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.
Let’s talk about web applications. I know it’s a vague term, so I’ll quickly define it for the sake of clarity.
Web application definition: A web application is a software application that is accessed through a web browser. This includes web-based reporting apps, BI, e-commerce, portals, accounting, and anything in between. Chances are, your business already uses and/or creates web applications to some extent.
Why are web applications so important? As the world becomes increasingly digital, more of your business moves to the web. As a result, your web application development process becomes a vital part of your business.
What does a modern web application development process look like? These days, it’s all about speed and security. You must create secure applications efficiently, in hours/days rather than days/weeks. Those applications must be easily maintainable. They must grow with your business.
How does your development process stack up? Perhaps a better question: How can you meet these goals?
If you want a modern development process, you must first address a few common challenges that face most businesses. In this article, we’ll explore 7 of these challenges and explain why they’re so important to your development process.
Challenge #1: Standardizing your development process
If you ask 10 developers to build an application, you might get 10 different approaches. Sure, they might meet the requirements, but they’re all built using a different process. Imagine the maintenance nightmare.
Unfortunately, this is a challenge for too many businesses. They don’t have a standard development process. The result: Maintaining applications is far more difficult and time-consuming than it should be.
A modern dev process requires a standard approach that’s consistent and easily maintainable. Every developer works the same way. The process is understandable and predictable.
Challenge #2: Speed
About 15 years ago, I remember talking to an IT leader at an insurance company. They’d been working on a reporting portal for over a year and still weren’t close to completion.
Back then, this was fairly common. Big development projects would drag on for months or even years.
These days, speed is the name of the game. Web applications are far more important to the business than they were in the past. Development speed is now a competitive advantage.
Unfortunately, this puts developers in a tricky spot. They’re under more pressure to deliver solutions quickly–without sacrificing function or security.
How can you move past the development time hurdle? You have a couple of options:
- Hire more developers: If you’re facing a development bottleneck, the simplest solution is building your team. However, I realize this is the most expensive option, and most businesses can’t afford to hire a bunch of developers.
- Use software tools to get more out of your existing team: Over the past few years, we’ve seen major growth in the low-code development software space. One of the driving forces behind this growth is the whole “do more with less” challenge. Low-code tools help your existing team create web applications 50-80% faster. How? A couple of factors drives the speed boost:
- They eliminate coding in most projects: Most applications are built in minutes or hours, without code. More complex applications might take longer, and have the option to add custom code if needed.
- They reduce testing: Since low-code tools use pre-tested templates and components, testing time is dramatically reduced.
However you choose to address the dev speed challenge, one thing is clear: The demand for fast development is only growing, and becoming a competitive necessity.
Challenge #3: Security
Cyberattacks are increasing, and the problem is only growing worse. Statistics show that cyber security incidents rise every year.
Wait, it gets worse: Research finds that 50% of web applications contain high-risk vulnerabilities. Most applications even contain common vulnerabilities listed in the OWASP top 10–a list of the most important web application security risks. These vulnerabilities are widely known and fixable.
Why do developers struggle so much with security, despite its importance? In my experience, it boils down to a few issues:
- No incentives for security: Peter Drucker is famously quoted as saying, “What is measured improves.” The problem for many developers: Security isn’t measured or rewarded.
- Short deadlines: Let’s take the last point one step further. Most businesses incentivize development speed, often at the expense of security. Developers rush through the project—ensuring it meets all the business requirements. But, this often comes at the expense of proper security practices.
- New developers in the workforce: New developers are stuck maintaining code they didn’t develop, and don’t always understand what a weakness looks like. The bigger problem: As explained below, most developers haven’t received a proper security education.
- Security gets treated like a feature: Many businesses look at security as any other feature that can be added later. But, it’s not like that at all. Security must be built into the application…not added later.
If you think about it, developers are placed in a no-win situation. They’re tasked with developing modern applications. They must keep up with ever-evolving application trends. They’re faced with tight deadlines. Unless the business can afford a dedicated security engineer, the developer is in charge of security as well.
How can they keep up to date with modern development methods and security risks, while meeting tight deadlines? In many cases, they can’t.
Challenge #4: Bridging the talent gap
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. Sure, they have developers to maintain their current systems…but those are often outdated. The skills you need for modern web app development don’t always align with the skills you need to keep the business running.
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? Here are two common approaches:
- Adopt development tools: Development tools bring modern skills to your existing team. For instance, suppose you have a team of developers dedicated to legacy systems. A web development platform will help those developers create web apps with a minimal learning curve.
- Set up training: There are plenty of online training options available for developers. Set up training classes for your team, or incentivize them to take training classes on their own.
Challenge #5: Building future-proof applications
What’s the next big trend in web app development? What will the web look like in 10 years? How will web standards evolve? How many users will be using your web application in 3 years?
In essence, that’s the challenge of web application development. You must create web applications that meet your current and future needs…without knowing what those will be. After all, no business wants to create applications that will be obsolete in a few years.
How can you create future-proof web apps that scale with your business, when you don’t know the future? It all starts with architecture. Here are a couple of tips:
- Stick with proven technology stacks: Developers love trying the new, shiny framework or tool. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t use it in your enterprise web apps until it has proven itself.
- Separate your concerns: We’re a big proponent of the n-Tier approach to application architecture, which separates your applications into layers. The advantage: You can maintain/enhance each tier separately. For instance, if you want to give your application a modern look/feel a few years down the line, you can do so without changing the entire app.
- Build for growth: Look beyond the initial requirements. What happens if you need to support more users than expected? What if you need to switch databases or servers?
Challenge #6: Integration
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 custom web applications in 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.
Challenge #7: Balancing features with simplicity
Mobile apps have made life tricky for developers, as they’ve increased user expectations. End users 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. If you’re building applications for customers, this means you lost customers. If you’re building applications for employees, you’ll start dealing with Shadow IT problems.
The challenge for businesses: Creating solutions that meet your employee’s high expectations.
So, how do you deliver web applications that meet your users’ already high expectations? While I can’t speak for every scenario, it’s a good practice to start dev projects with two questions:
- Who wants this? This may seem obvious, but it’s a question worth asking. Is it a customer/employee asking for a solution, or someone who thinks they know what the customer/employee wants? Talk to the actual users before you start.
- How will this be used? Don’t lose sight of your goal: Providing a great user experience. To meet this goal, you must approach development from the user’s perspective. Ask questions like: How will this be used? What is the user’s goal?
Finally, make sure you’re working with the users throughout the project. Create usable prototypes quickly and get feedback early on.
Now, I realize that UI design is a massive topic that I can’t possibly cover in this article. However, I bring it up because it’s a growing challenge for web developers, and cannot be overlooked.
What’s the Solution?
We’ve just covered a bunch of web application development challenges facing businesses today.
The big question: What’s the solution? If your business faces one or more of the challenges listed above, what can you do about it?
The answer: Low-code development. A low-code development platform will solve all of the challenges listed above (and a lot more).
How so? Let’s quickly explain each one. A low-code development platform will:
- Standardize your development process. A low-code tool will build your applications in the same way, every time…regardless of developer preference. This simplifies maintenance going forward.
- Speed up development. Low-code tools let your existing team build web applications 50-80% faster. There’s no need to hire a bunch of developers to improve development output. Low-code helps you accomplish more with your current resources.
- Build secure applications. Enterprise-class low-code tools come with security built-in. You can create applications quickly, with the peace of mind knowing that they’re secure.
- Bridge the talent gap. Low-code brings web application development skills to your current team. It turns your existing team into hyper-efficient web application developers.
- Balance features with simplicity. Low-code tools help you easily create intuitive applications that your users enjoy.
You might notice that I left two challenges (Integration and Future-Proof Applications) off of the list, and that’s on purpose. While some low-code platforms will build future-proof applications and help you with integration, not all of them will. It all depends on the vendor’s approach to application architecture.
If you’d like to try a low-code platform that’s built for integration (and future-proof applications), check out m-Power. It’s built around the idea that low-code shouldn’t hold you back. It should work the way you work and fit into your current technology stack. Check it out here: Learn more about m-Power.