Written by Gerry Tombs, CEO, Clearvision
In a bid to move more quickly out of lockdown, governments around the world have looked into how sensors on our mobile phones could be harnessed to alert someone that they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and are thus at risk themselves.
For those who are not aware, the sensors on a modern smartphone are incredibly powerful. They can detect how close the device is to another phone, whether it is inside or outside, whether people are speaking nearby, and if so how loudly, whether its owner is walking, cycling, in a car, bus or train, and a myriad of other capabilities. All of this can help discern if you have been in close enough contact with a confirmed case to take steps to self-isolate and get tested, through a contact-tracing app.
Many saw contact-tracing apps as the perfect tool with which to contain localised outbreaks, thus easing the path out of lockdown. But such an app was also a potential privacy nightmare and eventually the government was forced to abandon the idea and instead turn to Google and Apple to use their solutions.
I was not surprised by this. Having worked closely with the development community for many years I know that producing a working app can be fraught with more issues than people realise. On the face of it, what can seem a straightforward business request, can be harder to translate into code and produce an app on the back of it.
I also know that when you’re working in a dynamic sector like app development there’s no shortage of startling statistics to keep us on our toes. For example, I recently read that there will be 14 million mobile app developers in 2020. That’s because today app development is powering many digital transformation initiatives. And right now, many organisations have accelerated their digital transformation programmes as a result of COVID-19.
Under pressure to deliver apps quickly
As a result, development teams are feeling under pressure. Business demand for apps in the UK is higher than ever. And if more evidence for app demand were needed, Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who launched his own app as Minister of State for Digital and Culture – has called for more apps to be used in the NHS, the contract tracing app being a prime example.
This voracious appetite is causing predictable knock-on effects, with most organisations reporting significant backlogs in app development. Many developers say that it takes months to deliver a market-ready app and the requests from business just keep coming in.
This doesn’t bode well for competitiveness as delivery efficiency falls behind, and in the current climate businesses can’t afford to be complacent about missing targets. Time-to-market will be crucial.
Talent is scarce
At the same time, UK businesses are crying out for developer talent. Software development is one of the most in-demand skillsets and I am sure that we’ve all seen plenty of statistics over the years that point to a lack of developer skills. For example, recent analysis by CompTIA showed more than 165,000 job vacancies were advertised in Q3 2019 and software developer skills were the most sought after, with over 59,000 postings.
Despite organisations investing heavily in technology, most apps are still customer-centric; few organisations are dedicating time and resources to internal apps to speed up business processes, meaning that companies are struggling to keep up. When high demand meets scarcity of talent and lack of technology investment the likely outcome is an app development crunch that will see those delivery times lengthen and the quality of apps diminish, ultimately affecting the success of transformation initiatives. Not to mention the impact on stress levels of developer teams who are expected to deliver more and more apps with increasingly scarce resources.
So how can we address the problem?
Demand for apps is not going to drop any time soon and it’s impossible to create experienced developers overnight, so to release the pressure that’s building in the app development sector businesses are going to have to find ways to work smarter with existing resources. This is being recognised through increasing investment by businesses in Agile and DevOps tools and with the adoption of low code platforms and approaches.
To this point, many organisations are now discovering that the business involvement, quick iteration, and multi-experience capabilities necessary to deliver apps are best served from an enterprise low-code platform. And the maturity of enterprise low-code application platforms has reached the tipping point to deliver these types of applications consistently. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity.
So who knows when a workable contract tracing app will be available to the masses, but for any organisation looking to accelerate their own app development plans they should certainly take a look at low-code platforms, especially if they want to reduce their backlog and the time it takes to get their apps to market.