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Embracing RAD app development

Programming 10,113 VIEWS
2/6/2017 12:06:50 PM
Embracing RAD app development
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Posted Monday, February 06, 2017 by Robert Castles


Embracing RAD app development
As successful IT departments strive to position themselves as strategic business partners, they’re continuously looking for ways to deliver more for less, and faster. To that end, there’s recently been renewed interest in Rapid Application Development (RAD) technologies. The concept of RAD is not new - it’s been around for decades. But, the emergence of more standardized and user-friendly low-code tools presents IT leaders with new opportunities to accelerate the development phase of solution delivery, and to improve IT’s overall perception within the business. It’s time to move past the notion of IT as simply being order-takers.

Strategically introducing RAD in a way that maximizes adoption is the best approach to realize the true promise of RAD. Results are best when the right people embrace the RAD approach and the selected tools. Additionally, a RAD Center of Excellence is a great way to drive awareness and adoption with those key stakeholders in your organization.

Ideally, the RAD Center of Excellence (COE) is a cross-functional committee dedicated to delivering successful business outcomes quickly through RAD efforts. The COE presumably owns the selected low-code platform or RAD technology in place, so it makes sense for someone from IT to chair the committee. Beyond that, it’s important that the COE gain top-level executive support like the CTO, or CIO, for example. Such an executive has the vision to recognize the business value of RAD technology, beyond just IT, and the influence to secure adequate budgeting and resources to execute on that vision. This top level sponsorship is critical to success of the program.

The individual makeup and responsibilities of COE members is also important to its sustainability. To be most effective, it’s comprised of tech-savvy people representing diverse perspectives from across the enterprise, such as members from the HR, Finance, and Marketing teams. People on the committee should not only represent different business functions from across the company, but also different levels. A healthy mix of management and more hands-on practitioners helps maximize the impact of your RAD strategy. The practitioner level resources learn to use the selected low-code tools in detail, while the business management folks help steer the efforts towards those areas of need best suited for a RAD approach.

Together, everyone on the COE should share a common enthusiasm for new technologies, and an appetite for experimentation. One of the biggest benefits of a low-code platform is rapid prototyping, with the ability to fail fast and adapt iteratively. In fact, you should even explore opportunities to leverage the RAD tool directly during the requirements gathering and definition phase. Design documentation often struggles to accurately reflect the end solution that’s actually desired. But, when users can literally see what an application looks like while it’s being built, actionable feedback and new ideas will flow more freely. Seeing the output directly through the RAD tool helps everyone recognize potential complexities that could hinder a full Production solution, and better understand how to simplify things to avoid problems down the road. So, a collective attitude of creativity on the COE team and willingness to collaborate with end users definitely helps.

A key responsibility of the COE is to prioritize the projects to be addressed through RAD initiatives. While there may be an inclination to tackle big problems first, consider starting with smaller projects to generate some quick wins. This gives your RAD program a better chance to gather some positive momentum, avoiding the predictable pitfalls and delays associated with bigger projects. Project prioritization by the COE becomes even more important as your RAD program matures. Once people see the results of such quick wins and begin to recognize the true potential of low-code, expect to see a surge in demand for more solutions. Managing the scalability of the technology platform itself and governing the overall solution roll-out process is an important function of the COE.

Ultimately, the COE’s goal is to leverage the two primary characteristics of RAD - high-productivity (speed) and high-control (governance) - to benefit your organization as much as possible. However, the COE needs to strike a balance between these two aspects in order to be most effective. One approach is to distribute sandbox environments to designated user audiences (i.e., developers and tech-savvy business analysts) for them to experiment with the low-code platform on their own. This is often the easiest way for people to see the real possibilities such technologies present. The COE is responsible for providing basic product training to get the sandbox users started, and offering best practice guidelines for development. And, while you’ll probably have some degree of corporate standards that need to be observed, you don’t necessarily want the COE dictating design. The more freedom users have when experimenting with a RAD platform, the more likely they can take full advantage of its flexibility.

On the flip side, while sandbox experimentation should be encouraged, the COE must take charge when it comes to actually deploying low-code business solutions live into Production. The COE is tasked with establishing the appropriate governance process for reviewing, testing, approving and launching any new applications built through RAD efforts. Embrace an iterative approach to live deployments, and don’t be afraid to make incremental improvements to a Production app. That’s one of the main benefits that a low-code platform provides - easy updates. But, make sure the launch process is standardized and repeatable to support this iterative model.

Lastly, the COE should also look to implement a continuous improvement plan that compliments the aforementioned project prioritization and governance responsibilities. Establish an ongoing process to evaluate completed projects to identify what’s working and what needs improvement. Determine which kinds of projects or solutions deliver the most value, and continue to revise your best practice guidelines as needed based on results. Again, these are not new ideas – the time cycles are just accelerated in a RAD approach, so you can collect feedback and respond more quickly. As part of the continuous improvement process, also consider some sort of planned rotation for the COE team. Maintaining some continuity on the COE team year over year minimizes the burden of knowledge transfer, as opposed to wholesale replacement at a given time. Yet, regularly bringing in new people with fresh perspectives also helps ensure your RAD program doesn’t become stagnant.

IT’s standing is elevated within your organization when RAD is strategically introduced and managed by a Center of Excellence. Take advantage of the agility of the latest low-code tools and continue IT’s evolution from help desk to valued business partner.


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