Software developers – business enabler or hostage taker?

Is the in-house development model really the best approach when it comes to software developers?

Software developers - business enabler or hostage taker?

Successful software development, whether to drive operational efficiency or create a new product, is measured on output – and organisations need to honestly assess whether the speed, quality and consistency of the output can really be delivered in-house

Whether a business is looking to develop a key piece of operational software, add functionality to an off the shelf solution or create an innovative new app to take to market, the quality and consistency of the development is key.

Creating these skills in house and ensuring individuals are embedded into the business, with a clear understanding of objectives and a commitment to the company’s success makes sense on paper. But take a step back and look more closely at the challenges associated with realising this strategy, especially in certain areas, and the reality is somewhat different.

As organisations wrestle with the digital skills shortage, escalating salaries and rising staff turnover, the success of critical projects is being compromised. When a developer can shift from critical business enabler to holding employers to ransom for crazy salaries to complete a development, the risks are just too high.  DCSL Software suggests an alternative approach.

Building the team

It is no secret that the UK technology industry is suffering a skills gap, and an estimated 756,000 skilled workers will be needed across Europe by 2020. As a result, not only are organisations struggling to recruit the right expertise, but the costs are escalating – especially in key software development skills.

>See also: UK software developers missing out on R&D tax credits

When the impact on the business of stalled projects due to the loss of key members of the development team can be devastating, is the in-house development model really the best approach?

Successful software development is not a one or two person job: key skill sets include business analyst, technical architect, developers of varying skills and experience, including the front end developers required to create a great user experience, graphic designers, and, critically testers.

With the recommended ratio of one tester to every two developers, a successful team will require a minimum of five people.

As such, there is no shortcut to building a good development team. It is a difficult and complex process, taking years for an organisation to attain the correct blend of skills and expertise, a timeline that is simply not an option for small businesses looking to for an operational win to gain competitive advantage or startup companies with a quick go to market deadline.

Recruiting the talent

While universities are turning out more STEM graduates, the challenge is not simply locating people with good looking CVs. With no regulation it is incredibly difficult to distinguish on paper one individual’s value from another.

The skills attained during a computer science degree will be out of date by graduation, meaning organisations need to look beyond blunt qualification statements. Without undertaking specific skills tests, it is impossible to ascertain whether an individual can truly do the job.

In addition, technical skills alone are not the only requirement. These individuals need to work as part of a team – are they team players? Do they buy in to the specific development processes of that organisation?

>See also: Solving the developer shortage: is the digital skills gap a myth?

Many developers are perfectionists which sounds great in theory, but is useless in practice – the software will never be good enough, never ready to be deployed. A pragmatic attitude is essential; plus an understanding of the importance of a standardised development process.

Determining whether or not an individual has the right mix of skills and expertise to become a good software developer is a very significant challenge – making it tough for any individual without technical knowledge to recruit the right people.

Retaining the team

Of course, recruiting these individuals is just the start. What happens to this key development when a team member is head hunted or tempted away with a promise of more money?

The only option is either to offer a huge salary hike in order to retain the skills, or hope to quickly recruit a new developer with the ability to pick up and run with the project.

The reality, as many organisations will attest, is that staff turnover can significantly derail critical developments – which is why many end up being held to ransom by developers who recognise their intrinsic business value.

Of course, money is not the only temptation; for many developers there is a huge fear of boredom. Variety of projects is key – something that cannot be offered by most organisations, particularly those with a business model focused on the development of a single product.

So what is the option? How can organisations achieve digital transformation objectives or fast development of innovative solutions without the risks associated with building and managing an in-house team? How can a company gain consistent access to the skills required to ensure high quality software, delivered on time?

Adding up

The ability to build and retain the critical mass of skills is where bespoke software development companies have an advantage. Project diversity ensures staff have that essential variety; while access to a large group of like-minded individuals creates a peer group sharing information, knowledge and experience.

Add in continual training and the chance to be a part of an organisation with strong credentials – such as Microsoft Gold Partner and ISO 90001 standardisation – and dedicated software development companies are able to achieve higher retention levels than the vast majority of in-house IT teams.

>See also: Software innovation hub boosting London’s tech sector

And while some companies may baulk at paying a third party bespoke software development company upwards of £600 a day for a developer who would be paid just £300 if in house, that software development as a service model is on demand – the organisation only pays when the services are required.

There are no additional recruitment costs, no problems associated with an under resourced team, or risks of being held to ransom to get the software delivered. A contract, a defined set of technical resources, and a clear deadline – it is a very different model.

And it is a consistent model. A bespoke developer will have the critical mass of employees, the wide range of analysts, architects, developers and testers with experience on diverse projects. They will all be working to clearly defined guidelines and standards; and projects will be clearly documented.

Critically, an organisation is not buying a specific individual resource but an end to end development model that will deliver the specific solution. And that is, essentially, the key.

Successful software development, whether to drive operational efficiency or create a new product, is measured on output – and organisations need to honestly assess whether the speed, quality and consistency of the output can really be delivered in-house.

 

Nick Thompson, managing director, DCSL Software

 

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