Businesses of all kinds, from global behemoths to small and medium-sized organizations here in the U.S. rely on enterprise-grade software to power their operations. But what is enterprise-grade software and what separates it from all of the other applications a business uses?
It’s not the slow, bloated legacy software that struggles to scale and impact the business in any meaningful way. Quite the opposite. The whole point of enterprise-grade software is to enable activities and efficiencies that drive business goals — and to do that it needs to be the best designed, most efficient and well coded software in the company’s arsenal. The following characteristics are essential to it being just that.
Enterprise-Grade Software Requires Robust Discovery
Developers need to be able to understand how the software they are going to build links to specific business functions.
In other words, there is a larger context that informs the software build, writes Tarang Vyas, director and CEO at IT services provider PerceptionCare. “Developers need to be able to look past the software function at the long-term goals of their clients or end users. This means they need to be aware of how the software will be used, upgraded and maintained as the businesses grow.”
This is what product discovery is for. A comprehensive, thorough discovery process will help everyone on the development team get a better understanding of how the tools they are building will apply to business goals, as well as how end-users will interact with the tools.
Enterprise-Grade Software Is Well Executed
Enterprise-grade software tends to be thought through to a high degree, designed with proficiency and architectural consideration. That’s because it needs to do more than connect a simple front-end display to a back-end database. Data may need to be offloaded to a data warehouse every night, for instance, dozens of APIs may need to connect into the system or it may need to interact with a series of disparate third-party databases.
To that end, “it will be built for speed, built for scale and built for all the down and dirty data flows it will have to shoulder in its post-operationalized state,” writes technology journalist Adrian Bridgwater.
Data will be audited more thoroughly and more regularly than a typical application, too, he adds. And the whole system will be more reliable having undergone a thorough quality assurance and testing period.
The same level of quality and design is applicable for cloud or other third-party providers that support the software. The cloud team at IBM recommends that organizations “make sure that potential cloud providers are able to meet the highest levels of ‘enterprise grade’ deliverables and SLAs [service level agreements] for reliability, security, performance, consistency, user experience, and high availability.” Among other things, this includes:
- Enterprise-level performance.
- Operational consistency.
- A high degree of business continuity.
- Integration with a wide range of other tools.
Enterprise-Grade Software Is Rigorously Tested and Developed With Rapid Feedback
Enterprise-grade software must be developed alongside a rigorous user testing program. More often than not, the first iteration will fall far short of the end-user’s needs, which is why developing a minimum viable product and getting it into the end users’ hands as quickly as possible is essential.
That doesn’t mean the product has to go out to customers before it’s ready, however. The nature of enterprise development means teams are often large enough to launch MVPs internally first, writes Robert Kazmi, chief revenue officer at mobile and web app development agency Koombea. “This is particularly useful for data gathering if your product is actually relevant to the team members who are using it.”
Not only does user feedback ensure the application meets business goals and drives efficiencies, but it can also save a significant amount of money.
Time is of the essence, especially when standard time frames for enterprise software development are taken into account. IT professionals say it takes more than three months on average to develop an app. Combined with the cost of this type of software, organizations simply can’t afford to delay getting the MVP out.
Enterprise-Grade Software Is Maintainable
If enterprise-grade software is to continue to drive business goals months and years after development, it must be managed as part of a portfolio that is regularly maintained and updated. For that to be possible, the application itself must be designed with updates and maintenance in mind.
The codebase needs to allow for future developers —even those who did not work on the initial project — to make necessary changes to keep the application functioning.
Designing enterprise-grade software with maintenance in mind is even more important given the cost of software maintenance. It is the “most expensive phase of development,” according to the editorial team at software quality governance platform Sealights, and can consume as much as half of the development budget.
It’s not just future updates that need to be manageable. The administration of the enterprise-level application must also be carefully designed so that it can operate at scale. This becomes increasingly important as the application is adopted across the enterprise.
“As software extends to more and more parts of an organization, things like group management and organization, ability to delegate control and/or oversight, and automated user provisioning and de-provisioning become essential so administrators can maintain control and security as they scale users,” writes Kristen Wells at field service management software provider ServiceMax.
Enterprise-Grade Software Is Scalable
An enterprise-grade application isn’t just going to be used by a couple of dozen or even a few hundred users; thousands of employees are going to be using it at any one time and so it must be built in a way that can handle use of this scale.
Scalability must be considered in the early stages of development, writes Shaunak Amin, cofounder and CEO at SnackMagic.
“Often, a startup will plan to automate manual tasks and processes sometime in the future,” he explains. “But going back and automating operations may prove difficult as founders could face resistance from future key players whose interests are not aligned with that goal. Meantime, their solution will be to perform more and more tasks manually, leaving greater room for errors and slowing down business. But by implementing scalable software when you’re starting, your business operations will be scalable from the get-go.”
This starts with the tools used in the development process.
“Effective app development tools should be capable of scaling along with your business, so that you benefit as much from them tomorrow, as you do today,” writes the team at Salesforce. “Development tools that can support massive streams of data — including internet of things (IoT) data — will be better suited to help your business grow, and tools that can be configured to your existing practices and processes will be able to remain viable as those processes change.”
Enterprise-grade software can take many forms, but it’s seldom without the five characteristics discussed above. Working with a third-party agency —one with extensive domain knowledge, a well-defined program of work and relevant experience —is the most reliable way to guarantee the inclusion of those key characteristics.