“The new normal is lean and mean.”

So begins a report released yesterday by Forrester Research Inc. titled “The Top Five Changes For Application Development in 2010.”

Lean and mean, according to Forrester analysts Mike Gualtieri, John Rymer and Jeffrey Hammond, refers to cutting costs in the current difficult economy while making sure an intense focus is kept on the IT projects that will most help the business. “This will usually mean knowing what matters most in a project. Is it user experience, a process simplification, or a re-architecture?” the authors wrote.

The first change, according to the report, involves embracing cloud computing as an emerging platform. This will speed delivery of custom applications by enabling organizations to leverage infrastructure-as-a-service platforms, rather than having to buy, install, and configure servers, storage and networks.

“Teams can build conventional integrated development environments, deploy to rented resources, and configure their deployments using the IaaS provider’s APIs,” the report states.

The report suggests using the public clouds already up today (Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com) to begin to put together a strategy for putting these platforms into operation for an organization. Among the questions to be answered are what will these organizations use the cloud for, how will the cloud platform relate to the rest of their architecture, and what coding and quality practices should be used when developing for the cloud.

The second change involves a company’s development shop becoming able to respond to changing requirements brought on by a changing market or a change in fortunes.

By “finding your inner startup,” Forrester’s report says, organizations can streamline processes, as well as the tools and platforms they use in development, and jettison those that no longer make sense to the business. To achieve this kind of flexibility, the report urges a review of development processes to see if they match up with the projects the team must complete. Forrester notes that many large IT shops are introducing agile development practices into their existing iterative and waterfall processes.

Lower costs, less loyalty
Forrester suggests that the third change focuses on lowering costs by moving from big, expensive Java and .NET platforms to less-expensive alternatives such as Adobe Flex, Apache Tomcat, Dojo, Google Web Toolkit, and other open-source platforms and frameworks.

“When a large retailer recently chose to deploy Apache Geronimo to more than 4,000 of its retail stores, its resulting software license costs was pretty compelling: 4,000 times 0 equals 0,” the report pointed out.

To achieve this, organizations can define alternatives that are “good enough,” trading off cost for perhaps a drop in performance to levels that although not lightning fast are still acceptable.

The report tells organizations to take an inventory of their portfolios to see if they are “over-buying” application platform software in the name of standardization. Better, it suggests, to create “fit-to-purpose” platform choices that include a low-cost, high-quality option, and a full-featured, spare-no-expense “Cadillac” option.

The user experience is critical to the wellbeing of any online interaction. The fourth change is to become passionate about that experience, demanding that it be easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and emotionally satisfying. Applications “must win the hearts and minds” of the people using them, the report said.

On average, Forrester reports, companies that provide a superior customer experience have 14% more customers who would consider the business for another purchase than companies in the same industry that offer a poor customer experience.

It is incumbent upon development managers to make sure developers know the importance of the user experience to the business, and train them in user interface design techniques that will benefit the business.

Developing talent
Finally, training is a critical part of team-building, and it goes beyond the technical skills needed to write an application, the report indicates.

“You need application development talent that goes beyond having experience wiring Java applications with the Spring framework, or knowing the ins and outs of .NET, Windows Presentation Foundation or MySQL Wizardry,” it says. “You need application developers who know how to devour business requirements, break down a problem, find creative solutions and write clean code.”

It is important for organizations to know how to assess what Forrester calls “raw smarts,” and to put those people in positions where they can best accomplish their tasks. Hiring people with experience, skills and smarts is the road to superlative talent, the report says.