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What is Systems Development?


Systems development may not seem to many to be critical to market research, but it is fast becoming the framework around which all research techniques are built: online focus groups, one-on-one / ethnographic portals, blogs, mobile tasks, questionnaire and creative whiteboards.

Very briefly the role of a system developer is to facilitate the communication between researchers and respondents, bringing clients closer to customers. It is through platform innovation that researchers connect with respondents rapidly and effectively, increasing insight whilst reducing costs. This is especially true with research that needs to cross multiple global markets, where effective systems development is the only way to meet the business imperatives of reduced costs and increase respondent/client interaction. Market research is now at the forefront of developing and utilising this technology.

"Being a system developer means you need to learn to listen and clarify requirements, interpret them and deliver fit for purpose solutions even if your stakeholders don’t originally know what they want. You must also anticipate future demands, and ensure you stay on top of all the latest hardware and software developments."
 Paul Cussell, RS Consulting

To meet this need organisations either use expensive and inflexible out of the box solutions or develop bespoke online data collection platforms. RS Consulting chose the latter which resulted in e-luminate™.

The online client respondent portal has evolved rapidly from a simple shared whiteboard to a branded, fully functional client interaction site that is a major differentiator for RS Consulting and is widely used by other organisations in the Cello group.

But with great inroads come great challenges, the hardest part of the job is often collecting and interpreting stakeholder’s requirements whilst managing their expectations. Successfully managing these two often conflicting demands means the end product focuses on features that clients actually value, having been clearly articulated by all the stakeholders.

Being a system developer means you need to learn to listen and clarify requirements, interpret them and deliver fit for purpose solutions even if your stakeholders don’t originally know what they want. You must also anticipatefuture demands, and ensure you stay on top of all the latest hardware and software developments.

Managing complex development projects requires both rigid and flexible structuring, especially when stakeholders are impatient for results. Development teams combat this by utilising different frameworks e.g. Agile DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method) to manage conflicting priorities, creating a more refined definition of external and internal needs.

You are frequently overloaded by stakeholder demands and you have to manage this. We use theMoSCoW technique which separates requirements into four layers – Must, Should, Could and Won’t haves. This technique ensures the must have deliverables are accomplished first followed by lower level requirements. Crucially, this technique has to be flexible, recognising that in the real world, priorities will change during a project and evolve accordingly. But having this discipline allows for speedy, structured development.

Also critical to the development process are security, data protection and disaster recovery solutions, this is especially true given immense quantity and sensitivity of data collected. The process of development is not set in stone, end goals can be achieved by many different pathways none of which are right or wrong, and they are all prone to interpretation. You need to tackle problems head on and have a high tolerance for frustration, as the simplest problems can often be the most difficult to solve. You can often overcomplicate solutions to no benefit, being able to step back andview things logically and theoretically with aphased approach can aid resolution to any problem.

It can be stressful and you need to be able to handle high pressure situations whilst maintaining live systems with global users logged in. When things go wrong you need to react calmly and efficiently, whilst those around you do not.

At the same time you need to plan and implement the different development processes, such as:

  • Storage
  • Complexity of code
  • Efficiency
  • Security
  • Backups
  • Compatibility
  • Database
  • Frame working
  • Consolidation verse componentisation

It is a role where you must consider numerous aspects and requires many skills. But of course there’s no time to rest on your laurels. Continually addressing new research objectives ensures that developers jobs will never be completed, you have to anticipate change and embrace continual learning.

However, the most rewarding part of being a systems developer is being at the heart of the business and seeing your systems used in a production environment, watching it exceed stakeholder’s requirements and be of real benefit to clients. What’s more thanks to e-luminate™ we system developers are no longer an overhead or cost centre, we are actually bringing in revenue. The systems we have developed have now become a real marketing asset for the company. The opportunity to become a real technological innovator within your industry, to shape its future, is something that we have grasped and is something every technologist should aspire to.

The future is bright, the future is diverse and the future needs developers at the forefront leading the way.

Article provided by Paul Cussell, a System Network & Development Executive at RS Consulting and the ASC Young Technologist of the Year 2011.

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