Application Development Variables

The cost of applications development in any business is a function of two variables:

1. Demand for new applications

2. Productivity of the application developers

Costs will decrease only if there is low demand and high productivity. In most organizations, demand for applications is elastic. As the quality of IS solutions increases, users' demands for applications also increase. This is particularly the case for interactive, user-oriented computing applications. Early in the cycle after a major system change, user demand for these applications can easily reach exponential proportions.

If this effect is not anticipated, unexpected backlogs are likely to occur. More than a few IS managers who committed to reducing IS costs have been forced to explain to users that it is not possible to meet their requirements. Similarly, the productivity of applications development can vary widely. Some of the major factors affecting applications development productivity are summarized in Exhibit 4.

Exhibit 4. Factors Affecting Applications Development Productivity

Proper Definition of Requirements Application/Systems Design

Applications Characteristics Applications Structure/Size Underlying Applications Technologies Applications Complexity Functionality of Tools Development Methodology Match of Tools to Applications Degree of Customization Training/Documentation Programmer Skills/Motivation Project Management Management Effectiveness

Development tools are an important part of the equation. Normally, third-generation languages (3GLs) yield the lowest levels of productivity, fourth-generation languages (4GLs) offer incremental improvements, and computer-aided software engineering tools, particularly those using rapid application development methodologies, perform best. Visual programming interfaces and the use of object-oriented architecture can also have significant effects. Productivity, in this context, is normally measured in terms of function points per programmer over time.

Productivity gains are not automatic, however. Tools designed for relatively small, query-intensive applications may not work well for large, mission-critical online transaction processing systems, and vice versa. Matching the proper tool to the application is thus an important factor in productivity. However, IS managers should be wary of vendor claims that the tools will improve productivity and reduce staff costs, unless it can be shown that this has occurred for applications comparable to their own requirements. Increases in productivity can be offset by increases in underlying software complexities (i.e., increases in the number of variables that must be handled during the programming process) and in degrees of customization.

Sophisticated user interfaces, complex distributed computing architectures, and extensive functionality at the workstation level have become common user requirements. However, multiuser applications with these characteristics are relatively difficult to implement and require realistic expectations, careful planning, and strong project management skills. Failure to take these factors into account is the reason for most of the delays and cost overruns associated with client/server initiatives.

New development methodologies and tools may alleviate, but not remove, problem areas. Regardless of the tools and methodologies used, effective requirements definition and management of the applications development process are more likely to be the critical factors in productivity.

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