Summary: As technology evolves at breakneck speed, it brings new opportunities and challenges to web application development. If businesses want to create lasting, successful web applications, they must address these challenges.
Web application development is going through some major changes. Development tactics are evolving. New tools and libraries emerge on a (seemingly) daily basis.
What does this mean for business?
While these changes bring new opportunities, they also bring complexity. They bring new challenges. Businesses must address these challenges if they want successful applications.
What are they?
Today, let’s focus on the biggest web application development challenges businesses must address now (or in the near future). These are challenges that you simply can’t ignore. If your business wants to create lasting, successful applications, you must address:
1. The integration challenge
More and more, business applications live outside of the firewall. They are more diversified than in the past. For instance, a modern business might use a SaaS-based CRM system, in-house BI tools, and host their website on the cloud.
While this improves flexibility, it creates a challenge. How do you tie everything together? The challenge for web developers is no longer building every feature into an application. It’s creating an application that can integrate with other applications.
“The biggest web development challenge we see in our client projects is integration,” says Dave Todaro, President/COO of Ascendle. “The availability of a variety of cloud-hosted services is a double-edged sword. On one hand we no longer have to “roll our own” solution for things like storage, mail, recurring subscription payments, and analytics. On the other hand, we now need to integrate with the cloud services that provide this functionality. Each integration point involves understanding the API, coding, testing, and logging to troubleshoot any issues. In addition, today’s businesses are supported by multiple cloud-hosted systems. From integrating with CRM solutions to other industry-specific products, we no longer live in our own little app universe.”
2. The over-saturation challenge
Back when the App Store first rolled out, it was a golden opportunity for mobile app developers. There was little competition. Now, you’ll find roughly 1.5 million apps in the store. Less than 1% of those apps are financially successful.
The same thing has happened with web applications. The web application market is over-saturated. Users now have more options than ever before. As a developer, how will your applications stand out?
“The main concern with web application development that we face is over-saturation,” says Jason Fyk, Owner of WTF Magazine. “Facebook felt the same issue all of 2012-2014. People realized there was money to be made pushing social media traffic to websites, so tens of thousands of people jumped into the website game. This meant that it diluted the market for everyone else that had solid ideas. Now people come up with strange names, buy a domain and off they go. True sites are now struggling with traffic. Social media traffic has become pay to play. So now it comes down to having the next big idea, in order for something to successfully take off.”
3. The user experience challenge
Oversaturation brings spoiled users. With the rise of easily accessible, simple applications, user expectations have risen dramatically. They now expect the same level of simplicity they receive in the mobile apps they use every day.
The problem: If your applications don’t meet the user’s expectations, they’ll find another option. The challenge for businesses: How do you deliver web applications that meet your employee’s already high expectations?
“It used to be that you could get away with an ugly but functional web app because it was better than the alternative of pen and paper or clunky legacy app,” says Jason Siffring, Owner of Surprise Highway. “Now, good design is table stakes for any web app that hopes to gain traction. Users are quick to judge if your app is ugly or looks out dated.”
But, it doesn’t stop there. As explained below, you must not only create a great user experience–you must also create a great experience for other developers. If an application confuses users, or doesn’t offer simple integration for developers, it will likely fail.
“Businesses can’t afford to ship anything but a great experience, be it a mobile app for consumers or an API for developers and designers,” says Paul Bruce, API Engineer at SmartBear Software. “Adoption is key for generating revenue and interest; bugs in production, slowness in the experience, and data safety concerns all tank a business model based on digital products very quickly.”
“Businesses shipping APIs as part of their experiences or their digital product line also face a steeper curve for adoption and monetization, in that their APIs need to be ridiculously simple to understand and use by other developers, and they have to differentiate from competitors by solving a problem that no one else solves (or at least does it way better than everyone else).”
4. The speed challenge
Human attention spans are declining. Over the last 13 years, the average attention span has dropped by 4 seconds. We now have attention spans shorter than the average goldfish.
What does this mean for developers? Users don’t have the patience for slow applications. In fact, this research found that 40% of people will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Just three seconds!
This puts businesses in a tough spot. Users demand feature-rich applications, which typically run slower. Yet, they will abandon the application if it runs slowly. How will you meet user expectations for both features and speed?
“The biggest web app development challenge facing businesses today is keeping their web page load times under a second,” says Mike Munroe, Partner and Lead Developer at Greenfield. “A lot of businesses want rich media on their site to enhance design, but do not optimize for performance. Page load times are extremely important for end users to have a great experience, but it is also important in the eyes of Google. Google has begun to account for average page load times as a factor in how a site ranks in Google’s search index.”
5. The security challenge
Security breaches are on the rise, yet web application security isn’t improving. A recent study estimates that 96% of all web applications contain at least one “serious vulnerability.”
The fact is, application security is becoming more complex. What are the biggest risks? The OWASP Top 10 does a great job of outlining the most important threats, but it’s up to the developer to build that security into the application.
The challenge for businesses: How can you keep up to date with evolving application security threats? How can you keep each layer of your application secure?
“Securing your system at all these levels and constantly keeping it secure as you rapidly change it through agile scrum methodologies is immensely difficult,” says Benjamin Maisano, CTO of CareDox. “Are you patching your OS and frameworks regularly? Do you do code reviews and auto static and runtime code analysis? Do you proactively monitor network traffic and system logs for strange behavior? Do users create content that others interacted with? If so, are you white and black listing inputs, escaping all inputs for SQL and scripting injection attacks? Do you even know all the possible attack vectors of your system?”
6. The talent challenge
Web application development is becoming more complex. It’s evolving faster than ever. Developers need an ever-increasing, and ever-changing skillset.
The problem for businesses: Finding web developers with modern skills. How do you find developers that understand security, integration, responsive design, etc…? How do you bridge the skills gap without hiring a dozen new employees?
“Web applications take more engineering than web sites and blogs,” says Trevor Ewen, Software Engineer at Neosavvy. “There is a complete lack of senior talent for project oversight. Companies do the best they can. Inevitably, costs run high with top contractor talent, or they are unable to staff as necessary.”
7. The multi-platform challenge
When smartphones apps started taking off, the big business question was, “Native apps or mobile web apps?” Which option was best for business?
Now, that’s the wrong question.
These days, you need responsive web applications. Even if you choose not to create native apps, your web apps must still adapt to the device on which it’s viewed.
Going forward, this trend is only expanding. We’re seeing a new wave of “smart” devices, like watches, glasses, TVs, and more. How will your development efforts adapt to fit all platforms and devices?
“When developing new applications, businesses should consider the wide variety of devices they may be used on,” says Fernando Aramendi, Partner at Devartis. “Beyond cross-browser compatibility, screen sizes, ratios and pixel density vary between devices. Without careful thought, the user experience will be impaired and, in some cases, features could break.”
While this list could certainly go on, the points listed above are some of the biggest development challenges facing businesses today. What do you think? Would you add anything to the list? If so, please feel free to share in the comments.
If you enjoyed this article, sign up for email updates
We value your privacy. We will not spam you or share your email address with anyone. You're free to unsubscribe at any time.