Why enterprise software is best served on a template

Why develop enterprise software applications in-house when much of the heavy lifting has already been done?
12 November 2018

‘Pre-packaged’ solutions could save you a lot of dev time. Source: Shutterstock

Companies used to use their software development division to build the applications that they needed pretty much from a ground-zero point of nothing.

Starting with effectively zilch, apps were built according to user requirements and then modified (where possible) based on enhancement requests for different functionality.

That process still happens, but a lot has changed.

The Line of Business (LoB) era

As if by some organic unspoken process, some time after the turn of the millennium, companies stopped talking about ‘departments’ and, instead, started using the term Line of Business (LoB).

While the slightly archaic ‘what line of business are you in?’ expression still pervades, the term Line of Business has come to express a wider notion of an organization’s combined set of products and services devoted to executing a particular kind of customer transaction.

LoB often still just means ‘business department’, but it is those elements of that department that can be pinned down and defined to be part of a particular market-facing commercial proposition.

This categorization of function has been necessary to keep up with the increasing weight of digitization that we have all been experiencing in the era of cloud, mobile, data analytics and more.

If we accept LoB to be the status quo, we can start to build business models that operate on datasets that the business records as it goes about its daily, weekly and annual trading cycles.

Here, crucially, we reach the point on the curve where we can start to use templates to create software applications more quickly because we know what types of functions go into each and every element of each Line of Business.

Pre-packaged solutions

As if that efficiency epiphany weren’t enough, we can, even more crucially, start to use application functions that have been used elsewhere. Big software vendors are now focusing on giving enterprises access to pre-packaged solutions that can be easily integrated into existing workflows.

This doesn’t mean you get to see your competitor’s datasets and customer records. All of the Intellectual Property (IP) and sensitive data in these application templates will be appropriately anonymized and obfuscated. What is left is the ‘shape’ of the application… and this serves to provide the template for onward development.

If you think about the number of industry sectors out there in total, the opportunity to build up a broad set of functions that can be used in industry-specific use cases is immense.

The oil and gas industry will share many requirements with (for example) retail, manufacturing, and energy. But, perhaps more surprisingly, the oil and gas industry will also share many requirements with cake bakers, party hat suppliers, entertainment services and so on.

Software developers will sometimes use so-called ‘reference architectures’ to build applications to a pattern that resembles or follows another application’s form, function, and fortitude.

That practice is still used, but pre-packaged templates go a step further in that they offer ‘data maps’ that will allow the firms using them to know what they should expect of the applications they are building.

Deep learning for AI

This obviously touches very close to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and we can see the big software vendors including Google and others now working hard to offer cloud AI solutions that are presented for specific business needs.

If company A took one action in a particular circumstance, then why shouldn’t company B be able to benefit from that shared (but essentially anonymized) pool of knowledge, if it can be supplied as a behavior template?

What we will see now are the use of this template-based approach to building not just LoB functions, but specific tools inside each line of the business. So as each LoB needs a contact center app, as each LoB needs a specific twist on a Human Resources (HR) app, and as each LoB needs a particular management overview dashboard… the templates will be there to make that happen.

Not every template will be the right fit first time, but the choice to change more easily is what ‘componentizing’ software in the age of cloud services is supposed to give us in the first place.

If you don’t like your software, look for a template (or even a silver platter) to get it served up the way you like it.