Rein in developers' slack practices

As companies try to ride out the economic downturn, IT spend is increasingly coming under the spotlight, and the board is...

As companies try to ride out the economic downturn, IT spend is increasingly coming under the spotlight, and the board is starting to ask what the IT department can do to increase efficiency, writes Ross Bentley.

According to Dave Graham, managing director of new media solutions company J-Media, many organisations should start by reining in what he sees as the slack practices of software developers and consultants.

"One of the first things to address is the gaping hole between what the business requires from its IT systems and what the IT systems developed actually provide," says Graham. "In a lot of cases, the way the system works does not mirror the way most individuals work, because the data the technology provides only approximates to the information that the decision maker could really use."

Graham says this "gap" is, in part, down to a lack of end-user ownership. "It is surprising that, after all the years of IT, people still tend to see new technology as something of a threat, rather than a support," he says.

"Time and time again new applications fail because the end-users have not been involved in their development. Typically, even if it works, it has been imposed from above. An enormous amount can be learnt simply by asking the end-users what they want the software to do and by giving them bits of the application to test during development - something that can be done very easily when the system is online since they do not even have to move from their desks."

Graham says it might be something as simple as a text box that could do with being a little bigger or removing the annoying pop-up help screen.

Graham also calls on consultants and developers to think differently about the technology that an organisation already has. "This is a challenge because business managers and IT developers alike are very susceptible to the hype that fills the Internet space. Thus, often the first response to even a small problem is to buy the latest technology," he says.

"The innovative route, however, is to focus on what is required, and to deliver what is needed. For example, the sales representative may not need a new remote laptop system; they may just need an application that can send text messages to their mobile phone.

Graham says this habit of companies buying themselves out of a situation has led to an over abundance of IT systems, which, rather than improving the way organisations work has led to them being bogged down with technology.

"Don't do too much," he says. "More is not better, and application developers are simply being lazy when they build, and charge for, a kind of umbrella solution that they hope will include a fix for the problem in hand.

"The point is that focusing on implementing only what is needed does not only save in terms of cost but increases the application's value too. It enforces the discipline of understanding exactly what the business function requires."

Graham says that if developers and consultants follow his advice, end-users will have a much easier time working with technology.

"I would advocate that when applications are developed there should be no need for any training before end-users can take advantage of them," he says.

"This denial of the rip-off that is commonly called change management follows from the fact that if the application development project has worked to close the 'gap', has been innovative with the technology, has encouraged ownership, and has simply not done too much, it follows that there should actually be no need for extra training on top."

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