Does Anyone Need To Code When Citizen Developers Build Software?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Will citizen developers really take over software development from the big IT companies in future? The market for citizen development is growing fast and what are often called ‘low-code platforms’ allow people to develop software without much knowledge of software development. The market for these systems is currently worth over $4bn, but is predicted to grow to over $27bn by 2022 – that’s extremely rapid growth for any market.

But let’s take a step back to understand what is going on. In the early days of software development programmers would need to use machine language (or code) to get computers to do anything. This machine language is exactly as it sounds, essentially instructions that are directly manipulating chip functions and data. It was extremely difficult to learn how to do this and because the code was hard to read it was not only hard to create, it was hard to fix problems and maintain too.

These days, machine coding is still possible, but it is only really used where speed is essential or there is some other very specific requirement – such as being able to directly address the functions of a video chip. Most software developers now use a programming language, such as C, Java, or Basic – many are available and they are constantly evolving. These languages are much easier to read and use and the developer can either use a system called a compiler to translate the code into the required machine code, or they can use an interpreter that converts the software in real-time as it is running.

These languages have dramatically increased the productivity of software developers, but to use one of these languages is still a specialised skill. The software developer not only needs to understand the language they are using, but also has to be comfortable with many other basic programming principles, such as how to use variables to store and manipulate data. This is not something that an untrained individual can do easily. So what is low-coding?

Essentially it is software development, but at a high level so the focus is just on business processes or queries. The developer doesn’t need to think about underlying issues such as graphics or data storage, they just need to describe what they want the system to do. A good example might be a Human Resource platform that offers the user the ability to create a filtered interface  – only show me candidates over 21 years old with a degree for example.

These queries are essentially basic coding and this will become an increasingly important skill in the modern workplace. It’s easy to argue that this is not really software development and therefore the companies offering software services can feel safe that their business is not about to collapse, but it does represent an important change in skills that will be required for jobs that are not traditionally connected to IT.

Automation is increasing across many industries, particularly Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This means that some basic coding skills will be required of accountants, credit analysts, lawyers, and HR professionals (to just name a few) if they want to be able to manage and control the software systems they are using.

So low-coding does not mean that citizen developers will be building the software that IT companies are now delivering. However, it does mean that almost all office-based professionals need to consider how they can learn about basic coding skills – their future employability depends on it!

Business Intelligence is Being Led by Data Intelligence

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The analyst firm Gartner recently published some fascinating data trends in Forbes magazine. They summarised how important Big Data is becoming for business intelligence in three clear trends:

1. By 2020, information will be used to reinvent, digitalize or eliminate 80% of business processes and products from a decade earlier.

2. By 2017, more than 30% of enterprise access to broadly based big data will be via intermediary data broker services, serving context to business decisions.

3. By 2017, more than 20% of customer-facing analytic deployments will provide product tracking information leveraging the IoT.

These trends are exciting because what they point to is how communication is changing between individuals and how this is now affecting the way that companies do business.

Mobile, social, cloud, and shared information are all forces that have really only grown in importance over the past 5-6 years. Many company leaders have not realised how all these factors will change the way that companies do business and how decisions from new products to choosing a partner company will all be data-led.

The Gartner predictions are point at corporate behaviours just 18 months in the future. Have you explored how your own organisation is using data today and if not then can you be sure that your competitors will not be making better business decisions a year from now?

European IT Excellence Awards and IT Developments

IBA Group
Irina Kiptikova

Last Wednesday, IBA Group was awarded for implementing the best vertical solution of the year. It happened at a gala reception organized by IT Europa to recognize the winners of the European IT & Software Excellence 2015 Awards.
Gyles Daubeney Brandreth, an English writer, broadcaster, and actor announced the results to the audience of more than 350 contestants and their colleagues, friends and families. Winners were selected from 83 finalists that represented 32 European countries. IBA was honored to be one of the winners.

We nominated one project in two categories. Those were Vertical Solution of the Year, and Public Sector and Utilities Solution of the Year. In both categories, IBA Group competed with six other finalists for an award. The Vertical Solution of the Year category turned out to be award-winning for IBA. Congratulations to the winning IBA team!

IBA Award-Winning Team
IBA Award-Winning Team

This year’s award was specific for IBA Group because the winning solution comprises not only software but both software and hardware. The solution was an Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system. All of us who are passengers of the Minsk public transport tested the solution. Visitors of the 2014 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship held in Minsk last year were among those who tried the AFC system in practice.

The project posed many challenges for the IBA team as they had to find answers to quite a few questions. Minsk has different types of public transport, each with specific features. How should we handle the specifics? Should the AFC be fully automated or use fare collectors? Should it use the internet as a communication channel? Which security technology is most suitable? Passengers prefer to use single paper tickets instead of transport cards. Will they agree to change their habits?

However, all these issues were solved and the system was launched. Today it is easy and comfortable to use. Passengers enjoy tapping their cards on validators and ticket inspectors produce proudly their automatic terminals to check the fares. The city authorities are able to analyze the operation of the public transport. This solution is just one example of how IT can improve people’s life.

The European Software & Solutions Summit that IT Europa conducted right before the Awards focused on the changes that the IT industry should be able to accommodate.

ISV Convention
ISV Convention

Presenters from Gartner, Oracle, HP, and other market leaders spoke of the new buyers and how their behavior has changed in the past 20 years. John Chapman of IT Europa said that we live in a new world. It is an interconnected world, where equipment and customers become connected. Gartner predicted that 75B products will be connected by 2020.

Oracle went on to say that Everything as a Service (XaaS) is becoming the preferred consumption model and every company is becoming a software company. Even cloud computing is no longer the same. It is evolving towards a fully integrated digital platform, argued Interoute.

Those businesses that adopt new technologies quicker than others are more likely to have experienced higher growth, concluded Verizon and IBA Group is looking to work with such customers.

IBA Group and IT Europa
IBA Group and IT Europa

For more information about the Awards, visit our website.

The Internet of Things Takes Off at CES 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking off at the Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. The CES is the biggest annual consumer electronics show in the world and often manages to set the agenda for the technologies that will be important in the coming year.

The IoT has been talked of for several years as ‘the next big thing’ in technology. It refers to when everything electronic is connected to the Internet and able to share information in a much more open way than is possible now.

The example often used is a digital fridge that can advise when milk is running low or what you can cook for dinner with the food you currently have, but this is not a good example at all and fails to see how fundamental the IoT could be.

If everything we touch is connected then we will live in a different world. Your phone, car, watch, heart monitor, shoes, just about everything you interact with will be generating information. Your insurance company will know when and where you drive your car. Your employer will know when you are at the office and when you are at home. Your doctor will be able to monitor your health without requiring a visit to the hospital. Your car will alert the dealer directly when there is a problem that cannot be resolved at home.

Many of these actions can be taken now. The ethos of the IoT is just that we will see much more communication from the objects we interact with and that there will be communication between objects. For example, your electricity meter may actually check with electrical items in your house and send a report on which appliances use the most power.

In theory the IoT is a revolution in communication in the same way that the Internet itself created an open communication platform. However, the big danger is that different companies use different protocols and methods of communication.

The CEO of Samsung used his own speech at CES this week to suggest that every Samsung product will be using entirely open IoT data platforms within 5 years. With this kind of leadership, hopefully smaller companies will follow and ensure that all their products are open.

The possibilities for the IT industry are endless. IoT will generate vast amounts of data, therefore the principles and expertise needed to manage Big Data will be important, but when this relates to customers then linking in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) aspect will also be essential.

IT projects are going to multiply in the coming years. Products that were never previously connected or never required software – a kettle for example – may require new software and systems so that you can send a message from your phone on the way home, so a boiled kettle is ready and waiting for you.

If the CES predictions are correct, 2015 is going to be the year that IoT finally goes mainstream.

Frontend Development Tools: HTML 5

IBA Group
Alexei Zagorsky

Until recently, HTML was used exclusively to code web pages. At the early stages of the mass use of the internet, it was simple and clear that HTML is a markup language, CSS defines the styles of the webpage elements, and JavaScript is used to create specific effects that cannot be achieved with HTML and CSS.

This is of course an idealistic picture. The reality was that the browsers that existed at that time displayed the pages in an unpredictable way and met no standards. On the other hand, the standards did not catch up with the pace of life.

The situation gained momentum after the internet attracted the interest of large-scale businesses. It became quickly clear that with the internet one can dramatically increase sales. No additional software is needed! Just run the internet.

It is a browser that became the client part of a client-server application in the time when the word frontend was not yet used ‘right and left’. The word website became too generic in a way and the time came for web applications to step to the foreground.

The problems with HTML standards were not yet solved but the situation progressed quickly. Technologies improve dramatically, if they are in high demand. Even HTML and JavaScript allowed developers to create masterpieces when in capable hands. Web development was implementing a combination of features provided by different specifications, such as HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, as well as well as widely-used methods, including different ‘workarounds’ to prevent browser errors.

HTML 5 simplified and, which is more important put in good order many things that were available before. It became a unified markup language that combined the capabilities of HTML and XHTML. In addition, it preserved compatibility with the earlier versions.

The main features of HTML 5 are the following:

• Tools for semantic markup of a document. Using relevant tags, one can easily identify the title, content, navigation, and etc. A similar approach can be applied to structure the content

• Multimedia and graphic support at the level of HTML tags. It radically simplifies implementation of audio and video content on a web page. As for the drawing capabilities provided by the canvas tag, they take one’s breath away

• New elements and attributes, and exclusion of the features that are better handled by CSS

• Improvement in web form handling, including new field types, additional attributes, and validation ‘on the fly’

• New JavaScript APIs for complicated web applications, including drag and drop, document editing, 2D drawing, and management of browsing history.

These are just basic innovations. For all HTML 5 features, visit the W3C website.
The web pages built on HTML 5 look simpler in terms of the code, are quicker to run and friendlier to search robots. Today, HTML 5 is indispensable for a professional website. Thanks to the new capabilities of HTML 5, web applications are actually similar to classic desktop applications in terms of frontend. One more important features of HTML 5 is its compatibility not only with PCs and notebooks but also with mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as well as with modern TVs that have internet access. Therefore, it is possible to develop a unified interface that looks the same on different devices.

The HTML 5 standard is being further modified. The current version is available at the W3C website. However, one cannot be sure that the existing browsers fully embrace these specifications. Trust but prove :). We should also bear in mind that the standards developed by W3C are not mandatory and their implementation depends on browser producers. These are the captains of the IT industry like Google and Microsoft.

Frontend versus backend. Where to begin?

IBA Group
Alexei Zagorsky

This article opens a series of discussions devoted to frontend development. Until recently, this part of the development job was not treated properly. By this series, I intend to present my view of the modern trends in the development of user interface, as well as technologies that are used in web development.

It common knowledge that the internet is built on a client-server architecture. A server is a powerful remote computer or a group of computers called ‘cluster’ or ‘cloud’. Server software installed on a server serves customers. This software is also called ‘server’. With regard to WWW, it is a web server (Apache, IIS, nginx and other), i.e. a software complex that receives HTTP requests from customers and returns HTTP responses, typically with the requested data.

Operations related to processing of server data are called backend development. The following server programming languages are designed for backend development: PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, ASP.NET, and Java. An important part of the operation of server programming languages is interaction with the database management server (BDMS). DBMS keeps well-organized information that is accessible at any time. The most popular DBMSs for WWW are MySQL, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, FireBird, and MongoDB.

A client is generally speaking any device that enables the user to access the internet, including desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. From a technical perspective, a client is a web browser that transmits to a web server HTTP requests for the resources specified in URL, as well as displays server responses in the form of HTML pages, files, media streams or other data.
Any user application needs a convenient and functional interface.

It is especially relevant for a web application because it is used by people who have different qualification and knowledge levels, as well as work in different professions. It is also essential that web interface work well from all modern browsers, including those on mobile devices. Thus we come to the frontend concept.

Frontend development is creation of the client part of a web application. Until recently, this application part was treated without due respect. Most efforts were focused on the server part of a project, such as business logic, data, and security. A frontend developer was perceived as ‘the guy who makes the project look more attractive’. It is quite clear that it is a misperception.
A modern frontend developer is ‘a Jack of all trades’, an expert in his or her domain and in many adjacent domains. A frontend developer writes code for a website, creates user interface, deals with usability, web design, and has an idea of the theory of colors. A frontend developer must have an excellent knowledge of HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and Ajax. Experience in such popular JavaScript frameworks as jQuery, Google Web Toolkit, Prototype, TwitterBootstrap, and many others are also of use.
Frontend developers deal not only with specific concepts and tasks, but also with abstract thinking. They belong to those few who are able to make a bridge between mathematics and art. As they are able to unify these two disciplines and apply user experience to logic processes, they are very valuable employees for any IT business.

Therefore, the current trend is to pay more attention to frontend development. In the following article, I would like to discuss the technologies that give a website a modern look and feel, and contribute to its powerful functionality.

Eastern Europe is becoming a tech hub

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Several business magazines and journals have been focused on growth in Central and Eastern Europe over the past few months. The main angle of the observations is that the CEE region has moved far beyond the traditional role as a lower cost alternative to undertaking technology work in Western Europe and is now fostering a hub of talent that should be sought after by the world.

There are now a number of successful startup companies from the region that are dominating their own niche. Ustream from Hungary is a great example. People all over the world are using the Ustream app to live stream events direct from their phone to the Internet without ever questioning where the app came from.

And even in the more traditional IT service sector, the talent available is some of the best in the world. The CEE region regularly ranks at the top of the world for educational achievements in maths, science, and technology. In the 2013 Google Code Jam competition, 16 or the 24 finalists were from Eastern Europe.

The IT service sector is already strong and mature and the startup sector is growing. All the major European accelerators are now regularly visiting the CEE region and looking for companies to invest in. This growth in the innovative startup sector will only make the wider IT community stronger as the CEE region becomes a place that people want to include on their CV. Have you explored some of the opportunities available from companies working in the CEE region yet?

What Are the Secrets to IT Outsourcing Success?

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

A recent article in the TechTarget publication, Microscope, explores the secrets to creating a successful IT outsourcing relationship. Many managers have experience of outsourcing these days – it’s no longer the secret it once was, but are the secrets to success still the same as they used to be?

The Microscope feature focuses on these three attributes as the most important:
– Partnership; work towards a partnership as two companies working together, not behaving like a powerful client paying a service provider.
– Flexibility; reach an agreement and write your SLA, but don’t reach for the contract every time something unusual happens – be flexible enough to help each other.
– Ability to change; your business will change over time, so work towards a long relationship that might be very different to where you started.

These are three great pointers, like maxims for getting outsourcing right. The industry has moved on a long way from the old days of screwing down suppliers to very tough conditions and not allowing them to make a profit, but there is a key point not mentioned in the feature.

Location of supplier remains important. There are some great IT suppliers all over the world, but if you need to work closely with your supplier and you want the ability to meet with them regularly then it would be best to not have that part of the team a 12-hour flight away.

If you are trying to create a genuine sense of partnership, rather than just a client/supplier relationship then nearshoring still works far better than remote offshoring. People are people and people want to see the people they are doing business with – in person.

IBA Group Holds an Event in London to Celebrate the 20th Birthday

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Last week, IBA celebrated their twentieth birthday with a fantastic event in London. I was invited to host a part of the evening where some great insights into outsourcing in the years ahead were shared by a range of experts.

The venue for the event was the Wellington Arch. An incredible building in central London that I have travelled past for years and never knew that the public could go inside. From outside it looks just like an enormous statue, but there is a hidden door leading to a network of rooms.

Sergei Levteev, the IBA Group chairman introduced the evening by talking about the foundation of the company twenty years ago. Martyn Hart, the chairman of the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) then talked about the NOA twenty years ago, when outsourcing was a new word – most companies were still talking about Facilities Management.

Then there was the competition between expert commentators. Each expert was asked to deliver a five-minute talk on how they see outsourcing changing over the next twenty years. The audience had voting cards and could choose their favourite, so the audience was listening intently and ready to choose their winner.

You can click on YouTube here to see the four talks for yourself.

The four speakers competing in the event were:

  • Martyn Hart, Chairman of the National Outsourcing Association
  • John Garratt, Editor of IT Europa
  • Derek Parlour, Head of Commercial at National Rail Enquiries
  • Colin Beveridge, industry analyst at Better Practice.

And who won? The audience on the evening chose Derek. His friendly and casual start to the talk led to some great insights into the way suppliers and clients will need to interact in future and the audience warmed to his theme.

If you watch the videos then why not let us know on Twitter which presentation you enjoyed the most?

 

Developing your mobile strategy

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Developing a mobile strategy can be a complex time for any company. The last thing you want to worry about is issues such as operating system or technology platform, which is where the expertise of a company like IBA can help, but there are some important decisions to make before you even think of building a mobile tool.

The initial strategic decision you need to think about is whether to build a mobile-friendly website or to create an App. There are advantages and disadvantages to each solution and the correct path will depend on the type of service you plan to offer, but to summarise these are the questions you should be thinking about:

• How immediate do you want the tool? Do you think people are prepared to install an app or would they prefer to just find it online on a website without needing to set anything up on their phone?

• Do you need compatibility across all devices? If you build an app it will only work for a single operating system (Android, Windows, Apple IOS) so you need to build several versions to reach all phone users, but a well-designed website can work on any device.

• How often will it need to be upgraded? If you plan on frequent upgrades then it could be problematic to design as an app as you are asking the user to frequently upgrade their phone applications. With a website it would be automatic.

• What is your budget? It’s a lot cheaper to build and maintain a mobile website than a suite of mobile apps for various operating systems.

But apps have their place. When you need the specific power available on a particular type of device then only an app can tap into that system. If you are building a tool that will be used often then an app can be a better interface – think of how you access Facebook on your own phone. And apps can be designed to also work offline – something not at all possible for a website.

This is the first step on a mobile strategy. There are various technological questions to resolve before working on a solution, but if you have not considered how your service will be used then the technology itself cannot be planned or designed.

CEE Getting More Attractive Than India and China

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

This blog has often explored the relative advantages of working with IT companies in the CEE region. The Central and Eastern European Outsourcing Association summarises the benefits of the region as:

• Considerable budget savings;
• Ability to focus on core competencies;
• Extensive experience of an outsourcing subcontractor;
• Speed increase in projects tasks solutions;
• Reduced capital investments;
• Full-time access both to IT innovations and high-qualified IT experts;
• Internal processes optimization;
• Improved manageability.

That’s a long list of benefits. But what are the downsides of outsourcing today? There are far fewer downsides that there used to be. It’s true that handing tasks to a partner means you need to monitoring them outside your organisation and agreeing on specific measurable targets, but all managers today are used to working with some form of Key Performance Indicators – even for internal measures of success.

Since 2003 the Eastern European IT market has become one of the most promising markets in IT outsourcing, demonstrating dozens of positive examples of companies the decided it would be better to stay in Europe rather than far across the world to India or China.

According to the Tholons report “2012 Top 100 Outsourcing Destinations“, Eastern (and Central) European countries are now around a quarter of the entire list of most attractive places to work with.

China and India are now facing sharp increases in costs just as Europe is remaining a lower place to do business. The future looks bright for those who consider Europe – and the CEE in particular – as a great place to undertake their IT business.

How is outsourcing changing the IT market today?

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Outsourcing is changing fast. Cloud computing, the consumerisation of IT, and trends such as BYOD have all changed the way the CIO plans for IT needs and engages with IT partners.

Outsourcing used to be about literally dealing with ‘my mess for less’. A company with an internal business or IT process would hire an expert service provider who just performed the same function – hopefully making it better or cheaper over time.

Now that IT has become so integral to the function of modern companies, the IT suppliers have become trusted delivery partners. The client company simply cannot deliver without the expertise of their IT partner.

But IT can be procured in many ways today. The iPhone has taught consumers that apps can be installed when needed and deleted when they are not. Services like Gmail have taught consumers that very important systems can be web-based – there is no need for expensive locally installed software.

All these lessons are flowing back into the enterprise and changing how companies want to procure technology. But with the supplier community so well entrenched, how is this going to change the outsourcing market?

This Computer Weekly feature explores some of the questions, but one thing is clear, expert suppliers of solutions are still needed. As these changes flow from the consumer market to the enterprise it is likely that companies will need partners to be closer and more reactive than ever – this looks good for suppliers based in Eastern Europe rather than far from their clients.

Eastern Europe to Dominate the IT Outsourcing Market

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

A recent article in the IT Outsourcing News explores the various reasons it can be worth exploring the Eastern European IT market. Of course, all the usual benefits are listed:

• Considerable budget savings;
• Ability to focus on core competencies;
• Extensive experience of an outsourcing subcontractor;
• Speed increase in projects tasks solutions;

And many more, but I don’t want to just list the general benefits of outsourcing here. What was more interesting in the article was the reference to the analyst and research firm Tholons Company report ‘2012 Top 100 Outsourcing Destinations.’

Eastern European countries (the CEE region) have covered around a quarter of the list of the most attractive countries for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) destinations from all over the world.

Considering the relatively small size of the CEE region compared to the rest of the world, to see a quarter of the best global BPO destinations in the CEE region does indicate that the region has some special advantages. The Tholons view of the major reasons for this CEE dominance is:

• Relatively low costs since a number of countries are not EU members; the manpower and well-established infrastructure allow customers to reduce their budget without losing service quality.

• Proximity to their permanent clients from Western Europe due to convenient geographical location, visa-free or simplified conditions (depending on a specific country) for EU citizens.

• Convenience in communications and control – almost all CEE representatives are located in the same or very similar time zone with no communicational barrier as English has remained to be an international language in CEE for quite a long period of time.

• Similar set of rules in business making process: ISO standards are adopted as state acts in the majority of CEE countries and are obligatory for some industries.

• A very high educational background as normal.

So don’t just take our word for it that you should be exploring this region. When analysts produce lists of the best places to do BPO and over a quarter of the locations are in CEE it should make the world take notice.

The Continued Threat of Outsourcing

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

HR magazine published a feature earlier this month titled “lower-skilled jobs still threatened by outsourcing to Europe” – the kind of headline that compels a reader to read on, but the story isn’t quite as described.

The feature is extremely confused for a number of reasons. First, the writer is not just talking about low-skilled jobs – he uses the comparison of experienced IT industry workers to contrast different salaries across Europe. Then secondly, he talks about how salaries in Germany, France, Belgium, and Ireland are up to 57% higher than in the UK.

This confuses me. IT professionals on £42,000 per year are not low-skilled workers and if there are many countries in Europe paying higher salaries than the UK then surely those are the places where most skilled workers will go anyway?

And I would question this data. I have a lot of Irish friends and they are almost all figuring out how to leave Ireland. It is impossible to believe that pay and conditions are better there than in the UK.

The most confusing thing is that this is now 2013. Europe expanded to the east in 2004, almost a decade ago. It feels very strange for the media to be talking about how jobs are threatened by outsourcing when Europe itself is a free trade area that encourages businesses to work across borders – with the free movement of people a key part of the union.

I was recently in a bar talking about the continued expansion of the EU to two senior executives from Austria. I asked them how they felt about Bulgaria and Romania joining the union – they immediately responded enthusiastically and suggested that it will make business with these two important markets a lot easier.

This is the complete opposite of the British reaction – where a fear that thousands of people will flood to London from the new EU member states is still the normal reaction. Only the British press appears to be still fearful of the European Union, with this ‘jobs threat’ headline just the latest example I have read.

There are more British people living and working across Europe than Europeans working inside the UK. So why does the media fear this European jobs threat? It seems that many British people are capable of venturing into the world to find where the opportunities exist.