Recently, a 12-year-old Irish boy named Harry Moran wrote a mobile app called PizzaBot. It hit the Mac App Store and within a week, it had surpassed Angry Birds, attracting fans from around the world.

Harry was an instant YouTube celebrity, and during a Public Radio International interview, he revealed was already hatching ideas for new games.

Welcome to the lighter side of the App Economy, in which software applications have the potential to be downloaded by millions in the blink of an eye and far greater opportunities are on the horizon.

There’s a perfect storm brewing thanks to globalization, a tough financial climate, and incredible technology disruption. To compete and win, today’s businesses simply have to be better engaged with their customer, partner, supplier, and employee communities.


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The battle is being waged with apps — on the web and in the cloud, driven by mobile and social technologies. As the App Economy continues to unfold, the playing field and the rules of engagement are different than in decades past.

Five years ago, these kinds of apps didn’t even exist. Today, we’ve created a $4 billion app industry with roughly one billion mobile apps available to iOS and Android users, and the Apple App Store has become a star-maker.

And this new economy isn’t just about mobile applications. Facebook legitimized social networks to an extent few could have imagined. A University of Maryland study [PDF] estimates more than 2.5 million websites integrate with Facebook, with users installing more than 20 million apps daily. The Facebook Platform reportedly created over 182,000 jobs valued in the billions of dollars to the U.S. economy in 2011.

Shifting priorities in a changing IT landscape

It’s interesting to see what enterprises are doing against this backdrop of App Economy disruption.

Geoffrey Moore has a great way of describing the shift in enterprise IT [PDF] from systems of record to systems of engagement.

From the transactional systems for global commerce that drove the last 30 years of investment, companies are moving to consumer-ize IT. This demands universal access, the ability to accommodate users’ business and social profiles, a form factor optimized engagement model, and other factors not tied to data or transactions but rather to interactions between users and apps.

At my own company, PHP shop Zend, we’ve been working closely with NYSE Euronext, United Rentals, DHL, and other customers as they make the shift to new systems of engagement that link to the assets of their robust back-end systems, including databases, business-critical apps, and enterprise web services.

Making this shift creates a new set of requirements in terms of development priorities, production priorities, processes, and skill sets. It changes the software development landscape.

Traditional application development platforms, processes and best practices are being replaced or revitalized with new alternatives that echo what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg terms “The Hacker Way”: rapid, iterative development and continuous integration, building high quality services over time by prototyping, quickly releasing, and fine-tuning through iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once.

Enterprises are embracing agile development methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban, agile operations supported by DevOps principles and release automation, and cloud technologies as key enablers of change.

We’re seeing increased enterprise adoption of dynamic languages like PHP because of their support for agile, iterative development. But there is more that comes into play to make a good language great.

When considering dynamic languages today, enterprise IT/development managers will tell you they want a strong web focus, fast learning curve, and a skilled labor pool. A look at job trends on oDesk or similar online employment platforms show consistent high demand for dynamic language skills. These managers also consider vendor support, market adoption, cross-platform support, interoperability, and a strong app ecosystem.

Also gaining momentum are open-source application frameworks, with enterprises adopting such frameworks as Django, Rails and Zend Framework to preserve flexibility for app development while providing structure where it’s needed so teams can collaborate to extend and scale apps productively and consistently over time, taking advantage of the wealth of libraries that are contributed and shared by the developer community.

Today’s development teams must consider the customer’s 360-degree experience and build apps to support it. Tools and frameworks must make it easy to build, test and deploy next-generation UI front-ends, web apps and services that support social interaction across mobile devices with varying form factors.

Dynamic languages such as JavaScript and PHP are well-suited for projects that intersect web and mobile environments as they are an integral part of the mobile consumer and mobile enterprise application development platforms that will be rolling out next-generation apps for consumer and enterprise app stores.

Building new apps & thinking big

A recent InformationWeek article by Charlie Babcock calls APIs “the secret ingredient of the App Economy” and emphasizes that a new generation of developers has come of age using languages such as JavaScript, PHP, and Ruby. These devs have the skills and incentive to produce new APIs.

This was also reflected in our recent Developer Pulse survey, which revealed that 48 percent of developers are currently working on API-producing projects and that this area is among their top four priorities for career development.

Another top-four developer priority in our survey was cloud-based development. Technology disruption has opened wide a window of opportunity in the cloud. While 2011 produced a number of new cloud platforms, 2012 will be a year for evaluation and experiment with IaaS, SaaS, and new PaaS solutions running on public, private, or hybrid cloud deployments.

In the cloud, too, the process and the experience of app development are changing, with the use of DevOps concepts for better collaboration and smoother app lifecycles. We believe the increasing maturity of dynamic languages supports operational excellence in a way that enterprises will leverage fully as they migrate to cloud services.

To be sure, the cloud is a major enabler to the App Economy at the application, platform, and infrastructure levels. The challenge is to deliver the best engagement experiences in today’s anytime, anywhere context. That is where agile development methodologies, release automation, cloud platforms and services, and mobile front-end technologies all converge — and it’s where you’ll find Zend and others hard at work.

Image courtesy of iQoncept, Shutterstock

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