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Cots Vs. Custom

Al Doyle, Vice President of Application Development/Business Analytics, Vicor Corporation
Al Doyle, Vice President of Application Development/Business Analytics, Vicor Corporation

Al Doyle, Vice President of Application Development/Business Analytics, Vicor Corporation

By definition, digital transformation is leveraging technology to combine people and processes in an effort to streamline the business and reduce cost. Before digital transformation became a leading buzz word, I’ve had the pleasure of shepherding digital transformation at Vicor Corporation for more than two decades. Vicor is a leading, global power module technology company, focused on providing power system designers with advanced, high-performance modular solutions for their toughest power design challenges.

Even though Vicor is a mature company, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to course through its veins. This spirt can be found in IT’s mission statement, in the can-do attitude of our on-staff software engineering teams, and also in IT’s web application development projects for the corporation. In the early years of web applications, we recognized that the organization’s business needs could be met with either commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) applications or custom developed application leveraging the flexibility of web technologies. The spirt always seemed to tilt the scale to custom developed web applications when new application requirements surfaced from the corporation.

In the days of fat client applications, we found web technologies to be more flexible and forgiving. In those early days, the digital transformation effort required more and more enterprise level applications and the obvious software choice was custom web applications leveraging web technologies because of the portability and ease of development. Picking the right web technologies for Vicor took blood, sweat, and tears. We knew that settling on a technology platform was a must, but this took experimenting with Classic ASP, .NET, Java Struts, Java Strut2, and we finally settled on Java Spring.

Over the years, we’ve built quite a portfolio of custom web applications that are used heavily in every corner of the corporation. In that same timeframe, we’ve been able to grow our revenue without increasing headcount, partly due to the innovative web applications we’ve designed and deployed, integrating performance, full functioning user interfaces, single sign on, and advanced workflow. Included in our portfolio, we’ve also created several custom web services, containing common business functions, as a way to introduce reusable software modules. This allowed us to tighten the software development life cycle.

Our we-can-create-a-better-application mentality still continues today. A few years ago we decided to implement a COTS e-commerce suite, thinking the application was going to meet all our business requirements. A few years after implementation, the Sales department requested a series of enhancements to provide a better customer experience. Yes, the COTS software could have been enhanced by the vendor, but would cost a small fortune. Our answer to the problem, create our own web based, e-commerce application, using state of the art technologies. The new and improved custom e-commerce solution was delivered and well received. We now have total control of its evolution.

I’ve painted a rosy picture about custom web application development, and despite being a high-tech manufacturing company, our custom web applications rival those found in the market place. There are a few considerations for in-house web application development. Talent is the number one issue. Finding full-stack software engineers in metro Boston is near impossible due to the heavy competition with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and Amazon all vying for the same engineering resources. The second consideration is that web technologies will get stale, so continuous upgrades for custom web applications are a must. All in all, IT has had great success with the custom web application choice.

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