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Why Application Development Will Follow in the Footsteps of the WCM Evolution

Posted on 11.16.2017

In the early days of the Web, developers created websites by hand. Each Web page was a carefully compiled text file made up of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Basically, every page was made from scratch. Developers from those days will remember the monotonous routine of code, copy, paste and repeat.

Although this approach worked, there were some issues. Developing correct, semantic Web markup required specific, in-depth knowledge and skills that changed regularly. There were constantly evolving factors such as Web standards, browser-specific tricks and search- engine-specific meta tags. To top it off, the coding process was separate from the publishing process, which made visualizing the Web pages without publishing virtually impossible. What came next was only natural.
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The evolution of Web content management (WCM)

Then, visual editors made their debut. Suddenly developers could create websites while simultaneously visualizing their changes as they went. These tools offered capabilities such as auto-completion that made website development available to just about anyone by lowering the learning curve.

That’s not to say there weren’t still challenges. Each page was simply a copy of some page before it, which made maintaining the pages difficult. The editors available combined look-and-feel with the structure of the site. To change a site’s template, there were hundreds of individual files that needed to be changed as well.

So along came server-side Web technology such as PHP, ASP and JSP. This made it possible for developers to create pages from templates managed on the server side. It was much easier to use common components, but all the available options embedded the content in the code. Additionally, the servers where the websites were hosted were different from where development took place, making the publishing process more complicated.

Enter Web content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, Sitecore and more. These systems solved many of the main frustrations by separating a site’s content from its structure and from its theme. By powering the runtime on the hosting server, there were no extra steps for publishing new Web pages in separate environments. With these available solutions, no one would think to build a website by hand anymore.

When considering the challenges application developers face, it’s not hard to see a similar pattern. As digital transformation continues to be a focal point for businesses around the world, there is increased demand for developers to produce custom apps and fast. Doing it by hand just doesn’t make sense anymore.

The evolution of application development

The applications of today are rarely simple. They often require complex back-end APIs and processes, which bring up unique challenges for traditional application delivery. This is the reason for the growing shift to low-code development platforms. These platforms are the WCM systems of app development.

With these platforms, developers can visualize their apps as they create them, using reusable building blocks. Just like a website built with a WCM system, developers don’t have to hand-code each screen and feature. And, just as visual editors made website development available to the masses, low-code platforms make app development achievable for even those who don’t have in-depth technical coding experience. Given today’s skills gap, this is important for widening the talent pool.

Leveraging reusable components for app development is critical to delivering apps quickly and at scale. If a feature is embedded in one app, developers can simply reuse that same component for another app, rather than recreating it each time. This greatly reduces technical debt, which is the extra development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short term is used instead of the best overall solution. This doesn’t mean that custom code is no longer available. Developers are free to write their own code when they need to create a new component, and if they’re smart, they will make sure that the component is reusable.

When visual editors combined the look and feel with the structure of the website, there were issues. App developers faced similar situations. That’s why development platforms evolved to separate the design elements of apps from the structural components. Similar to the server-side technology for Web development, modern app development platforms provide a server side. There, developers can model their own data tables and expose APIs for their apps, but with a separation between interface, logic, data and processes, providing a complete lifecycle platform for managing apps over time.

With the explosion of mobile app usage, app development platforms have at long last caught up to Web development platforms. In the coming years, as organizations continue to focus on digital transformation, demand for the next evolution of app development could surpass that of website development. Only time will tell.


Andy-PembertonAbout the Author
A passionate, transformational technology leader and solution architect with expertise in DevOps, Web, mobile, APIs and much more, Andy Pemberton is Vice President, Solution Architecture and Field Operations at OutSystems.

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