CIO’s Mighty Role – Why Custom Development is the Next Big Thing (Again)

Sean Peterson

Custom Development is the Next Big Thing

Today, software is playing a very important role in performing basic business processes and serving customers. Leading software development trends are helping companies perform faster at lower costs, and collaborate and innovate more effectively, ultimately differentiating them from competitors.

Software development is particularly useful for vertical applications because there are fewer off-the-shelf products designed to address specific vertical needs, which creates another opportunity to outpace the competition.

But the software industry itself is highly competitive, and eventually other software vendors offer packaged designs to deliver functionality using some, or all, of what makes a company distinctive. Once the packaged solution marinates and matures—and once the price is right— custom development for that particular need no longer makes sense.

Cloud’s mighty role

A critical piece of this phenomenon in application development is the cloud. Cloud offers, speed, agility and lower costs, which has dramatically shifted the overall tide for custom development. Rather than building a platform with the capacity to execute development, you can simply consume what you need from an existing cloud platform. Equally important, cloud gives you the flexibility to de-provision what you don’t need, significantly lowering the risk of investing in new services.

In this context, the chief benefits that cloud offers in a custom development setting are agility and lower costs. Under the traditional development model, if I were to create, say, a Web service using a novel method, I would have to purchase new servers, middleware and development tools. Today, I can spool all these elements up from any major cloud infrastructure provider and test them first. The cloud platform also generates elastic capacity and global distribution that can scale precisely with my service.

What would have involved months in time and millions in capital is now spun up in a matter of weeks at a fraction of the cost. Then you can test it, and spin it back down if you need to shift, change or kill an app. That has significantly reduced the friction for people experimenting with custom development.

And now, the catch: Skills.

The traditional technology development curve for large enterprises is all but dead. New approaches require an agile approach, and releasing subcomponents of systems in the form of microservices. To make this operation succeed, companies will need to, among other things, create and release new mobile applications and platforms continuously.

Producing a truly disruptive solution requires melding a nearly infinite number of moving parts: mobility, APIs, Web architectures, all the cloud services that lie beneath it—and new delivery models around DevOps and containerization.

Unlocking the potential of custom development at scale in a truly transformative way means putting these disparate pieces together. And that requires companies to attract and/or train people to execute these tasks.

The skills your people need today are radically different from what was required even five years ago—from product strategy to custom development. The game has changed, and so must your workforce. That requires creating incentives to attract the right talent to your team, which may entail ensuring your tools are up to speed. Good tech talent does not come cheap, and having the right “toys” that these folks can play with could be a positive step toward attracting new employees.

Making sense of the ecosystem

There’s another skill that’s extremely important in the custom development world—understanding and managing the continuously evolving ecosystem of cloud technology. With thousands of new features cropping up each month, managing them all means following what the cloud vendors are doing, keeping a fixed eye on how the marketplace is evolving and grasping how packaged software is converted to SaaS solutions.

Understanding this new, constantly shifting landscape—and where you fit in it—is of the utmost importance. You can start by asking this question: Do your teams have the capabilities to devise a strategy to help you forge your own ecosystem amid this complexity?

Cloud and the as-a-Service consumption of capabilities is immeasurably changing the traditional provider/consumer approach to IT. As a result, companies’ adoption and consumption of IT needs to evolve in harmony.

Finding the right people is only a small part of the puzzle—once you’ve found them, you need to hold onto them. Indeed, hiring people with the skills you need is a win, but it could be a hollow victory without a strong retention strategy and innovative incentives to keep them. After all, these folks are in high demand.

All organizations will need to figure out what the best course of action is to thrive in the digital marketplace—from choosing the right tools and technology—to finding and keeping the right people to continue innovating and implementing. As always, the ultimate goal is to continue leapfrogging your competition and owning the future, at least until the next best thing comes along—again. The critical—and magical—element is obviously cloud. Starting with a strong, viable and sensible cloud strategy will go a long way to ensuring you’re staying at least one step ahead.

By Sean Peterson

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