As Canadian enterprises pursue digital transformation efforts into 2021, how their developers build and manage applications is going to look radically different, according to IDC Canada analysts.
Not only will the means they use to assemble their applications change, presenters at IDC Directions 2018 Toronto told the audience, but how they’re sourced for projects and who’s leading those efforts will look different too. Analysts painted a picture of a software development world that emphasizes the importance on solving business problems with code more than ever, but is also dominated by mega-sized platform owners that will ship out the bits and pieces required to solve these problems.
By 2021, 80 per cent of app development will use one of two approaches, predicts Frank Gens, chief analyst at IDC Canada. It will either call upon its required functions as a service, or they will use containers. Both emphasize a development style that is ‘build once, deploy anywhere,’ as opposed to coding specifically for any one platform. They also can depend on external services.
“It’s a radically new way of thinking of what an application is, and who builds an application,” Gens says. “Pay some attention here because this is going to create a lot of opportunities and disrupt a lot of players in the industry.”
IDC was also clear on who this trend will not disrupt. Namely, the Silicon Valley technology giants that have been working over the past five years to build platforms that are attractive to developers. Technology companies are approaching Platform as a Service from a couple of different angles. Infrastructure as a Service providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are starting to build intelligence into their compute commodities; and traditional software players like Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Adobe, and Intuit are building application-centric platforms. (Microsoft is one player who might be covering off both angles).
Motivations for building a platform were explained by Al Gillen, global vice-president at IDC, in another session. For the IaaS providers, it’s a way to graduate from selling a commodity to a unique service. “There is not a lot of opportunity for the value up-sell [with IaaS], which is why they’re looking at getting into platform as a service (PaaS) businesses.”
As for SaaS vendors building platforms, they see the opportunity to win over developers and therefore have a greater swath of applications available for paying clients.
Interacting with these platforms is part of how IDC sees digital transformation playing out over the next three years. Since most companies won’t have premium development talent working internally, they’ll have to look outside for all the main ingredients needed for enterprise software. That includes plugging into data as a service, using outside code base communities, and subscribing to software as a service.
“In a world in which success is measured by which we can connect by those who don’t work with us, what does that mean for the vendor community?” Gens says.
What it means is partnering with one of the big Platform as a Service players. “If you’re not one of these companies, you’ll need to have good relations with them,” he says. A good place to place a bet is likely AWS or Microsoft. There will be a few other companies that are also involved, including Google, IBM, Oracle, and Alibaba.
But choosing one often won’t be enough. More often enterprises will find they have to operate in a multi-cloud environment. That’s why developers will be making use of containers, which isolate code in a way that allows it to run regardless of the operating environment. Though Gillen says this won’t be taken as far as a micro-services architecture model at most companies.
“Most enterprises have a known set of users and a known cadence to their operations,” he says. “The consumption is predictable, so developers will build in a more modular way, but not necessarily at the micro-services level.”
To do this, they’ll be pulling from a catalog of APIs that reside on different platforms. And when coding is needed to stitch those together, enterprises will find they are faced with another decision that involves commitment: what programming language they should use. Programming languages tend to stick around an enterprise for a long time, Gillen says, just ask any business that is realizing its last COBOL programmer is retiring and no one knows how to maintain the in-house legacy applications.
Yet many new developers contributing to a business won’t have to worry about programming at all. Many will adopt no-code tools that allow software to be built to solve business process problems without typing so much as one logic statement in parenthetical brackets.