Fire your mobile app programmer and build it yourself

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Everyone used to hire mobile app developers to build custom programs, but that often resulted in shoddy, insecure programs that sometimes didn't even work. And even when the software suited the need, chances are it was a colossal waste of money.

Today you can program without programming. Even business people can define and build apps that suit their needs in just hours or days, depending on the complexity. Or have them built for you for as a low as $500 from a provider harnessing the same automated software creation tools.

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Either way you go, it is a far cry from shelling out $50,000 or more, which is what you typically pay a mobile developer for just one piece of software for just one mobile platform.

We are not talking about overly simplistic, do nothing bits of software. With today's new visual approach to designing and generating mobile software, you can create sophisticated custom business apps. These apps can work with data from the Web, cloud or your own internal systems or all three, and can include pre-built features such as: forms, lists, database services, web services, location services, and strong security and encryption.

It is particularly easy to create apps for companies in these vertical industries: real estate, health care, construction, job estimating, insurance and more.

New tech to the rescue

For decades the Holy Grail of programming was to get there without programming. Many stabs have been taken, such as Fourth Generation Languages (4GL), object oriented programming where objects could be reused and stitched together to create new programs, and code generation, where you define what you need and the system creates the code for you.

All this work laid the foundation where we are finally achieving the promise of programming without programming. In the mobile space in particular a number of new companies are making all this work.

The key is visual development. By leveraging myriad pieces of software that have been written and fully vetted, the end user, even a non-technical person, visually designs the app they need and the system assembles the app based on what we used to call objects. And because all these components have been used in thousands of apps, they are secure and the bugs long since worked out.

Some vendors offering this new approach focus on easing creation of mobile applications that replace paper forms, letting IT customize or build apps that are then run as Software as a Service (SaaS).

Others offer a Platform as a Service (PaaS) approach. Initially PaaS was simply a way of offering a software development stack in the cloud, so programmers needn't worry about configuring, updating and maintaining development systems. Now the stack itself is richer with the advent of true visual-based and model-driven development, and the cloud is better able to host these developed apps as well.

There are multiple PaaS options today. One approach allows stakeholders to model what they want their app to do, and then have that interpreted by a runtime environment. While another allows business users to decide what they want, describe it by manipulating icons that represent a large catalog of fully tested services, objects, actions or lines of code, and then the system builds a full piece of software whose components are automatically integrated.

The savings are real

Research by AnyPresence, a Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) provider, shows most companies spend at least $50,000 for an app. Close to 25% spend more than $100,000.

Using traditional methods, mobile apps aren't just expensive to build, they take a tremendous amount of time to complete. Let's say you just want a program that takes information from a database and puts it in a simple list, maybe to let salespeople check inventory. That could take one to two months to build and cost over $25,000, says AnyPresence. And that is for just one platform.

Want an enterprise app that integrates with your business processes? You'll need an awfully big piggy bank because that will run you over $150,000.

What's more, eventually you'll need to update that app, which can cost serious bucks. Forrester says the initial cost of development is only 35% of the overall two-year cost.   Part of this cost is updating and upgrading. This may be due to new feature requirements, changes in business processes, the need to run on or exploit new mobile environments or to port to currently unsupported operating systems. MGI Research says mobile apps have, on average, one major update ever six months.

With visual programming and application generation you can add new features or just freshen the interface with a few swipes of a WYSIWYG editor, then touch the screen to distribute the update. Programmers call this iteration, and they earn much of their livelihood this way.

Alex Bakman is the founder and executive chairman of Snappii, founded in 2010. Bakman is a successful tech entrepreneur and innovator. Since 1994 Alex has founded and grown 3 companies to $10+ million in sales and our management team has many decades of experience at tech companies like: Ecora, Cabletron, Vkernel and Candle.

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