The Inefficiencies of App Development
Shiva Nathan, the former Head of Intuit’s Platform & Services, is a seasoned tech executive with experience managing app development at multiple Fortune 500 companies.
He is currently the founder and CEO of Onymos Inc, a US startup that aims to transform app creation. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Shiva on app development.
Q: What is that one fundamental learning that prompted you to found Onymos?
[SN]: App development is inefficient. The first application was created decades ago, depending on who you ask and what you term an application. Yet today, app development remains an overly complicated and highly inefficient endeavor. Certainly, we have come a long way with technology in what apps can do and where they run.
Q: What got you interested in the inefficiencies of mobile app development?
In my career, I’ve monitored the standard development metrics and KPIs for all projects, not just mobile apps. We tracked productivity per headcount, lifecycle costs, maintenance versus innovation, the full range of metrics needed to lead development at very large companies.
But I became intrigued by the anomalies I found in metrics specifically related to the mobile app we were developing.
Q: What exactly are the inefficiencies of App development?
To begin with, everyone reinvents the wheel every time. This is absurd. Software engineers are writing brand new code to build a function or writing code to integrate ‘offerings’ by other developers or services or companies.
If one considers the core functionality central to individual apps, there is a tremendous overlap in foundational elements and blocks. Most apps require login, most apps require a data store integration, most apps require a user profile page, and the list goes on.
Next is the challenge of deciphering and managing the range of technology options available today. There are many third-party service providers available in our API Economy, along with cloud providers and platform strategies. While the breadth and depth of tools benefit the industry as a whole, it can be daunting, especially over time, as providers and preferences change. Techniques to mitigate selecting the ‘wrong horse’ are crucial because the horses typically look pretty good at the starting line.
Finally, the most insidious problem, in my opinion, is maintenance. Don’t get me wrong; ongoing maintenance is a natural element of any application project. But two items, in particular, have exacerbated the overhead allocated to maintenance – smartphones and the API economy.
Whereas a standard rule of thumb would be to allocate 10% of resources to maintenance, with complex enterprise mobile apps, it could be 30% or more.
Q: When you state it that way, it’s easy to see why app development is complex. Are there other issues?
Yes. All these problems require more software engineers to address – allocating more resources to ‘reinventing the wheel’ busy work, allocating more resources to maintenance. Where do we find these resources? Even if companies can find software engineers, we have not touched on the issues related to hiring and retaining talent. It’s a whole other topic.
Q: So, these are the problems you set out to solve with Onymos?
Precisely. I thought there must be a better way to cut through these inefficiencies and help development teams be more productive.
- Let’s get developers creating genuine business value rather than recreating something that’s been recreated a hundred times before.
- Let’s deliver fully functional Features so that they work ‘out of the box,’ and don’t need backend plumbing or additional work.
- Onymos will take on the cost burden of maintaining these Features. We’ll be maniacal about staying current with cloud providers, service providers, and the phone manufacturers themselves.
Now your scarce development resources can focus on innovation and creating competitive value.
That’s precisely my vision for Onymos.
Q: It’s a good point, but how does it translate to app development?
The Onymos Features-as-a-Service platform is a suite of licensed source code with almost all the core objects a company needs to build its business-specific app. Think of an app that requires log in, chat, push notifications, database storage in the cloud, geo-services, etc… Onymos provides all of these Features – and not as a black-box service but the actual software code itself, fully integrated with the hardware and cloud providers you expect (read Plug-in vs Feature, what’s the difference?).
Your company’s developers start with Onymos Features as a base and knock six months or more off their project’s timeline. Rather than starting from scratch, they start by focusing on the app’s unique business logic. The company can be building the next Uber, payroll processing system, or e-commerce application, and not have to worry about any of the underlying constructs.
Q: What do you really offer? You mentioned something about ‘licensed source code’?
Onymos is unique in that we offer the actual source code for all our Features. It is not an executable or library or SDK or toolkit or API. Onymos provides the working source code that your team checks into your source-control system. In that sense, it is fully customizable.
Q: That’s unique in the software business. Why did you choose to offer the source?
Before I started Onymos, I considered if I, the head of platforms and services engineering at a Fortune 500 company, would stake any of my company’s applications on software components from another company?
The answer was, ‘No.’
When I dug deep into my reasoning, it boiled down to just one thing – trust. I trust my own engineers’ work more than any other company. I can see the software code my team creates; I can test it, verify it.
To get to that same level of trust as if my own engineers’ developed it, I need the source code. And that’s why our software is delivered as source code.
Q: I am surprised at your business viability then. If you offer source code, isn’t that just a one-time purchase by your customer? Your customer buys all the source code once, and they never see you again?
Excellent question. Given the pace of change, the untouched software code is only useful for two-ish years at best. To stay relevant, the code has to be updated frequently.
An Onymos Feature’s subscription keeps it up-to-date while keeping valuable development resources focused on building business logic and adding core value.
Q: What’s your short 30-second pitch to an Enterprise software executive then?
I created Onymos specifically to address the app development inefficiencies you’re experiencing today.
Our suite of trusted software Features will shorten time-to-market while requiring fewer resources. Keep your team focused on what matters most – building your company’s competitive value.