Organizations employ multiple applications or software to run their businesses – some are home-grown, while others are from commercial vendors. The users of these applications, from the perspective of the application creator and the organization, could either be internal members, external stakeholders or end users.
Over the last decade, the design and delivery of applications has witnessed a radical transformation. On the surface, it may appear that this change focuses on the core architecture and technological facets of building applications. However, upon deeper analysis, it can be observed that the manner of presenting applications to end users has also changed, in keeping with the changing technology landscape. The expectations of end users have evolved applications from being solitary to social, reactive to conversational, and static and monotonous to vibrant and visually pleasing. Modern applications need to be secure, modular, replicable, heterogeneously located, and must co-exist and collaborate with other applications. Therefore, it is almost impossible to build applications with modern sensibilities using outdated techno-functional skills and ideologies.
Undeniably, today’s application designers, developers, solution-builders and testers, that is the workforce, must be adept at managing new age data and application technologies. While emerging technologies continue to deeply influence the way applications are architected, the workforce will also require certain significant non-technical skills for designing modern applications.
Such skills include, but are not limited to:
Digital Technologies: It is imperative that the workforce has a general understanding of multiple digital technologies and specializes in at least one digital technology, such as cloud computing, big data, internet of things (IoT), blockchain, microservices, containerization, mobility, and so on. It is difficult to imagine a modern application that does not use any of these technologies.
Design Thinking: Application design, which includes both core architecture and the user interface (UI), begins on a whiteboard but not in the integrated development environment (IDE). The principles of design thinking must be applied, keeping in mind, the purpose of the application, its required features, the intended audience and how users will interact with it.
Advanced Mathematics: Machine learning, artificial intelligence, neural networks and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms that power today’s intelligent applications are nothing but a combination of sophisticated mathematics and statistics. The workforce must be skilled in these areas to build and test intelligent applications efficiently.
Data Privacy: An understanding of data privacy principles will help the workforce build applications that have data privacy at the very core of their functioning. Privacy-by-design will aid applications in adhering to regulatory requirements and safeguarding data privacy.
Intellectual Property (IP): The workforce must have a reasonable understanding of IP principles to protect their newly generated IP and prevent any unintentional IP infringement issues while building applications.
Human Psychology: An understanding of the basic elements of human psychology and cognition will help the workforce build user-friendly and customer-oriented applications. Insights into how users interact with software or machines, needs versus wants, frustrations, delights, biases, expectations, anticipated actions in various circumstances, decision-making skills, perception of colors, and so on, can help in creating engaging applications.
Interpersonal Skills: Applications are mostly built by teams and not individuals. The new way of operating in a virtual mode from hyper-distributed locations has changed the notion of an office. The pressure to deliver applications with agility puts a strain on the collective team. An application can be delivered successfully through collaborative intelligence. Hence, the workforce must demonstrate empathy, the ability to switch roles, and camaraderie to overcome the barrier of distance.
Domain Understanding and Market Awareness: An application is not just about screens and cutting-edge technology. It is a portal to the inner business processes that are critical to an organization’s functioning. These business processes are heavily influenced by the domain in which the application functions. The domain could be industry-oriented (for example, banking, insurance, retail, telecom, and so on), or industry-agnostic (for example, DevOps, legacy modernization, data management, data protection, and so on). Domains are susceptible to continuous evolution with technological advances. It is critical that the workforce is in tune with various domains and contemporary market needs for building contextual and relevant applications.
Sensitization to Language, Culture and Diversity: Increasingly, applications are being designed for heterogenous audiences. However, applications must be tailored adequately to make them acceptable to specific userbases. This is especially crucial for business-to-consumer (B2C) applications that have a wider reach. For example, a certain color, or its shades, may not be considered appropriate in certain cultures. In some countries, there may be a preference for a product’s UI to be in their national language. Therefore, the workforce must be cognizant of such cultural expectations and aversions, so that it can design applications accordingly.
The Way Ahead for the Workforce
Building modern business applications will require the workforce’s skills to transcend beyond traditional programming and move into the realm of humanities, arts, science and soft skills. A cross-functional skill set will allow the workforce to build more user-centric, business-contextual and efficient applications.