Sunday, July 15, 2007

IT enters its most fertile development era ever

Information technology is now entering an unprecedented era of rapidly expanding development productivity. This is because of two unassailable facts: The number and types of people who can actively participate in software development are expanding, while -- at the same time -- we're seeing a rapid compression in the effort, cost and risk of taking applications and services from concept into full production.

Put these trends together and we enter a fertile new era of diverse applications and services creation, one that offers developers more choice on how to build, and offers architects more choice of how to deploy (including broader use of web services and hosting to the "cloud"). The trends auspiciously portend less risk for businesses, both for entrepreneurs and enterprises alike, to innovative in ways that more easily bring applications to markets via the Internet.

The entrepreneurs are groking this all just fine, while the enterprises are quickly recognizing that they face new upside benefits as they adopt so-called Enterprise 2.0 approaches. Such development process improvements as "application lifecycle management 2.0", open source development communities such as Eclipse, and a widening embrace of Agile development practices are quelling enterprise IT leaders' fears of development project misfires.

In the mostly consumer-facing Web 2.0 arena, the ongoing mash-up of the definitions of developer and entrepreneur among start-ups allows for a flowering of innovation with relatively low up-front costs. If an application or service doesn't work in gaining wide use and appeal, these innovators keep on changing it until it does. Google is a prime example of this tinker-to-success mentality.

Other accelerants to the ease-of-development trends are the wide embrace of open source tools, preference for rich Internet applications (RIAs) approaches (highlighted by the recent Microsoft Silverlight unveilings), and openly available APIs for myriad ecommerce and social networking Web services from the likes of Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, Salesforce.com, and Microsoft.

I'm also seeing a variety of new automated development workflows and requirements gathering approaches that bring non-developers increasingly into the act of defining, adjusting and implementing applications. These folks are not coders, but they are keen on business transformation via re-engineered business processes. The more tools that close the gap between process efficiency knowledge and the implementation of such productivity enhancements via IT, the more that talented non-developers will deeply exploit IT for their business goals.

A prime example of such tools and approaches is One Team Technologies, a Chicago-based start-up that walks non-geeks through a series of menus and choices -- selecting new options based on the roles and choices of the creators -- to design database-driven, potentially mission-critical applications. I think venture capitalists ought to use this technology and approach to incubate even more innovative start-ups, and create more business process-focused applications that can be delivered quickly to dynamic enterprises and markets.

And while this trend toward design automation and inclusion of more non-coders into development makes sense for start-ups and Web 2.0 greenfield innovators, the fruits of this broadening portfolio of possibilities will soon benefit SMBs and enterprises as they embrace software as a service (SaaS) and on-demand delivery of applications and integration services. SaaS also accelerates the ability to mash-up and use the services provided from communities of functional interest and from vertical industry niches. That is to say that those hosting organizations interested in proving on-demand applications will increasingly provide the tooling to create and adapt applications all the more appealing to more businesses.

The road from application service innovation to full production, as I mentioned, is already rapidly compressing. A great example of this compression effect comes from Bungee Labs' Bungee Connect offering, which debuted at Web 2.0 Expo. Another way of describing Bungee Connect is software development and deployment as a service (SDDS). Bungee Connect combines the virtues of online web application development with a near-real-time test and debug capability and with a click-to-host service that — now here's the rub — costs the developer next to nothing to get into full production.

Here's an offering that recognizes that new business models that vastly expand the universe of web services players is what the web is all about. The Bungee Connect service began allowing beta use access on May 1. Developers may register to participate in the early-access beta program.

Bungee Connect gives developers WSYWIG, drag-and-drop, rich Ajax interface creation tools online. Those familiar with scripting and web applications development can begin creating web applications from a library of Bungee functions, or create their own services, or mash-up ones from a core of providers: Amazon, Google, Salesforce.com, Yahoo!, Real Networks, Windows Live, PayPal, and eBay.

The cost for the use of the tools, testing, and then hosting is free, and the subscription cost for the at-scale hosting only kicks in based on the use of the application by end users. Low use means low costs, and high use means a predictable measure of the proceeds goes to the development and hosting service. The hosting business stays with Bungee as the grid services provider while the applications ramp up into a sustainable business. Bungee collects rent — so to speak — based on use of the underlying infrastructure. Pay as you grow.

The net effect of these trends and examples is that the time, cost and risk of going from design to full production are deeply compressed. We are entering a period on unmatched applications, services, and media creativity.

Shouldn't you and your company be a part of it?