How to Allocate Your Software Engineering Resources for Greater Impact
March 15, 2021

Arisa Amano
Internal

Applications power organizations — including internal business operations and customer-facing solutions — inside and out. Digital disruptors first prompted this transformation. And the pandemic has taken business demand for software creation and iteration to a whole new level.

McKinsey & Co. notes that COVID-19 "speeded the adoption of digital technologies by several years." It adds that: "The customer-facing elements of organizational operating models are not the only ones that have been affected. [There are] similar accelerations in the digitization of their core internal operations (such as back-office production, production, and R&D processes)…"

As businesses accelerate their adoption of digital technologies, there is an increasing demand and burden on developers. Engineering teams are faced with the growing need of creating and revising internal applications, often detracting from time building customer-facing and differentiated product capabilities.

Many Developers Spend Far Too Much Time on Internal Applications

Our recent research, which is based on a survey Propeller Insights conducted with more than 500 IT/engineering/technology department leaders, indicates that 62% of developers spend more than a quarter of their time fulfilling requests to build internal applications. Nearly 75% need to make updates to internal applications at least weekly, while about 70% must make updates to internal tools more than once a week. Two-thirds of the survey group said that work on internal applications delays their developers' efforts on customer-facing products on a daily or weekly basis.

That's a big distraction for developers, and it's a lot of work that could be reduced or eliminated.

Especially when it comes to internal applications, businesses often underestimate the "total cost of development" — not only do you need to consider the upfront costs to build and initially launch the tool, but the ongoing maintenance costs that's required as tools and needs continue to evolve. For example, leaders may think the total cost of a new internal console is that it'll take five developers two weeks to develop. But after the tool is built, new unanticipated demands (such as increased traffic driving infra needs or changes to the product requiring a UX change) continue to suck up engineering resources on an on-going basis.

Software Engineering Leaders Need to Consider a Different Approach

Most internal applications don't require innovative designs, but there's still a lot of push-pull between the developers who build them and the line-of-business employees who actually use them and know what they need from those tools better than anyone else. And, generally, businesses get a far bigger return when they focus resources on projects that serve their customers and partners.

More than 92% of our survey respondents said that when engineers lack the time and/or resources to fulfill a request for internal applications, it creates a strain on interdepartmental relationships. Half said their biggest pain point related to internal tool creation is the lack of adequate engineering resources or incremental requests. More than a third (35%) of our survey respondents said that software engineers lack interest in or enthusiasm for work related to internal tool creation and maintenance. And almost 79% said if engineers weren't building internal tools, they would be using that extra time to develop customer-facing features.

Engineering leaders can create greater cross-organizational harmony, better use resources, engage their in-demand talent, and build more business value by adopting new technology.

This Isn't Your Ordinary Low-Code/No-Code Platform

Low-code/no-code solutions can help engineering teams and businesses accelerate app development. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a massive shift in adoption of low-code/no-code platforms. However, many types of internal applications can't be built on existing platforms, at least not easily. That's because many internal applications need to work directly with a company's existing infrastructure, and existing platforms aren't designed for that.

New generation platforms allow users to build applications directly on top of their company's databases and API, providing the flexibility and scalability required by many internal applications. These platforms also let users inject custom code to meet the unique needs of their companies.

In addition, enterprise-ready platforms have built-in compliance, privacy and security safeguards. This is critical to prevent identity theft, help organizations avoid non-compliance penalties, and provide leaders with peace of mind. This last point is important because nearly 95% of engineering leaders voiced concern about employees having access to customers' data.

The best of new generation platforms also allow non-technical people who use internal tools to self-service and build software to meet their exact needs. This lessens the burden on engineers, who can spend less time trying to understand user requirements and wading through a backlog of internal app creation and change requests. That frees up scarce resources, which engineering leaders can then deploy elsewhere. Now developers can focus on more value-added pursuits.

Everybody benefits because engineers have better things to work on than internal tools.

Arisa Amano is Co-Founder and CEO at Internal
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