To get your frontend under control, you must examine your structures and processes, as well as your technology.

The online imperative the Covid-19 pandemic created has accelerated the blistering pace of the global economy’s shift to digital. With direct spending on the technologies and services that facilitate digital transformation forecast to reach an eye-watering $6.8 trillion dollars between 2020 and 2023, the most farsighted companies are looking beyond the necessity of the pandemic to find potential for future success.

Organisations everywhere know that their competitiveness depends on refining existing products and delivering new offerings that meet the market need as quickly as possible. A knee-jerk response to the challenge is to keep investing in different web and mobile tools to keep pace with technological advances, but this is no silver bullet.

The frontend is broken

Over the years, the typical enterprise frontend system has grown into a tangled mess of legacy technologies built on older architectures. Now these organisations face the digital challenge of Covid-19, and many are simply not up to the task. Although everyone is trying to improve their digital experience, the mix of technologies is not always well integrated, architected or maintained. Properly architected and maintained, a streamlined technology stack would encourage a frictionless, customer-focused experience.

The current approach to fixing the frontend isn’t working

Many companies have responded to the frontend issue by employing multiple teams to develop, test and maintain different versions of the same app. With specific resources dedicated to each iOS, Android and the web, organisations can optimise their app fidelity because developers don’t have to compromise to facilitate multiplatform functionality. This may look like a good solution for managing the frontend, but maintaining dedicated teams for each platform has disadvantages, including cost, rigidity and siloed teams.

Expense

The main drawback of employing separate teams for iOS, Android and the web is the obvious cost of maintaining so many resources. Technology fragmentation means companies must support users of different operating systems (OSs), web browsers and devices — as well as the different versions of mobile OS that a customer might be using. Continuous maintenance for new features and fixes magnifies the expense of running multiple design/build/test cycles for each code base, for every app, every year.

Inflexibility

When you commit to maintaining a team for every platform, you tie yourself to working across multiple siloed applications and the complexity that involves. The resulting loss of agility delays the delivery of new features to market.
Here’s why:

  • Every new service or feature must undergo separate design, build and test cycles for each platform and for different versions within each platform.
  • Additional design, development and testing is required to maintain feature parity and ensure comparable user experiences across different technologies.
  • It takes more effort and planning to coordinate separate teams.
  • With separate code required for each platform, it is virtually impossible to swiftly roll out features on a component or ‘micro-frontend’ basis.

Uncoordinated teams

Maintaining dedicated teams for each platform means each team works with its own programming language, frameworks, tools and legacy. With each platform incurring its own technical debt (the code you need to write to compensate for previous shortcuts), it is virtually impossible for teams to ship features at the same time.

As the app matures and more functionality is added, harmonising teams’ work to ensure feature parity across platforms becomes increasingly complex. Greater numbers of staff with different skill sets are required to work on multiple versions on different platforms, but the talent needed is unlikely to be attracted to a company that runs siloed apps on ageing technologies.

Architecting a new frontend

Frontend sprawl tends to leave organisations with a monolithic structure that is slow to change and costly to maintain. Productivity, competitiveness and organisational culture suffer as a result. However, once you become aware of your current frontend’s shortcomings, you can take steps to eliminate them and free your organisation to achieve its true potential.

To optimise your chances of success when transitioning to a cross-platform approach to the frontend, you need to have key components in place. This means choosing a modern technology appropriate for your organisation’s needs and drawing up a roadmap of where you want to go with it.

The NearForm approach

Nearform has combined a proven selection of open source tools, technologies, best practices and opinionated workflows to create a modern approach to high performance frontend development. This approach accelerates development and delivery, so you can meet your customers’ needs more efficiently.

It helps to coordinate key open source tools so that they work well together as they improve, increasing the effectiveness of team organisation and development flow. The process is secure, consistent and based on advanced device capabilities.

React Native

NearForm recommends using React Native to adopt a cross-platform approach. Developed by Facebook, React Native is used to create technologies that deliver outstanding user experiences, and it is also the most popular choice for developers worldwide. A dedicated community of developers instils confidence that it will be supported in the long term.

React Native harnesses the native resources of the mobile device, so that developers can create full, native mobile apps for both iOS and Android using JavaScript. Developers can reuse the same code across each OS, so there is no need for individual teams to build and maintain apps for different platforms. Developers proficient in React code can use their current skill set to cater for the web, IOS and Android using React Native and React Native for Web..

With no need for developers to be aligned with their target platform, React Native allows teams to iterate faster, reuse code across platforms and share more knowledge and resources. Using this open source, cross-platform approach to build applications costs up to 70% less than the traditional multi-platform technology approach..

Tools

With the right tools and processes to enable on-boarding, learning and productivity for staff, you optimise the potential for successfully adopting your new approach to the frontend. At NearForm, we have used our experience completing hundreds of projects to curate and refine a library of smart tools popular among developers. Our selection of the most effective open source tools is based on:

  • Developer feedback
  • Access to community support
  • Appropriateness for enterprises

We use React Native and React Native Web extensively to develop cross-platform applications. We also favour an open source toolchain called Expo for making functions such as over-the-air updates, certificate management, push notifications and on-device testing much easier when developing in React Native. Depending on the application’s requirements, we use a range of open source libraries on top of this platform.

A refined blend of these tools and processes can be used for dependable best practice from project concept through to deployment and ongoing maintenance. The approach can be tailored to suit the frontend needs of any organisation — whether the adoption is bottom-up or top-down.

Making it work

To gain the maximum benefit from a cross-platform approach to the frontend, you need to define your mission and the problem you are trying to solve. Your mission should drive KPIs that apply across all levels and be reinforced from the top down in your organisation. Without this kind of company-wide buy-in, an effective frontend transformation is virtually impossible.

As you embrace your mission, you should prioritise early, frequent success. Start with small, relatively easy wins, so that the organisation can see positive results quickly before plunging into a comprehensive transformation. You don’t need to rip out your current structure and processes and replace them with an entirely new infrastructure and set of technologies and procedures in one fell swoop.

Your options for frontend reform include taking a small, greenfield project as a proof of concept to serve as a low-impact, low-risk introduction to the approach. You could also migrate gradually to a new multiplatform frontend system by inserting React, for example, or opt for service slice replacement. Whichever route you choose, the level of risk involved is comparatively low for the potential rewards generated.

Enlist expertise to build the capability your team needs to leverage the benefits of a new multiplatform frontend, driving technological and operational improvements and encouraging a culture of collaboration.

Tailoring the frontend for the future

Reforming the frontend to meet the demands of a digitally hungry marketplace will be different for every organisation. The approach must be customised to suit each organisation’s current position and requirements. NearForm adapts its approach to help organisations of all kinds achieve a modern frontend.

Options including discovery workshops, proof of concept or lighthouse projects, migration from existing technology and full bottom-up transformation are adopted as appropriate. Embracing this kind of measured approach to tackling the frontend allows organisations to see the benefits without assuming excessive risk.

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