“Software Development in Disruptive Times”
Communications of the ACM, October 2021, Vol. 64 No. 10, Pages 32-35
By João Varajão
“From the point of market-opportunity awareness to the availability of a fully functional software product, the project took three weeks to complete and involved several state-of-the-art practices and tools.”
The recent pandemic has brought challenges rarely seen before. It has made evident a world that is strongly globalized, capable, and characterized by a high interdependence of resources and means, but that is also fragile and has a high potential for contamination—not only in the physical sense but also concerning information, ideas, processes, and other aspects.
Given the novelty of the situation, one may be tempted to think this is a unique situation that will soon be overcome, returning eventually to the (apparent) stability that existed previously. However, the reality indicates this view is, at best, illusory and that we live in an age in which societal fragilities and instabilities will be increasingly evident (optimistically, awareness of them will also become more acute). In other words, crises have always been part of human evolution, and they must be seen as inevitable and recurring realities that need quick and effective responses. The key is to be prepared for them and act accordingly.
As history has so often demonstrated, difficult times enhance society’s ability to adapt, and lead to the search for better solutions. Information technologies, which in recent decades have revolutionized the lives of people and businesses—sometimes more or less quietly, sometimes with a bang—are inevitable since they provide cost-effective solutions to the increasingly complex problems of an interconnected and interdependent world. This is easy to understand from a simple example: if, in this pandemic, there had been a global shutdown of the technological infrastructure that supports the Internet, the world would indeed be experiencing a much more complicated and chaotic reality than we are living—and it is already quite difficult for everyone.
It is in this context that the software-development project described in this article is worth reporting on since it involves several disruptive aspects that are fundamental in a world that requires solutions “thought today” to be “made available yesterday.” From the point of market-opportunity awareness to the availability of a fully functional software product, this project took three weeks to complete and involved several state-of-the-art practices and tools: fast decision making; agile project management; and extreme low-code software-development technology.
From Opportunity Awareness to the Decision to Go Forward
On March 12, 2020, the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. On the same day, the CEO of Quidgest, a medium-sized software house, identified the pandemic as an opportunity for the company and wrote a plan for creating a web-based software product, together with a preliminary list of requirements (related to monitoring, control, innovation management, and eradication of diseases). This plan was then sent to the sales and marketing teams (both national and international), as well as the research and development teams for feedback. Note that the sales and marketing teams had developed several contacts with government administrations, hospitals, retirement homes, among others, that provided broad insight into the project’s market potential.
The response from all teams was quick and positive, so the company decided to go forward with the project one day later, on March 13.
Product, Requirements, and Development Milestones
The product, named VIRVI—Health Vigilance and Control Software—is presented as “hyper-agile emergency software for global epidemiologic challenges.” As described by Quidgest, VIRVI is “an information system aimed at supporting the monitoring and control of a virus epidemic, like COVID-19, in any country or region, in an emergency timeframe (that is, starting operating in hours). VIRVI is robust, reliable, and capable of continually evolving, forming the basis for good critical management and communication facing virus epidemics.”
About the Author:
João Varajão is a professor of information systems and project management at the Department of Information Systems of the University of Minho, Portugal. He is also a researcher at the ALGORITMI Research Center. Previously, he worked as an IT/IS consultant, project manager, information systems analyst, and software developer for private companies and public institutions.