10.8: End User Dev
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In many organizations, application development is not limited to the programmers and analysts in the information-technology department. Especially in larger organizations, other departments develop their own department-specific applications. The people who build these are not necessarily trained in programming or application development, but they tend to be adept with computers. A person, for example, who is skilled in a particular software package, such as a spreadsheet or database package, may be called upon to build smaller applications for use by his or her own department. This phenomenon is referred to as end-user development, or end-user computing.
End-user computing can have many advantages for an organization. First, it brings the development of applications closer to those who will use them. Because IT departments are sometimes quite backlogged, it also provides a means to have software created more quickly. Many organizations encourage end-user computing to reduce the strain on the IT department.
End-user computing does have its disadvantages as well. If departments within an organization are developing their own applications, the organization may end up with several applications that perform similar functions, which is inefficient, since it is a duplication of effort. Sometimes, these different versions of the same application end up providing different results, bringing confusion when departments interact. These applications are often developed by someone with little or no formal training in programming. In these cases, the software developed can have problems that then have to be resolved by the IT department.
End-user computing can be beneficial to an organization, but it should be managed. The IT department should set guidelines and provide tools for the departments who want to create their own solutions. Communication between departments will go a long way towards successful use of end-user computing.
Sidebar: Building a Mobile App
In many ways, building an application for a mobile device is exactly the same as building an application for a traditional computer. Understanding the requirements for the application, designing the interface, working with users – all of these steps still need to be carried out.
So what’s different about building an application for a mobile device? In some ways, mobile applications are more limited. An application running on a mobile device must be designed to be functional on a smaller screen. Mobile applications should be designed to use fingers as the primary pointing device. Mobile devices generally have less available memory, storage space, and processing power.
Mobile applications also have many advantages over applications built for traditional computers. Mobile applications have access to the functionality of the mobile device, which usually includes features such as geolocation data, messaging, the camera, and even a gyroscope.
One of the most important questions regarding development for mobile devices is this: Do we want to develop an app at all? A mobile app is an expensive proposition, and it will only run on one type of mobile device at a time. For example, if you create an iPhone app, users with Android phones are out of luck. Each app takes several thousand dollars to create, so this may not be the best use of your funds.
Many organizations are moving away from developing a specific app for a mobile device and are instead making their websites more functional on mobile devices. Using a web-design framework called responsive design, a website can be made highly functional no matter what type of device is browsing it. With a responsive website, images resize themselves based on the size of the device’s screen, and text flows and sizes itself properly for optimal viewing. You can find out more about responsive design here.