Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rapid Application Development with Facebook

"Rapid Application Development" and "Extreme Programming" are buzzwords for new ways to deliver software that meets initial user requirements and continues to improve based on customer feedback. These approaches turn the IT department into an agile and forward thinking service provider.

The typical approach to software selection - requirements definition, an RFP process, pilots, implementation, integrated testing, and go live - can take 18 months and by the time the software is in use, the initial requirements may have changed. For some applications, the notion of rapidly prototyping a solution then iteratively releasing new versions can deliver more functionality faster than traditional approaches. Given the budgets, staffing, and integration challenges challenges facing most IT departments, the notion of an agile response to organizational imperatives is challenging. Is there a disruptive technology solution to this?

However odd this sounds, the answer may be Facebook.

A case in point. BIDMC is enhancing its external website and is currently preparing an RFP for online giving software. At 8am last Sunday, our BIDMC CEO, Paul Levy, created an online giving page using the Facebook Causes application

It's already been used by hundreds of people and the funds are beginning to roll in.

The IT department did not need to be involved, other than to offer support that the experiment was safe, secure and worth doing.

Facebook is a perfect example of a rapid application development platform that empowers users to help themselves. It includes tools for creating of groups, forums, multimedia uploads, viral marketing, fund raising, and group mailing lists using any web browser, on any operating system, for free.

Should CIOs embrace it as a short term solution to many of the user requests for collaboration technologies?

The answer is yes, with caveats. Facebook is not a HIPAA business associate nor covered entity, so protected healthcare information should not be placed on Facebook. There is no service level agreement/quality of service guarantee, so it may be go down without notice (unlikely, but possible). It does not integrate with enterprise single signon based on Active Directory or LDAP.

However, these issues are not real barriers to supporting the ad hoc collaborations that are often needed by organizations to start projects, create a social network of internal staff, or support a discussion forum.

Should CIOs try to replicate Facebook functionality on internal portals? For some circumstances that involve patients, the need for a guarenteed application availability, and integration with existing systems, the answer is yes. But for others, there is an important reason why Facebook should be considered as part of rapid application development:

So many people are using Facebook at this point (60 million), that many users will resist using any other social networking software. They may even demand Facebook in lieu of corporate solutions so that all social networking activity - inside and outside the office - is integrated in one place.

In my next generation of portal frameworks, I will support our own versions of all the Web 2.0 functionality (forums, wikis, groups, multimedia uploads) that is in Facebook, but I will also ensure that Facebook itself is used strategically. Staying agile and responsive to my customers requires that I embrace Facebook, not resist it.


Unknown said...

As a web consultant and full-time analyst I too have been looking deeper into social network sites. My interest sparked with my wife. 5 years ago (before we were married) she didn't even have a computer, email, or AIM handle. Now I can't get her off my old Mac laptop and she's constantly talking about this facebook page and that myspace page.

I have one thought about using a service like Facebook for real business applications as a RAD option: technology fads seem to have a shorter lifespan than other fads, and the new could be just weeks away.

Take the MySpace to Facebook transition. MySpace gained popularity when local unsigned musical artists used it as a way to get their music to the masses, and when the masses caught on it exploded the website within months. But just as quickly as it exploded, when Facebook came out all of the sudden the 'in' crowd had a Facebook page, and MySpace was 'so-yesterday'.

These services sure can get something up quickly, but its longevity is questionable when the tool is to support a long-term business need. How do we manage change when access is known only through your Facebook handle, and how might you later migrate to a different service or something home-grown?

Benjamin Atkinson said...

I couldn't code my way out of a wet, paper bag. However, I've been using Coghead ( to create web apps at my employer. I'm creating apps that are incredibly useful for our group, but are too small to be justified as an IT priority. My IT group is supportive, realizing that this tool allows me to get some useful things done, while not tying up their time.


gemstest said...

Working on the Enterprise Architecture for the UK National Institute for Health Research ( we've come to the same conclusion. We're also highlighting the potential of the Salesforce platform, which might be even more powerful than Facebook.

TheresNoTylerDurden said...

This is an excellent blog entry and trust that more CIOs look into Facebook and social networking sites as a means to extend their reach. People use social networking sites for a variety of reasons. Facebook isn’t for everyone. If utilizing Facebook can create occasions where people can contribute, help and donate for worthy causes, I’m all for it. Thanks for sharing this Dr. Halamka. Know that you do things from real experience (i.e. like shooting an RFID in yourself to really know the what the experience is like). Kindly keep us up to date on the results of using Facebook to generate donations for BIDMC.

rwm said...

Great post. I frequently interact with Fortune 1000 CIO's and they are delighting their business customers by finding ways to deliver applications using on-demand development platforms.

However, when sensitive data is involved, the SaaS model may not be satisfactory. A key request I hear often is the ability to choose on-premise or hosted deployment of these applications.

The SmartSuite Framework by Archer Technologies ( is an example of such a platform enabling CIO's to thrill their customers and deploy their applications any way they choose.

Mandar Thosar said...

Web 2.0 application is the demand of the time. The world is of two way communication and may that is why term '2.0'. The application like Facebook and all are bringing the users closer in real sense.

We also develop such applications and plugins helping spread 2.0 philosophy. (

Anonymous said...

Web application development is one aspect that has picked up in the current times and it is one of the most inevitable aspects at that. Ecommerce or to put it in layman's words business on the net is impossible without what we technically term as web applications. However, web application development has to be effective enough to earn business; otherwise it is as good as non existent.

SBL Software Solutions said...

Need to be aware that Since rapid application development is an iterative and incremental process, it can lead to a succession of prototypes that never culminate in a satisfactory production application. Such failures may be avoided if the application development tools are robust, flexible, and put to proper use.

SBL Software Development Solutions

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