Let users write their own applications

Let users write their own applications

Summary: Nsite's latest release is a hosted IDE that allows users to modify, build and deploy sophisticated applications online without having to write a single line of code.

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TOPICS: Apps
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Who is best qualified to automate a business process? In the past, a software developer was the only available choice, and the qualifications required were technology related. But the only people who really understand what the automation needs to achieve are the people who own and operate the processes — the business users themselves. Shouldn't they be the ones to create and modify the software applications that automate their work?

The Nsite tool is certainly a huge advance in usability and flexibility.

Nsite certainly believes they should. Last week, the company released version 5.0 of its hosted business process automation service, which uses DHTML and AJAX technologies to put drag-and-drop application building into the hands of business analysts and process owners. Both the application builder and the finished applications are served on-demand by Nsite.

Nsite, who I first mentioned in September, targets smaller businesses who typically can't afford teams of software developers or expensive packaged application solutions. The new release is leading with two ready-made applications designed to appeal to such businesses: Quote Management and Channel Management, both of which are pitched to take advantage of another feature of on-demand delivery; the ease of extending some parts of the application to external users. But the icing on the cake is that every element of these applications is fully customizable using its online application builder, which can also be used to build completely new functions and applications.

Having seen several browser-based application builders in my time, I can say that the Nsite tool is certainly a huge advance in usability and flexibility (all the features can be tried out for free in a 5-user starter edition). It brings together the basic tools of data and workflow management — forms, reports, email and hyperlinks — into a visual interface that's very clear and functional. A lot of that is down to AJAX, which Nsite's VP marketing, Rosie Hausler, told me is probably a first for a hosted business application builder: "We believe we're the first company using AJAX for customizing and delivering applications as a service."

But it's not AJAX alone. Nsite deserves praise for the uncompromising way it's fulfilled its vision. The capabilities included in the tool are very sophisticated. For example, there's an option to populate fields in a form or a report using a web services interface — APIs from Salesforce.com and Siebel are supported at present. If they want, developers can expand functionality by adding custom Javascript actions to individual elements on a form. All the database tables required by the application are created on the fly as the forms are built (or modified). Behind the scenes, the tool builds the source code in XML, which can be viewed at any time. There are several other useful features that log activity in deployed applications for analysis and reporting.

With all this sophistication, it's unlikely that software developers (or at least, those that know Javascript and XML) will find themselves out of work anytime soon. But tools like Nsite at last make it possible for process owners— especially power users and business analysts — to try their hand at making their own tweaks and modifications, or even adding simple applications from scratch, without having to go through a developer before they see the results. This makes it a lot easier for them to test out hunches about different ways of doing things, and ultimately create automation that really makes sense in the context of the business.

Topic: Apps

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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3 comments
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  • Users as programmers.

    From time to time the idea of turning users into programmers resurfaces in a different form. At one time, wasn't SAS supposed to be used by executives without intermediary?

    The problem is, most users do not want to know much about the computer; they want it to do as much for them as possible with as little interaction as possible.

    A common solution is standard reports always available "live" and study by intermediaries, analysts working with the data.


    The article comments:
    The new release [from Nsite] is leading with two ready-made applications designed to appeal to such businesses: Quote Management and Channel Management, both of which are pitched to take advantage of another feature of on-demand delivery; the ease of extending some parts of the application to external users. But the icing on the cake is that every element of these applications is fully customizable using its online application builder, which can also be used to build completely new functions and applications.

    I suspect it's not a coincidence that these applications concern specific functionality. That can make programming no more than adding or removing items from queries. Still won't be done by users, but analyst-intermediaries can work with them.

    For study, queries are often too simplistic. Like any other data source, there will eventually be tools able to create elaborate output, and probably process it to produce reports.


    So when the article observes:

    But tools like Nsite at last make it possible for process owners? especially power users and business analysts ? to try their hand at making their own tweaks and modifications, or even adding simple applications from scratch, without having to go through a developer before they see the results.

    ... it's leaving out some essential factors.

    Power users and business analysts are not the ultimate recipients of the information. So in a way they're internal developers.
    And the outputs they need usually are too elaborate to be supplied by a generic package. Or for them to program the needed output without something a lot easier to use than scripts.
    Anton Philidor
  • User Programming

    This is the holy grail of software, isn't it? Eliminate the programmer! If you can't eliminate him, outsource him! If he's in India you can protend he does not exist!

    Uhh...yeah...

    What businesses need to realize is that it does not take an uber-geek to build and process automation application, it takes someone with solid technical skills AND a solid knowledge of the process being automated.

    What software developers need to realize is that domain knowledge is as or more important to solving the problem than deep technical knowledge.

    Software tool companies need to realize that more tools are need to help the developer understand the problem domain, not just help the developer produce the wrong code faster.

    In my experience, very few (if any) problems fit into the neat little box that BPM vendors provide for writing process automation software.

    Of course, I understand why software tool vendors focus on eliminating the programmer. Look at the focus of discussion in s/w development threads. How often do you see people talking about how the lastest process or tool helped them better understand their customer's needs? Never, or almost never. It's always technology focused.
    Erik1234
  • Pushing function out to the user

    It's interesting to see the different approaches being taken to push functionality out to the end user. There was a time when executives had secretaries and now they have work processors. I'm a great fan of the AJAX philosophy, although I think there are some other approaches that currently better support user interactivity over the web. The real issue is how well the user's knowledge can be captured and applied to the application.
    Lawrence Calmus
    www.interneer.com
    lcalmus