​​Software Development and Custom Applications

Software and the Small Business Owner


Accumulation of data has become an unavoidable component of modern business. Extraction and intelligent interpretation of data are key business differentiators. Still, without a database correctly structured and developed to contain the data, it's impossible to extract the total value from the information accumulated.

Many business owners may have an instinct for what information they and their staff need to run a business efficiently and what their customers want to improve their experience. However, many do not understand what technology and software components are required to get from "accumulated data" to "intelligence." Conversely, owners with this technical expertise are less likely to have a deep understanding of what to do with the information that could be extracted.

Without having a good understanding of what's involved in traveling this path in either direction, the great expense can be incurred in building databases and developing applications that may or may not be efficient, timely, or even achieve owners' stated objectives or customer needs.

This dilemma frequently leads to wasted expense on software development or paralysis in project decision-making and the subsequent failure to develop applications. This situation results in a lost opportunity to use data that could have benefited a business operator and its customers. Businesses cannot afford the wasted capital or time associated with failed software projects, nor can they afford not to deploy technology to ensure their business can operate efficiently while optimizing their customer's experience.

The essential components of the software in operating a business with an integrated software platform in the 21st century are identified and briefly explained below.

SQL Database

SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is the standard language for relational database management systems. A database is a collection of data, and specialized database software, such as MySQL, is just a program that allows data to be stored and retrieved as efficiently as possible. Over the last decade, there has been a massive increase in the amount of data generated, primarily due to the rise in the use of the Internet, and, more recently, custom applications have been designed for intelligent use and interpretation of that data. These applications primarily depend on SQL databases and specialized software such as MySQL for retrieval and interpretation.

Once you have accumulated, or have access to, large amounts of data, if you don't have a system for organizing it, finding what you want and utilizing it for a specific purpose becomes time-consuming. A database program (SQL, for example) is a type of database that is designed to handle lots of data but to store it in such a way that finding a specific file at a point in time is quick and efficient when using a software program written, for example, in MySQL.  

For most small and medium businesses, there is no need to learn SQL or how to write custom software in MySQL or other database software languages. Primarily, small businesses utilize hosted software - for example, WordPress may host a website; their service includes a "behind-the-scenes" database to store such information as articles, web pages, comments from visitors, and data gathered from input forms completed by site visitors. Almost all businesses want to utilize somehow the data stored in their database to run the business more effectively and efficiently. The old saying "knowledge is power" continues to hold. However, if the knowledge is buried and not retrievable within a massive database, then there's no value or potential until it can be extracted and interpreted.

Suppose an enterprise develops a requirement for customizing data from its database that cannot be provided by a third party that has already set it. In that case, it may be necessary to retain the services of an expert in database software development, such as MySQL, to obtain what's being looked for.


ASP.Net is an open-source server-side web application framework designed for web development to produce dynamic web pages. Microsoft developed it to allow programmers to build active websites, web applications, and web services. ASP.Net permits using a fully featured programming language such as C# or VB.Net to build web applications quickly while processing all code on the server. Because of varying Internet bandwidth limitations and different web browsers, it's necessary to use HTML or preferably JavaScript for a client's faster browser experience. Where HTML is a requirement and may otherwise becomes a limiting factor ASP.Net still brings actual Object Oriented Programming (OOP) to the Internet.

Object Oriented Programming makes it possible to build large applications, and with ASP.Net, it's possible to do the same on the Web. Traditional ASP uses HTML and VBScript to process and render pages, and because VBScript was entwined in the HTML, it ended up in messy and complicated code in larger applications. ASP.Net separates code from the display and makes the code cleaner and more efficient.

One of the most important goals of .Net was to allow developers to write an ASP.Net application using multiple programming languages. As long as each ASP.Net page contains only one programming language, it is possible to mix and match different pages using different languages and still have them work together seamlessly. An obvious advantage is that a team of developers working in other languages can be utilized without concern about language compatibility.

Web Services

A great feature of ASP.Net is Web Services which enable multiple pieces of an application to run on different servers. Web Services allow information from massive central databases to be displayed on thousands of other websites - usually in return for a subscription fee to compensate the data owner and providing the service. The use of Web Services for different applications is limited only by the imagination.

XML - Extensible Markup Language

Another essential feature is that ASP.Net makes it simple to use XML for sharing information on the Internet. XML is an Extensible Markup Language, much like HTML, that efficiently stores data cached in memory after extraction for fast access. XML described the information and was not designed to replace HTML, which is about displaying information. As such, the two were designed with different goals that complement each other. XML is expected to be as crucial to the future of the Web as HTML has been to the foundation in that it's become the de facto standard for all data transmission and manipulation over the Web.


JavaScript is an object-oriented programming language built into all the major web browsers and commonly used to create interactive web pages through interaction with the HTML source code. Users of the Internet would not have the rich experience that occurs today without the broad deployment of JavaScript that has taken place.

MVC Programming Practice

Use of MVC programming practice to keep the data (Model), styling (View), and functionality (Control) wholly separated and isolated. This means the Model and Control code can be developed independently of the styling, for only the View code needs to be changed when creating multiple distinct sites.

Application Programming Interface (API)

An interface is a shared boundary between two applications or programs that allow both to communicate. For a small business that has chosen to subscribe to a suite of different software applications from various providers it is critically important that APIs can be utilized to allow the applications to "talk" to each other and establish a fully integrated information technology platform. To facilitate a small business to integrate its various software applications, each provider must have open APIs to permit third-party developers to map and reduce data transmission from one application to another. 

Custom Software

Businesses may need, at some point, custom software applications that require the services of programmers. Resulting programs perform customized functions and usually interface with forward-facing websites and reverse-looking back-office systems. Custom applications need to be built with the requirement for integration with other systems by using an API at the forefront of the plan.


Software development is time-consuming and expensive. Often lack of upfront specifications and precise requirements means the result isn't quite what the owner wanted, and the delivered final application never entirely meets expectations. Companies that don't have the resources to fund software development and custom applications may be far better off searching for individual components that third parties have already developed and investing their funds in integrating these separate applications. Hence, they all talk to each other.

Small businesses must be focused on providing customer-centric solutions and driving traffic to their websites where they can explain their value proposition. Getting traffic to a website is complicated; keeping it there once it's arrived is also tricky. Not only does the content need to be compelling but valuable tools such as business and financial calculators need to be provided to keep a visitor engaged and increase the chances of future business being conducted. If a small business believes it should be investing in software development, then its focus should be on building apps and tools likely to increase levels of Web-based engagement.

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