Structural Quality: The Invisible Hand


application software qualityOne of my favorite reads among tech bloggers is Dion Hinchcliffe over at ZDNet. I’ve followed his blogs for much of the last five years and whether I agree with him or not, I almost invariably find his points compelling and his willingness not to mince words refreshing; he even makes the occasional light bulb go off in my head.

The most recent light bulb came when I read his blog on Enterprise App Stores and how the reception to them by their target audiences – namely enterprises – has been lukewarm at best. He notes:

“…while enterprise app stores have now been launched in earnest from a wide variety of companies, large and niche both, their uptake has been very little like the gold rush mentality of consumer app stores. It may be because the enterprise offerings haven’t hit on the right combination of features, target audience, and application inventory. Or it may be that there is little demand for targeted, just-in-time business software in enterprise settings.”

That’s when the light bulb went “click” in my head.

Deferring to Adam Smith

As Hinchcliffe points out, there seems to be a very low demand for “targeted, just-in-time business software in enterprise settings”; so if the demand for any kind of application is low, the demand to improve the quality of applications offered via enterprise app stores in all likelihood is also very low.

On several occasions over the past few months I have blogged about the need for the three entities responsible for app stores – platform vendors, app store administrators and software developers – to focus more on the structural quality of their applications. What I neglected to factor in was something Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, labeled as the driving force behind all commerce – the law of supply and demand.

app store qualityIt certainly would be nice if the three groups responsible for applications posted in app stores would just take it upon themselves to police their offerings and make sure there are no structurally unsound applications being offered. However, they really have no inducement to make available anything better than what is there.

With no demand for better structural quality, those developing applications bound for enterprise app stores have little to no reason to spend the time to perform something a structural quality check of their application software, such as automated analysis and measurement, to ensure it satisfies all of the software quality health factors. Instead, they focus on getting the application to market faster and, if there’s a problem with it after the fact, they’ll deal with it then – after the breach or failure occurs – thereby driving up the company’s technical debt.


ROI in Diligence

The situation reminds me of something my best friend once said about one of his employers. An electrician by trade, he said that the foremen at one of the first companies for which he worked had been instructed to push the work to get it done and not worry about how well it was done. This resulted in a lot of shoddy work being done that later had to be fixed at an additional cost. It got to the point where electricians on the job joked that the company’s motto was, “We do it right, because we do it twice.”

Sadly, that’s precisely the kind of reputation that, if it becomes public, will drive consumers away to a company’s competitors. In the case of enterprise application software, it would cause a business to forgo the latest application from the app store in favor of a “do it ourselves” remedy or patch from within the company’s own IT department.

So while Hinchcliffe ponders whether tepid demand is due to the wrong features, audience, inventory or just a lack of interest, perhaps it is the very poor record of structural quality that has enterprises failing to step up and embrace the enterprise app stores. Moreover, in the interest of the economic pendulum, without significant enterprise demand, there is nothing to force the hands of enterprise app stores to insist upon improved quality.

Unlike the consumers who shop at the Apple or Google app stores, however, enterprises have the buying power to make a difference in what is offered. If businesses were to step up and insist upon greater structural quality of applications offered in app stores, and especially if they refused to utilize the enterprise app stores until some confirmation of better quality software was made available, app stores would be forced to improve the structural quality of the applications offered. This would likely mean greater interest in them among enterprises, spawning more business for the enterprise app stores.

“Supply and demand, supply and demand, the invisible hand.” Thank you, Adam Smith.

Filed in: Technical Debt
Jonathan Bloom
Jonathan Bloom Technology Writer & Consultant
Jonathan Bloom has been a technology writer and consultant for over 20 years. During his career, Jon has written thousands of journal and magazine articles, blogs and other materials addressing various topics within the IT sector, including software development, enterprise software, mobile, database, security, BI, SaaS/cloud, Health Care IT and Sustainable Technology.
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