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Whatever Happened to Applications?

Originally published July 21, 2005

What were most IT organizations doing twenty years ago? The answer is they were building applications. If they weren’t building applications, they were purchasing applications and installing them.

It is probably fair to say that 20 years ago, a majority of IT people considered themselves to be application developers or designers.

Now fast forward to today. Where have all the applications designers gone? Certainly not to the IT organization. When we look for applications designers and developers today we find:

  • The end-users. With business intelligence and other tools, the end-user is doing his or her own development. IT merely supplies the data.
  • SAP and other ERP vendors. Most of the industrial-strength development has come under the control of ERP vendors. IT may be in charge of implementation, but not development.
  • Consultants. For those rare applications that are being developed in house, most enterprises are looking to a consulting organization.
  • Outsourcing. India and other overseas suppliers now have the talent and proven track record for building new applications at a lower cost.

So applications development is being performed anywhere but in the IT organization.

Is IT to be blamed for the movement of application development out of the organization? The answer is not entirely.

Long ago, IT was chartered to build applications that required years for design and development. I recall visiting a Midwest bank and seeing a plan for application development that literally stretched down the inner walls of the building. The handwritten plan was at least 100 feet long, which was very impressive. Except, the bank was fooling itself into thinking that it was going to develop this beast. When asked how long the development process was to take, the answer was measured in years. When asked what kind of intermediate output there would be, the answer was that the bank would need to wait at least two or three years for any output at all. When asked what happens to new requirements that were discovered in the time that the application was going to be developed, the answer was that the new requirements would have to wait as well.

In short, this was an ugly and unrealistic picture for developing an application.

How much was this costing the bank? It was costing the bank every body that was available in IT.

So what happened to the application project? It was cancelled, of course, after a long design cycle and lots of wasted money.

It simply is not realistic to entertain application development projects that:

  • Require an organization to  remain “on hold” for a number of years;
  • Require an organization to “freeze” business requirements for a lengthy period of time; and
  • Require a large commitment of manpower.

This scenario has been played out over and over in banks, manufacturing companies, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, airlines and others.

Whether through misunderstanding or gross underestimation of the size and complexity of the effort, the IT organization woke up one day and found itself out of the business of application development.

So what do IT people do today? A variety of things. IT people install and operate applications. They monitor transactions and data and do capacity planning. IT people test and select new software and oversee the infrastructure, manage a budget and keep abreast of new technology.

But what IT people don’t do, is build applications. Applications developed by internal IT have gone away and are not likely to return.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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