Custom software development: balancing between convenience, style, new trends and reasonable price

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Since the 90s, when the IT industry was growing by leaps and bounds, Polina Trofimova has been the project manager for custom software development at Digital Design. She managed to work both as part of one of the country’s largest clients and with one of the leading software developers in Russia. Back at the time almost all corporate automation was client-designed, but today companies tend to use productized software and custom software development is moving towards absolute client-oriented approach. Over the past 25 years Polina has successfully worked together with Finnish, Swedish and British clients and in this interview, she will tell us about the changes that have happened in the market during this period.

What are the key features of custom software development team?

The analyst takes much of responsibility while working at custom software development. He has to discuss all the requirements with the clients. The analyst has to be a so-called one-man band in order to express in words and visualizations everything that should be agreed upon. The analyst needs to understand the client, who poses challenges the way he/she can (however the information can sometimes be misrepresented, and key points can be skipped). The analyst should be able to find additional contacts and describe the requirements in details as accurately as possible. This part of work is extremely important because if a slight mistake is made, the final product can be absolutely different. Custom software development is often a new process that cannot simply be copied. The whole team must be ready for experiments and work in unison to keep up with client’s ideas and get feedback. Our teams are very active and intelligent, they know how to work in permanently changing conditions.

What business areas have you worked with and what are their specific features?

For over 20 years I have managed to work in almost all business areas such as transport (trains, airplanes, metro), manufacturing (Baltika, OSK), public utilities, commerce (OKEY, Laverna), telecom, real estate, banking and hotel business. Each time you need to dive into the subject, understand the core values, specific features and find experts.

What trends in custom development can you mention?

Custom development uses a full range of modern technologies. We keep using DBMS and .NET, and learn a lot of new software tools for front-end. 25 years ago a user could look at a small blue monitor with white letters, but nowadays UX-requirements have simply turned the world upside down and convenience is extremely important. So, on the one hand, we must balance between convenience, style and new trends. On the other hand, we have to keep the prices competitive! Therefore, I would like to mention that flexibility is now very important in this area, as clients are supreme!

Of course, technologies have transformed over the years of my work. The system core, which has always been stored on a server, is now hosted on multiple sites or on cloud. But many things keep the same. We deal with large amounts of operational data where we still use MS SQL Server and all related technologies of server environment.

Another trend is productization. The client is looking for products and doesn’t want to wait for it to be developed specifically for him. Each client is looking for tested and proven solutions. 20 years ago, it was usual that all solutions were written “from scratch” but today many companies are ready to give up part of their requirements and buy a completed product here and now instead of waiting for a custom solution. I am proud to say that many of our solutions are also becoming replicable.

You also work on projects for foreign companies. What is the specific feature of working in the international market?

Product quality, technologies and system architecture are required to be much higher in foreign companies. I was lucky to work with excellent teams, it was noticeable even in personal communication: for example, when I was two meters away from my foreign colleagues, they automatically started speaking English instead of their native Swedish, even if they were talking to each other. I will never forget the respect for each member of the team!

I suppose that having quality certificates is also very important for foreign clients. There are many certified developers in our team, there are quality awards, and it can be crucial for foreign clients.

Moreover, at the time of international expansion our technologies were advanced and sometimes we had to explain our clients the reasons why that very particular implementation would be better for them. We already had a CMMI certificate, and the client was confident that delivered quality would keep the same in case of any internal changes in our team.

I participated in projects for Finnish, Swedish and British clients. While working on a project for Tetra Pak, a world leader in processing and food packaging, with offices all over the world, we’ve been working on their site. The purpose of the project was to create a solution for centralized storage of reference data (Master Data Management). A large international team was responsible for coordination of requirements. When I’ve been working in a client’s office, I was the face of the company. It was a difficult project: hundreds of reference books, procedures and details tied with geographic aspects. The company’s products are used all over the world, so the production process must be based on a set of factors, including the quality of water and its acidity degree. Our system could consider all these factors as well.

As in other projects, personal communication is an important thing for success. We got a dozen of projects like this from a person who managed to work in four large international companies during our cooperation. Communication with such people is a real pleasure, and after working for months on the client’s side, you inevitably become a part of his family.

What was the most difficult project for you?

Projects can’t be difficult. It’s difficult to work if you have rocky relationships with your client or the development team has not become a real team yet. It is usually not a question of if but when.

Custom software development department works with a large number of digital solutions. Which of them do you think are the most relevant?

We develop custom software, solve unique problems, and the value of such solutions is in full compliance with the client’s requirements.

It goes without saying that the most promising solution for us is the Sitefinity content management system (CMS). We develop large Internet portals based on it. This is an excellent product and I believe in its future.