Application developers are spending more than a third of their time fixing bugs in software already in use, rather than producing new code to improve business functions.
A study of 600 IT technical services staff in large UK and US businesses found that some of the most skilled members of an organisation's IT team are spending a considerable part of their working week on maintenance rather than developing applications to drive business development.
The conventional wisdom of application development is that in-house programming teams add value to the business by writing bespoke software tailored to the businesses' unique selling point.
IT analysts commonly argue that business processes that are not unique should be developed externally. They advise users to consider using packaged applications such as an off-the-shelf enterprise resource planning product, or to outsource processes such as payroll administration.
The study, conducted by research firm Dynamic Markets for development tools company Identify Software, highlighted the impact bug fixing is having on software developers' time.
Given that in-house development teams' rationale is to add business value, any time outside this remit could be seen as unproductive and a costly use of resources.
The research found that, on average, application developers spent 39% of their time finding and solving application problems on code that is already live and supporting business processes. Of the application developers surveyed, 51% spent at least 25% of their time finding and solving live problems, and 11% said they spent between 76% and 100% on this activity.
Only 75% of IT support staff and application developers questioned were aware of the number of people typically involved in fixing a single software problem. According to the report, the average number of people needed to fix a software problem is nine.
Cherie Taylor, managing director at Dynamic Markets, said one possible explanation for the results was the changing role of the application developer. "The IT director is very clear about the time being spent on problem resolution. The job specification of an application developer could be changing and problem resolution is now a key task."