What is the future of Software applications in 2013 and beyond?

by Frank 5. March 2012 06:00

As we all know, the world of IT and applications is changing rapidly and most of us application software vendors are trying to second-guess where the market is heading. The two key questions are:

  1. How should we deliver applications? and
  2. What should we be developing?

If we read and believe the IT press, especially the IT industry blogs, we should all be convinced by now that every application needs to be delivered on a mobile device. However, I am not fully convinced because I am a long-term and avid user of mobile devices, smartphone and iPad, and my experience tells me that mobile devices still don’t have the capabilities I need to be able to run all the applications I use. I also struggle to understand how to make my applications totally usable on mobile devices, especially smartphones.

For example, my smartphone is invaluable for checking and responding to emails when on the move. It is small, light, convenient (it sits in my shirt pocket) and has a long battery life. It also ‘connects’ to the Internet from most locations and 3G/4G and Wi-Fi services provide acceptable performance for email monitoring. But, it isn’t suitable for reading big documents and it isn’t suitable for lengthy responses. It is also painful when accessing web pages; the processor is too slow, the screen is just way too small and the QWERTY keyboard too small and too awkward for anything other than simple responses.

The iPad 2 is a lot better mainly because it has a bigger screen and more usable keyboard but it is still far from perfect.  Whenever I have to do real work (like writing this blog or writing program specifications), I end up working on my powerful laptop or desktop.

Strangely though, when I look at my laptop and desktop and all those messy cables and connections they look like museum pieces next to my iPad 2. In my opinion, the industry is somewhere between the old paradigm and the new paradigm but we haven’t got there just yet. Today’s mobile devices are a good first attempt but they don’t yet have what it takes to replace the desktop and laptop for serious business users.

The choice for us really comes down to developing and delivering software applications in either native mobile app mode (e.g., iPad apps developed in Xcode) or web-client mode (i.e., ‘thin-client’ applications that run in a browser and are developed using tools like HTML5, JavaScript and Ajax).

The web-client model is the best for us because it provides platform independence and the lowest cost delivery model. That is, it enables your application for all types of mobile devices as well as traditional notebooks and desktops and it is delivered just by the end user typing in a URL. It also only requires a single set of source code rather than the multiple sets of source code required to support native mobile apps for devices like the Android phone, iPad and Blackberry. It is therefore the lowest cost to develop and maintain and the lowest cost to roll out and support.

Ironically, the web-client model is also very old technology and I am surprised that after all these years we don’t have anything better to replace it.

As to what we should be developing, well that is literally the (multi) million dollar question. Our traditional fare is Enterprise Content Management software (ECM) or more simply, Information Management software. The ECM bag includes a host of horizontal market applications like document management software, records management software, contract management software, knowledge management software, etc. Our product RecFind 6 provides all of the above capabilities.

So, given that we already have a pretty clever and flexible ‘multi-application’ solution what should we replace it with or, what should we add to it? More importantly, what do customers need and want and even more importantly, what are they prepared to pay for?

Our customers happily tell us all the time about the new and extended functionality they would like to see in our products but usually their assumption is that we will fund the changes and provide the extended functionality free as part of a future upgrade. Usually they are right because we continually add new and improved features to successive upgrades provided under the customer’s maintenance agreement. However, for software vendors wanting to provide additional value and grow revenues, the real question is “is there a totally new product the majority of customers would need and want and be happy to pay for? “

I spend a lot of time thinking about this question. “What can I design and build that will provide significant value to a customer?” So much value in fact that the customer will be more than happy to outlay the funds to buy it. You might say it is the Holy Grail of software development, often called the ‘Killer App’. It may come as a surprise to those outside of our industry but many software developers spend enormous amounts of time and money building products no one buys.

A great idea doesn’t necessarily translate to success in the market. Similarly, because a customer says it wants something it does not necessarily follow that it will be willing to pay for it. As a software developer you have to ask the question, “If I build it, will you buy it?” This sounds a bit like Kevin Costner and his field of dreams movie, “Build it and they will come”, but in our case that isn’t necessarily true.

I have lots of ideas and have written lots of specifications and have built lots of applications but that killer app still eludes me. It must be time again to go out and ask our customers, “What would you like us to build? What application or feature or functionality would make a real difference to the running of your business? What application functionality do you need most of all? What do you believe will add the most value to your business? What would you like us to build next?”

Customers always have great ideas and they are often able to think outside the square. Software developers like us are more often than not too close to the problem. Now let’s see what they tell me, maybe that killer app is just around the corner, just like that next big lottery win.

Comments (1) -

ahman United States
6/18/2013 1:46:22 AM #

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