Despite the availability of new tools to speed up application development, developers today often face more complex tasks and projects that require 100 per cent compatibility across multiple computing platforms.
This was the common view of a number of software vendors interviewed recently. Ironically, they said, while new tools can speed programming, the development cycle can actually take longer these days because projects require a lot more research, testing, and debugging to ensure that they work in a heterogeneous and networked environment.
"It's very difficult to develop applications nowadays because we have to ensure compatibility across multiple computing platforms," said Ramon Garcia, management consultant for Decisions Systems.
"Application development has changed a lot - there are a lot of hardware and software tools to choose from. Unlike before, we were limited to IBM tools," he said.
Most of Decision Systems' projects are geared towards banking applications which run on Novell NetWare and Windows NT. The company is also seriously looking into year 2000 conversion.
Rose Banzon, division manager for technology and services at Ayala Systems Technology (ASTI), also said that the presence of multiple platforms definitely adds complexity to the development task, since clients require compatibility and seamless integration. "The use of tools does not guarantee a successful application development, but it does minimise the risks," she said.
The flood of application development tools and platforms also constitutes a whole new challenge, said Manolito Tayag, vice president at Software Ventures International (SVI).
Tayag said companies today must spend more time on training and learning the different tools and languages they need.
"The technical capability of our people is a challenge to us," said Tayag. "Our programmers have to know several languages." SVI focuses on client/server development and system maintenance for NT and Unix environments. Like most software companies, they have also entered the millennium bug business.
Arthur Tesoro, systems development manager at ACISystems, a joint venture company of IBM Philippines & CSA, said the days of using one language to build an application are over.
"Our young programmers right now are very impatient," said Tesoro. "They want to learn all the new things that are coming out. They don't want to get stuck with a particular program. But from a business point of view, that is very difficult."
Tesoro said that to avoid being swamped with decisions such as which language to use and which platform to write for, they must try to select an area to focus on. "We can't take on the whole market."
ACISystems offers customised systems development, systems conversion or migration, professional services, and software development mainly for IBM's AS/400.
The Internet poses even more challenges for local software developers. While there is a lot of potential, developers need to beef up their manpower, and acquire the needed skills to develop Internet applications.
Decision Systems' Garcia said that already, they have clients that want them to develop Internet applications. "We have to develop the skills to match the technology before accepting such requests," he said.
Garcia said that Internet application development brings a whole new series of complexities to contend with, including the poor telecommunications infrastructure and even the proposed phone metering scheme.
ASTI, too, sees the Internet as an opportunity to develop more applications. "The challenge lies in finding a niche area among the Internet applications," Banzon said.
Tesoro of ACISystems said that this year is a big challenge for the company, because they are just starting to get into the Internet and intranet markets. He said that being a subsidiary of IBM Philippines, ACI's mission is to provide the service component of IBM's Internet and intranet solutions - Lotus Notes Domino.
"This year we have to level up our efforts in trying to learn the skills and acquire the manpower," said Tesoro. "We would like to be able to provide cross-industry solutions for the Internet." Hernando Camba, manager at SVI, said they are investing in research and training to prepare for Internet-based applications. Tayag added that they will use ActiveX, Visual Basic, Java, and Oracle for Internet applications.
Predicting the future
Because the market is inundated with development tools, the developers cannot pinpoint which tool will gain widespread use. They said that any tool that improves productivity will certainly click.
"There are too many development tools in the market today and they change so fast," said Garcia. "That is why I cannot pinpoint which tools will have potential." Garcia added that object-oriented technology may shorten development time, but will not reduce implementation cycles.
Banzon, for her part, said object-oriented tools have a lot of potential for growth. "Object- oriented technology speeds up development if you understand it and know how to apply it," she said, noting that the maximum benefit is derived if it is applied across the entire development group.
Tayag and Camba of SVI give Java a vote of confidence. They said that ease-of-use, interoperability, platform independence and security are some of the advantages of Java.
Even though the vendors are focusing on certain development tools and niches, they also said that they can always be flexible and use tools specified by a client.
Decision Systems, for instance, is standardising on Borland's Delphi. "But we have to be flexible," said Garcia. "If a client wants us to develop using another tool, then we will." However, Garcia was quick to add that they must consider the profitability of the project before accepting it. He added that they will invest in educating their programmers in Java if the language becomes a standard for cross-platform development.
For her part, Banzon said the choice of platform and tool set is largely influenced by the customer.
At ACISystems, they use the Micro-focus suite of analysis and application development tools for fixing the millennium bug. "We are not limiting ourselves. The tool to use will depend largely on the client," said Tesoro.
"However, it would be better if their request is part of our skill set.