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Cross Pollination in Software Development

Nick Churchill-EvansJune 4th 2018

There is benefit in a software developer having specific industry knowledge, but we have also found that there is great benefit in a fresh view and taking the opportunity to bring expertise from other verticals. Under our agile software development approach, industry specifics are somewhat de-risked by our DevThing tooling and methods...

Over the last twelve months or so, as a business we seem to have greatly diversified the industry verticals in which we provide software development and broader software services. This hasn’t been as a result of a strategy to diversify by vertical. It is a result of an expansion in the range of innovative new technology that we integrate and consequently being found by people who need such bespoke software development, regardless of their industry. Another helpful element has been the fact that we now have a larger network of clients – we simply get more referrals to businesses looking for good software development partners, which is very much appreciated! It has also been interesting to note the growing demand we are seeing for our expertise in big data technology, analytics and all things of a data science nature.

Whilst I think there is benefit in a software developer having specific industry knowledge we have also found that there is great benefit in a fresh view and taking the opportunity to bring expertise from other verticals. Under our agile software development approach, industry specifics are somewhat de-risked by our DevThing tooling and methods, which we use to create virtual project teams constituted of staff from cloudThing and each client. This is principally used to ensure that we have client specific domain expertise on our software development projects but it also provides more general industry knowledge from the client’s own staff. Since we have diversified and maintained high levels of customer satisfaction across a range of measures, I can only conclude that this approach works.

So, regarding the benefits of a fresh view then, what are we seeing? In short, too much to describe and list in one blog. But it’s worth picking out a couple of highlights that we’ve seen recently:

Private Sector tech businesses learning from the sleepy, old Public Sector

Deliberately stated in a contentious way for dramatic effect, but honestly it’s true. Back in the day, we worked almost exclusively with Public Sector clients. We thought at the time that those clients focused too much on governance, process and standards to the detriment of critical agility. However, four years spent working with disruptive, fast growth businesses and enterprise organisations, be they Private and Third Sector, it has taught us that there is too little focus on governance, process and standards in the Private and Third Sector, subsequently creating quality issues which… well reduce Agility as effort is haemorrhaged into firefighting, back tracking and workarounds. In truth both can learn from each other and the ideal balance is to focus on using governance, process and standards to promote and support agility.

This has provided us with the opportunity to import much of what we learned about architectural and operational best practice in the past, to a wide range of private companies presently. The relatively small overhead that it creates has a rapid return on investment the moment a client wants to change or add functionality (which of course healthy businesses need to do all the time). It is such attention to software design that allowed us to language pack hundreds of thousands of pounds of bespoke software into Welsh with approximately 4 hours work, for one of our clients… Their CEO was both surprised and pleased when we had that particular conversation.

Info Security from Health businesses to everybody else

We’ve worked on some very sensitive software development programmes over the years and necessarily have a good grasp on security best practice to the extent that converting our operating practices into ISO27001 accreditation last year was a simple (but none the less very useful) step. However, working on a project leveraging big data technology for a health based business presented some very different data challenges than we typically had to handle. I can’t share any detail but it forced us to look at how we implemented the technology to ‘design in’ some unusual but critical security measures. We are about to take this learning into a radically different but equality sensitive industry. In a sense the data problem is already solved for our new client, even though it is a first in the non-health sector application. The design approach of which I’m talking has been used elsewhere too in similarly unrelated industries. I would also venture that we have ended up with more secure solutions at a lower cost as a result of having to solve seemingly irrelevant but very complicated problems in one place, and subsequently taken the learning elsewhere.

I used cross pollination in the title because we see the benefit of this in the natural world in the form of hybrid vigour. The German Shepherd / Labrador / other stuff rescue dog that I procured in exchange for a £30 donation to Wirral Council is statistically less likely than a pedigree dog, to exhibit genetic defects that will cost me in vet bills (and tearful children for that matter). And that’s got to be a good thing. We’re just as happy taking our own form of hybrid vigour into software development projects. It seems to make our clients happy and that’s also got to be a good thing.

© Nick Churchill-EvansJune 4th 2018

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