Are Rapid Application Development Tools Worth It?

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Step right up.  Be the first kid on your block to develop an application in less time than it takes to write your name.  No need to be a programmer.  Simple interfaces and fast deployment…You’ve heard it all.  Is this the greatest thing since sliced bread?

While it is true that you don’t have to be a programmer and you can develop applications very quickly, there are a few items that need further explanation.  But first, what are Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools?  RADs are basically layers of friendly interfaces that allow you and I to create programs and applications without really getting up to our elbows in lower level code.

In many cases, you can drag and drop file structures, events, interfaces, fields, and data into a screen or report layout.  You can import a database, look at the table structures, and select what you need, figure out how you are going to access it, perform a function, and deliver a result.  Since all of the underlying “molecular” functions are hiding beneath the levels you see, you do not have to be a programmer.  But you have to think like one.  In other words, you do not have to worry about how to use the machine code to turn on a scanner or a radio–the events or functions built into the tool set will do that for you.  However, once you get past the mechanics, you need to know how the end user will operate this computer, scanner, device, handheld, etc. in his job function.  You have to be cognizant of the “what-ifs” and the exceptions along with the flow and structure of the data and information.  So, you still have to have a little bit of system knowledge.

Rapid Application Development tools often come with an interface or server module that can act as a middleware to an enterprise or legacy system.  Often, especially with mature systems, the functionality to meet the growing demands of the marketplace may not be there, the legacy functions may be severely limited, or the ROI to write a specific interface may not make sense.  The RADs have the capabilities to access most types of legacy data either real-time or in a batch store-and-forward mode.  These complement the existing systems and add needed functionality to these systems.   Creating custom reports, on-line (“Cloud”) access, and query functions are usually all it takes to justify the ROI.   The savings in development time and deployment are significant, especially when time is of the essence or if you are resource constrained.

All-in-all, RADs are not really expensive when you consider the amount of time needed to develop the applications from scratch, incorporate the C++ libraries, develop, troubleshoot, etc.  Why re-invent the wheel?  Many RADs come with complete instructions, very easy-to-follow sample programs, and extensive documentation.

Label design programs, such as NiceLabel, are in essence RADs.  You design your label, assign fields, select a printer, and away you go.  Crystal Reports is one of the most widely used report generation tools.  Both of these products allow you to select your data, drag and drop fields, images, barcodes, etc. onto the result, and print.

We have partnered with rapid application development tool suppliers such as Z-Space Mobile FrameMF 1and a few others.  Every partner has its strengths and weaknesses, and we recommend or utilize the product based on the project.  Each of the products has real-time, batch, and hybrid file/record update capabilities.  The hybrid option is great in wireless environments where you may run in and out of coverage.  The application will attempt to update when it can make a connection.  So, rather than writing those routines and retries from scratch, you can just select those.  Guessing and hoping have been substantially reduced!  Let’s say that everyone is so enamored with your application that they hate to see it go when you move to a new host platform.  Not a problem!  It usually just takes a little remapping to port to the new file structures, but the end users will not see anything change, and your training and implementation time has decreased.

All-in-all, if you need to create “one-offs”; access legacy systems that do not lend themselves to additional functionality; are resource, money, and time poor; think about using Rapid Application Development tools.

If you would like more information on finding the right RAD tool or would like additional information on partnering with L-Tron, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 800-830-9523 or Info@l-tron.com.