognize the fact that this is a change from the usual “image” developers have maintained.
“It also asks for a different kind of programmer,” Roemers said. “He needs to wear a tie, use some deodorant and sit in a business meeting to understand the logic behind the coding that goes on.”
Roemers also stresses the fact that developers need to be able to show some kind of tangible business value that can be achieved with their creation. Without it, he says that developers are almost making an empty promise. A database that can hold millions of records may be impressive, Roemers said, but unless it can serve a specific business function, it can’t be considered very useful on its own.
Maybe developers don’t need to start wearing a suit and tie just yet, but it may be a good time for today’s coders to think about how much they are communicating with those dictating the business needs. Or, in some scenarios, maybe it’s worth considering the option to “jump ship” and dictate your own business needs.
Portugal Telecom’s implementation of their latest iBPMS tool, SHOP BOX, may be a shining example of how to manage enterprise software change management correctly.
The telecommunications company, which is the largest in Portugal, was featured in our April 2016 Editor’s Choice for the implementation of PNMSoft’s Sequence iBPMS platform. One aspect of the story truly stuck out to me: they were able to push a successful rollout with a technology team that included just four application managers, two coders and one technical support person.
So how does a company successfully roll out a new piece of software to hundreds of locations that serve tens of thousands of customers? With gradual, steady change management.
Determining a plan of attack
According to Gonçalo Mendes, head of retail development and optimization at Portugal Telecom, their team began the project by sorting through 370 “workflows” associated with their shop management and narrowed down a list of what they determined to be the most critical workflows. These 65 “artifacts,” as they call them, became the focus of their Sequence implementation plan.
“They had more than 30 different applications, and more than 400 different processes,” Vasileios Kospanos, marketing manager at PNMSoft said. “That caused a lot of confusion, and they wanted to simplify that by converging all their processes and their systems in something they created [called] ‘SHOP BOX.'”
Keeping it simple…relatively
According to Steve Weissman, analyst and founder of the Holly Group, Portugal Telecom’s success with the SHOP BOX project rests on the fact that they piecemealed their implementation. Portugal Telecom, who’s customer service representatives operate out of 250 unique “shops” that deal directly with customers, began by migrating about 6,000 customers over into the new BPM system. The company, which currently has about 49 of the 250 shops outfitted with the SHOP BOX tool, made sure to gradually increase that number over the year, eventually growing to 20,000 by April, 2016.
“They’re not trying to eat the whole elephant in one bite,” Weissman said. “The fact that they’re taking a longer term view of success dramatically increases the chance that they’ll achieve that success.”
A tangled web of an infrastructure…
Kospanos said that the implementation was not a simple one. Portugal Telecom’s existing architecture made the implementation a challenge, especially since it required coordination between the different vendors and stakeholders that make up Portugal Telecom’s stack.
“The implementation was challenging, and that is also down to a lot of parties being involved,” said Kospanos. “You have Microsoft in one side, Accenture, us with the Sequence [technology] and also Portugal Telecom themselves.”
Yet despite these challenges, the implementation of SHOP BOX has been a success. And Kospanos believes that it is not necessarily because they have a small team that they were successful, but rather that they made the effort to find technology that enabled them to work efficiently.
“You can buy Agile technology, you can buy the latest and greatest,” Kospanos said. “But if you don’t work in an Agile way or in a way that will [at least] make success a possibility, it won’t be successful.”
Enterprises are stuck in the EDI mud, hanging onto old B2B integration technologies. Legacy EDI methods such as value-added networks (VANs) are costing many companies huge amounts of money in service subscriptions when cheaper, cloud- and API-based alternatives are readily available.
That’s the finding of Ovum’s new study, titled “Developing an Agile and holistic B2B integration strategy for digital business success,” which indicated that over half of enterprises interviewed are using in-house or legacy EDI solutions. And more than a third of respondents are using more than three separate solutions for EDI management.
The costs of B2B integration
As I’ve discussed before in a February 2016 article talking about the use of APIs versus traditional B2B integration solutions, many companies find themselves locked in with expensive VAN services — a service whose inefficient data management practices drive up the costs of the service, according to Eric Rempel, CIO at the integrated logistics provider Redwood Logistics. He pointed out that sometimes the EDI VAN service providers that their clients use will translate data into EDI format only to have it translated back to the original XML format once it arrives in Redwood Logistics’ hands. Rempel said that only after showing the company how much this practice was running up costs, they finally abandoned the EDI VAN and began securely sending XML data to Redwood Logistics directly via API-based methods.
The study, which was sponsored by the digital business platform provider Axway, also revealed that even companies that attempt to manage all their B2B integration in-house, using legacy hardware and systems, may not be doing themselves any favors. Ovum points out that “resource-related costs can account for up to 60% of the total cost of ownership for a legacy EDI solution,” and that turning to cloud- and API-based solutions could potentially save these companies immense amounts of money by eliminating certain resource requirements.
Reading the statistics
The study also found some other interesting facts:
- Today’s enterprise takes an average of 23 days to onboard a new trading partner.
- Over 25% of respondent enterprises admitted that onboarding can often take more than 36 days.
- About 10% of respondent enterprises currently utilize cloud-based B2B integration methods.
- About 18% of respondent enterprises are inclined to use cloud-based B2B integration services under a managed services model.
- A little less than half of enterprises surveyed currently have a digital business initiative that requires use of APIs, and another 6% plan to implement an API program within the next year.
Two of those points I find particularly striking. If so many enterprises are willing to admit that their B2B integration efforts are severely inefficient, why is it that so many companies still cling to these legacy services and only 10% have moved to the cloud? Furthermore, if so many companies are already pursuing cloud- and API-based business initiatives, why would they not apply those initiatives to such a critical — and expensive — aspect of their business processes?
Where is this going?
“People are testing the waters,” Ken Yagen, vice president of products at the API provider MuleSoft, said. “I think you’ll see the growth. You won’t see the EDI transactions diminish, but you’ll see a growth in API transactions rather than traditional B2B EDI transactions.”
As is often the case in the enterprise world, I’m sure this will simply take time to catch hold. But hopefully cloud- and API-based B2B integration solution providers — and us tech journalists — can make the effort to show these companies exactly how much money they are potentially throwing out the window for these legacy services and methods.
How the Developer Workforce Initiative will generate more talent with three distinct approaches
The Application Developers Alliance has revealed a three-tier strategy targeting at addressing the critical shortage in enterprise software development talent. According to Jake Ward, president of the Alliance, they plan to work with corporate partners in the Developer Workforce Initiative to implement an immediate, a long-term and a holistic approach to solving this problem.
In an interview, Ward explained what each of those strategic tiers entails and what they hope the Developer Workforce Initiative’s efforts will accomplish.
Ward believes that there are number of talented developers who are limited by a general unfamiliarity with large-scale enterprise and the lack of a defined career path that is often found in traditional professions.
To address this issue, Ward said the “immediate” approach involves raising the level of expertise and comfort with large, enterprise systems — mainly through the distribution of easily accessible educational materials and teaching resources. This, he said, will allow developers who may currently be working with small-scale applications in closed environments, such as amateur hobbyists, to become more familiar with the level of sophistication and skills required and pursue a career in developing enterprise applications.
Another aspect of this approach involves creating what Ward called a “professional development career trajectory” that allows developers to create a career plan based on both their interests and existing skills. The group also focuses on connecting talented developers with the companies looking for that expertise.
“We think that as an essential workforce that is growing in importance every day, they should at a minimum be able to plan their own careers,” Ward said.
The goal of the “long term” approach, Ward said, is to ensure that development career teachings become embedded within elementary, high school and college curriculum. This includes working with educational leaders, government and partners in the Developer Workforce Initiative to create frameworks around developer training and increase the distribution of learning resources.
Bringing development skill training to the class has already been pushed at a government level. Last year, the White House issued a press release announcing the creation of “TechHire,” which is described as “a bold multi-sector effort and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need,” by working with universities and community colleges as well as utilizing ‘coding boot camps,’ and high-quality online courses that train developers quickly. Programs in Delaware are training students in Java and .Net, and programs established in Louisville, Ky., are working to standardize employer recognition of software development skillsets.
When asked how he feels about the government promoting and providing funding for these developer education programs, Jake said he and the Application Developers Alliance are in full support.
“It’s the language of our lives,” Ward said. “Why wouldn’t we want people to learn it?”
The final piece of the puzzle, according to Ward, is the holistic approach: Creating larger appreciation and awareness of the development workforce and profession.
“People need to know that [being a software developer is] one of the top jobs in the country,” said Ward.
Ward said that while the Application Developers Alliance sees growth in the general understanding and appreciation of software development, there is a still a large number of potential developers missing out on career opportunities. Ward fears that these potential enterprise developers either don’t understand there is potential for a viable career in software, don’t know how to access learning resources or believe it is simply too difficult a field to learn about or excel at.
Through efforts driven by the Developers Workforce Initiative, Ward believes the Alliance and its partners can successfully promote awareness and appreciation of the profession and the skills it requires. He hopes this will ultimately result in the increased strength and size of developer workforce over the long term.
When Liz Rush started her career in software development, working in algorithm programming and the use of algorithms in data analytics was not on her agenda.
“Just the term ‘algorithm development’ frightened me back then, and many developers I meet have the same feeling,” said Rush, developer evangelist for Algorhitmia, an open marketplace which now offers 1,600+ algorithms. Her job is demystifying algorithms, algorithm development and the use of pre-built algorithms to speed up software development projects and enable data analytics.
I talked with Rush about how shared algorithms eliminate a build-your-own (BYO) bottleneck in the application development process. We also chatted about her presentation, “Your Big Data’s Boring: Let’s Talk about Algorithms,” which she delivered at the 2016 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco.
Finding a love for coding
Rush became a software developer through Ada Developers Academy, a non-profit, tuition-free code school for women in Seattle. “That’s when I fell in love with coding,” she said. Before that, she worked in marketing and translation jobs, where she acquired skills that still come into play in her developer evangelist role.
“I do a lot of code writing and producing content, like sample apps,” she said. She also creates demos and presentations that show how to reap the benefits of sharing algorithms between departments within an enterprise.
Why big data algorithms matter
At the LWT Summit, Rush told the audience of 1,500 tech pros how they can use algorithms to get value out of data. “Big data is useless unless you have the tools to do anything with it,” she said. Via algorithms, she explained, developers can see patterns in data of all types, such as images and audio, to classify unstructured data and do other analytics tasks.
Rush also discussed career and community-building opportunities in algorithm development during the LWT Summit. She said the growing algorithm outsourcing movement allows users to pick and choose their algorithms, giving a large number of software teams access to quality algorithms developed by experts.
Until recently, most enterprise development teams built their own algorithms. “Everybody wanted to do it themselves, sometimes just to prove that they could do it themselves,” Rush said. “I understand that impulse, as you can learn a lot from the process.”
But these teams should realize that while a BYO approach to creating algorithms worked pretty well when businesses used fewer applications, today it can limit the ability to rapidly develop new products and services. Applications are evolving rapidly, Rush noted, and shared algorithms help businesses keep their apps on the leading edge.
The value of an algorithm marketplace
Many companies understand they need an algorithm to do a specific task, but acquiring those needed algorithms is not always easy. “Traditionally, they’ve had to take the costly path of building it in-house or hiring an algorithm developer,” Rush said. Via a marketplace, businesses have the less-costly option of choosing pre-designed algorithms rather than reinventing the wheel themselves.
Start-ups, in particular, can benefit for using an algorithm marketplace. “They can get the value from the algorithm quickly without paying to build it or risking building it improperly,” she said. “Sharing algorithmic knowledge is a sure way to improve development practices.”
Enterprise application integration has traditionally relied on software-based middleware solutions in order to connect critical internal and client-facing applications to important backend systems and resources. But is enterprise middleware, as we know it, dead in the ground? Continued »
Analysts and B2B managers say the willingness to handle B2B integration via mobile is there, but it just may not be time yet.
When you’re an IT department of two, with 150 outside sales folks plus 150 people in the building, everything just needs to work.
Too bad that really doesn’t happen very often. And Jesse Davis, network admin for pharmaceutical company Derma Tran (a job he recently left), was reaching the breaking point. The company was using Citrix Xen to run its virtual desktops and between needing an extra layer of virtual desktops to run the virtual apps (which was costly), the map drives failing, restrictions the company couldn’t change and endless errors the tiny IT staff was spending virtually all of their time simply putting out fires.
Davis decided it was time for a change and looked at cloud provider dinCloud and its options for virtual private data centers. Dave Graffia, vice president of sales for dinCloud, explained that simplicity, cost and performance are what brings customers looking for help. “The whole process of building a data center from scratch is just becoming overwhelming now in a way it hasn’t been before,” he said. “There are lots of moving parts, R&D, capital investment and so many layers. Our best customers end up being those people who tried it and then came to us for help.”
Cost of course is also incredibly important. Graffia pointed to a Gartner Group study that showed desktops cost companies $300 to $500 a month. Virtual desktops are of course much less pricey, and using dinCloud, companies can provision or de-provision quickly. And thanks to good tracking, the dreaded “cloud cost creep” shouldn’t be an issue.
“From an IT perspective, the virtual workspace is very easy to use,” Davis said. “Now we take maybe 10 percent of the calls we used to.” In fact, his small team is now able to tackle some other niggling jobs — like email encryption and remote device management — and eventually they’re hoping to redo the camera system around the entire compound.
Choosing a workable solution has changed everything for the IT team, Davis stressed. “It has made the world of difference for us. We’ve gone from being constantly on the phone with the cloud provider to being the Maytag Man.”
Today, midsized companies are struggling to hire tech talent, especially those with advanced DevOps and Enterprise Architect-level skills. Fortune 2000 companies have the financial clout to attract developers and IT services providers. Meanwhile, SMBs often face a tough, multi-month slog to find contract tech services providers, according to Steve Mezak, CEO of Accelerance, a company which has created a global network of development services providers.
Mezak’s assessment reminded me of interviewing Java FX expert Rob Terpilowski at JavaOne 2015 about his challenges in hiring DevOps contractors. The process of filling contract positions used to take a couple of weeks and now takes two-to-three months, said Terpilowski, software architect for Lynden Inc., a freight shipping and logistics company in Seattle.
Mezak and Andy Hilliard, Accelerance president, talked to me recently about the current developer shortage and their IT outsourcing services. We also discussed why the rise of connected applications is driving the need for enterprise architecture change and, logically, for highly-skilled enterprise architects.
Mezak and Hilliard did a lot of legwork before launching Accelerance’s IT outsourcing services. “We got on airplanes and visited and evaluated IT services companies around the world,” Mezak said. “We looked at hundreds of companies and ranked their expertise in about 40 different technology areas.” So far, Accelerance has 50 certified partners in 30 different countries.
Companies using Accelerance usually find DevOps service providers in six days or less, largely because Accelerance has a list of who has the right tech skills to offer. Just evaluating independent developers or service firms’ skillsets takes more time than most businesses have, said Mezak.
Hilliard added that the complexity of IT today increases the need for and difficulty of qualifying contractors. They need experts who can help with decisions about and implementations of continuous integration and continuous deployment processes, containerization, microservices and more. “There’s a need for a much more sophisticated level of talent, more at the architect level,” he said.
It’s unusual for companies to ask Accelerance specifically for DevOps experts, when seeking personnel. “They’re saying, ‘I just need help getting these web applications built and deployed,’” Mezak said. That can often require what is called DevOps expertise, of course.
But IT architectures are much more dynamic today than they have been it in the past. “Architectural support is critical now because how these applications are deployed and how they communicate,” Mezak said.
Virtualization and the cloud have enabled organizations to process staggering amounts of data by unbuckling server-side limitations. Today, companies handle billions of pieces of data per day, intensifying the challenge of analyzing that data. Experts predict organizations that integrate data analytics technologies with business processes and enterprise architectures will gain a competitive advantage in 2016 through the use of statistics-backed user and market information. Continued »