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Are apps developers now strategic in the business?

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks August 24, 2014
How many C-level executives would consider it appropriate to have apps developers as new members of their elite peer-group?


Here is an interesting question: how many C-level executives would consider it appropriate to have apps developers as new members of their elite peer-group?

It is quite likely that most of the senior management of a company like Cloudbees – an applications development platform company where even the CEO, Sacha Labourey, is no slouch at code cutting – have a serious developer background, but what about more general businesses where application development is an adjunct to some other line of business, not the core goal?

Here is it highly unlikely that a developer will ever be considered for a C-level position specifically on the basis of their applications development skills and experience. Yet it is a notion that such companies should perhaps muse upon. And the reasoning behind such thinking is the growth of Continuous Delivery (CD) of applications, which is fast becoming strategic to the management of business, rather than the tactical technology toolkit it has traditionally been seen as.

According to Heidi Gilmore, Cloudbees’ marketing manager, the company is ambivalently half serious about the suggestion of developers making it to the Board or C-level within companies:

At one level the notion of having a developer on the Board of a company can be seen as a posture for the sake of it and not something that we really mean to be taken at face value. But at the same time the growth in Continuous Delivery of applications means that there is a real need for companies to understand that developers are now far more strategic and critical in the part they play.

The point here is that CD takes application development beyond the purely technical and makes it a far more integrated element of business management.

Its key difference, of course, is that it jettisons the classic six-month to two-year applications development release cycle. Instead, it moves to the release of incremental additions to applications functionality and capabilities on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. These releases are often quite small tweaks and adjustments to an application, perhaps adding just one new function, or rounding off some unwanted `jagged edges’ on an existing one.

Whatever the specific need, each new release adds something that makes the application work better, faster, more reliably or any other factor that has customers or internal users saying:

Ahhh, now that is better.

This means that now, more than ever, individual developers can make a real difference to the business and its bottom line. This was not the case even in very recent times when the marketplace a business operated in, and the competition facing it there, would not change much over a one or two year period. Today CD is a strategic tool in helping every business keep up and compete in marketplaces that are now in a state of continual change and development.

They are fast becoming environments in which the business processes that worked well last week may be lacking some competitive edge this week, and be hopelessly out of step with the marketplace next week.

In practice, most of the time such businesses are not going to want an entirely new application unlike anything they have used before. What they will want is an addition that adjusts an existing application so that it achieves this week’s business goal.

Best possible now

From a business perspective this leads to a very simple, circular model, where users need the best possible solution NOW, and the real emphasis is on those three words - `best possible NOW’.

For many businesses these days having a new version of a business critical application sometime next year, or even next month, will be too late to exploit a market opportunity, even if that new version is perfection. For a growing number, next week, or even tomorrow, will be too late.

These days, every day is a new NOW for customers. This makes having the latest best-possible-now application development as fast as possible, becomes an important strategic objective. It can bring significant competitive advantage in the marketplace because the company using it may be the first that is able to react to and exploit changes in the marketplace.

Having someone in a senior position in a business that can understand the strategic advantage of this change and how to manage both the technical and business implications is, therefore, an increasingly important requirement. There needs to be a much closer partnership between development and LOB management in order to execute on a business strategy.

In addition, the relationship between an applications provider and its customer now has to include its customer’s customer, understanding what their requirements are and why. And this increasingly requires ever greater agility on the part of all three to meet the needs of the marketplace. That requires an ever-closer relationship between the business and development sides of any business involved in developing and using applications.

The strategic impact of CD on businesses will also provoke changes to the educational profile of both developers and business managers. Both will need to accommodate the principles and general operations of the other group in order to understand where they are coming from and why they think the way they do. And in particular, developers will have to learn that `cool technology’ for its own sake does not always drive the bottom line of a business that much.

Perhaps most important of all, senior business managements need to understand that this will now be a strategic investment worth making.

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