What is Application Development?

Application Development is a term that describes the tools and strategies used to conceptualize, design, build, and implement software applications.

If your business has a software need, it’s understandable to consider purchasing an off-the-shelf product from a third party. After all, as a major software developer was once so fond of saying, “There’s an app for that.”

But while packaged software options can offer quick-fix solutions, they may have a challenging time keeping up with the evolving needs of your business and your customers. Simply put, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications give organizations easy access to advanced capabilities, but what happens when those capabilities aren’t a perfect fit? When successful businesses want more customization and control over their software solutions, they turn to in-house application development.

Where digital tools were once the province of software companies and other tech-forward organizations, today’s businesses are in the midst of a digital transformation. Now, even the smallest organizations rely on advanced automation and other IT solutions to expand their reach, better serve their customers, and do more with less. Application development supports this transformation, empowering businesses with the opportunity to build their own inward- and outward-facing applications designed to match specific needs and requirements.

There are many potential advantages to building applications in-house. Although the initial cost and time investment of application development may be more significant than they would be when outsourcing your development needs or purchasing pre-made apps, in-house applications offer increased flexibility and scalability, so you can adapt your software capabilities to meet your changing needs. Integrations with new and existing systems also become easier when you already have full control over your software on a code level. In terms of customer-facing applications, application development can help your business reach important app marketplaces (such as the Apple App Store and Google Play) and provide your customers with personalized support and service solutions while collecting vital data for future analysis.

Just as app development can help your organization meet a range of needs, there are many distinct types of in-house application development. Here are four of the most common to be familiar with:

Rapid application development

Rapid application development (RAD) exists to decrease an application’s time to market without sacrificing capability or usability. In the RAD approach, app developers follow an iterative process, simultaneously developing multiple individual modules within the application and further refining the product with each successive iteration.

Low-code/no-code application development

Low-code and no-code app development is designed to allow non-technical users to build and deploy their own applications without the need for coding experience. This approach employs graphical interfaces and drag-and-drop tools to make it possible for non-coders to connect and modify snippets of code and design automated workflows.

Mobile application development

Mobile application development is a branch of app development specifically focused on the creation of software for Android, iOS, and other mobile operating systems. Mobile application development not only allows you to put your product or service literally in the hands of your customers, but it also empowers your employees with mobile and remote-work solutions.

Database application development

Database application development makes it possible for companies to design their own systems for collecting, organizing, managing, and retrieving relevant customer and business data. These applications tend to be used in performing calculations, sorting data based on a variety of criteria, generating reports, and coordinating information resources between teams and users.

Obviously, there is some overlap between these four types of application development—for example, an organization may use a low-code platform to implement a RAD approach to developing a database application for mobile users. Understanding each of these types of app development will help you determine which is appropriate for your needs, and how each one may fit together in larger projects.

Although there are various approaches to software development, most of them can be categorized in one of two ways: the Waterfall methodology and the Agile methodology.

Waterfall development methodology

The traditional Waterfall approach to application development follows a linear sequence of steps that divides software development lifecycles into distinct phases, with a new phase only beginning once the previous phase has been completed. In most cases, these phases are separated by a ‘stage-gate,’ which represents the requirements that must be fulfilled before the project can progress to the next phase.

The Waterfall methodology has long been the go-to approach to app development, providing development teams with the following benefits:

  • Easier, more straight-forward design and management
  • Better defined scope of work
  • More accurate cost projections
  • Clearer progress measurements
  • Accurately defined team roles
  • Reduced time commitment for individual teams
  • Less involvement required from end users

Agile development methodology

The Agile methodology eschews the step-by-step processes that define the traditional Waterfall approach. Instead, Agile depends on ongoing collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. Development tasks are performed and tested concurrently, and product releases occur in continuous cycles (called iterations). Agile is central to continuous delivery and continuous improvement.

In most cases, the Agile methodology allows for faster application development that is also more capable of pivoting to consider new specifications or requirements mid-project. Agile also relies heavily on user involvement, making use of customers as resources to revise and optimize the product.

This methodology has seen increased use in recent years as more and more organizations come to recognize the many benefits of Agile:

  • Improved user experience
  • Faster time to market
  • Simplified steps
  • Sustainable development pace
  • Increased team autonomy
  • Improved internal and external communication
  • Enhanced focus on business value
  • Reduced product risk

Waterfall vs. Agile methodology

Both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies have their preferred use cases and may offer specific advantages to meet different business needs. The difference between Agile and Water can often be characterized in the following ways:

  • Waterfall projects may cost more and will likely demand a longer development process as each contributor has to wait for proceeding steps to be completed before they can begin their tasks. Waterfall is also considered less flexible in terms of adapting to changing requirements. On the other hand, Waterfall’s more clear-cut planning and structure may mean a more complete product.
  • Agile makes it possible to deliver products faster and at lower cost. Add to that Agile’s ability to easily adapt projects mid development, and it’s no great surprise that so many companies are adopting Agile as their preferred development methodology. The tradeoff here is that because Agile projects are so fluid, it can be difficult to accurately plan and budget for them.

Depending on the type or types of application development you’ll be focusing on and the methodology you decide to use, the steps you take in managing your application development initiatives will take different forms. Still, in most cases companies that find success in app development follow a process like the six steps outlined below:

Step 1: Ideation and planning

Before you can begin building your app, you need to know what needs it will address, what kind of value proposition it will provide, what platforms it will be available on, and whether the idea itself is feasible. This is a vital first step that should never be overlooked; ideation and planning can make all the difference in determining the marketability and usability of your app before you start committing resources to development.

Step 2: Designing

What this step looks like will depend heavily on the methodology you decide to apply. A Waterfall approach will require that the development team begin building the ‘skeleton’ of the application so that they can then move onto the more-specific aspects of the software. An iterative, Agile approach will instead begin working on prototypes that can be rolled out to generate feedback, adapting the app's functionality as you go.

Step 3: Development

Coding begins in earnest in the development stage. This is where the team will take what they learned during the design stage to start moving towards a final version of the product. This is where most of the ‘building’ occurs and depending on the methodology and type of application development, this stage may be revisited many times throughout multiple iterations.

Step 4: Testing

Whether occurring concurrently to or following the previous stage, testing is essential for identifying and eliminating software bugs and ensuring that the app fulfills on what it promises. Although testing can be an expensive and time-consuming stage of app development, it has the capacity to more than pay for itself in terms of reduced maintenance and support costs.

Step 5: Deployment

Again, in Agile development this is a stage you will be revisiting as you release updated versions to your users. Ideally, you will have already worked out all the major bugs and can be confident that you’re delivering a ‘finished’ product—even if there are some additional fixes or improvements to be made after the fact.

Step 6: Maintenance and support

Once the application is in the hands of the user, it’s important that you continue to offer service and support. Monitor the status of the app, listen to feedback and reviews, and work with the user to ensure that the software is performing as expected. Ideally, this stage will continue to be relevant up to the point where you eventually decide to decommission your app.

As the need for internal and external business applications continues to grow, organizations in all industries are bringing application development in house. This can mean significant advantages for the businesses, their employees, and the customers that depend on them. That said, application development can also be a complicated process fraught with pitfalls. Here, we identify several tips for improving your business’ approach to application development:

Include app development in your strategic planning

Application development shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. Before you get started, identify and define how application development will help support your other business objectives.

Approach your apps as business services

Application development requires planning, coding, and analysis, but you shouldn’t think of these apps as just projects to be completed. Instead, view them as business services that fall under the responsibilities of the various departments and users the applications will be serving. These departments will be responsible for accessing and providing feedback on the application, helping retain focus on the business objectives the app is designed to address.

Test in real-world user environments

Not every IT environment is going to be identical to the one that your developers operate in. Employ internet testing tools to get an idea of how the app will function outside of your labs, considering things like communication weak spots and slower average internet speeds. If the app only functions in your own IT environment, then you may be failing the users you’re trying to serve.

Expand your community with citizen developers

Application development doesn't have to be restricted by the number of developers you have on staff. With the right development platform, you can empower end users external to your organization to help create powerful, authorized applications. These citizen developers can be a major boon to your app development processes, further accelerating time to market, allowing for increased innovation, reducing cost and IT pressures, and more.

When it comes to meeting the unique needs of your businesses and your customers, the best ‘app for that’ may be the one you develop in-house. ServiceNow, the leader in IT management solutions, can help. ServiceNow Application Development delivers full-stack app development power and easy-to-use structure, ready out of the box to get you started building powerful business applications.

See for yourself how ServiceNow and the Now Platform® can revolutionize the way you build apps. Click here to learn more, and get ready to create the software that will drive your business.

Rethink how you build apps

Discover full-stack dev power and a turnkey application structure that’s ready to go right out of the box. Empower and collaborate with developers.