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Customer-Oriented Rapid Application Development (CoRAD)

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Rapid application development (RAD) techniques apply as well to developing an e-commerce site as they do to developing internal or production software for sale. This article discusses one specific RAD methodology for developing e-commerce applications: customer-oriented RAD (CoRAD), developed by Cambridge Technology Partners.
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For the last ten years, many software projects have incorporated the use of rapid application development (RAD) methodologies in an effort to decrease development times. RAD incorporates an umbrella of methodologies based on spiral, iterative development technologies. RAD techniques range from the simple use of GUI development tools to quickly build prototypes, to processes incorporating complete, cross-functional business analysis. Since January 1997, Cambridge Technology Partners, one of the early practitioners of RAD, have adapted their methodology to address the special needs of electronic commerce (e-commerce). Dubbed CoRAD for customer-oriented RAD, Cambridge's methodology brings together a unique combination of technical, business, creative, and cognitive disciplines to implement high-impact, successful e-commerce solutions. If you're considering building an e-commerce application, CoRAD can help you to avoid the pitfalls that many early e-commerce sites faced because they concentrated too narrowly on either the technical or creative side of e-commerce. E-commerce isn't just about building a web site—it's about building a whole new business channel.

CoRAD projects consist of five distinct phases:

  • Strategic planning
  • Product definition
  • Product development
  • Product design
  • Product delivery

CoRAD treats an e-commerce project as a product because that's how customers will view it. Successful web sites have to be launched and marketed to customers, and must provide incentives for customers to try them out, just like traditional consumer products. Customers will compare the web site against competitors' sites, judging the usefulness of each. If the site crashes or takes too long to download, customers will go elsewhere. The role of technical, business, creative, and cognitive specialists in each phase of the site creation is described later in this article. Before discussing each phase of the CoRAD methodology, however, let's spend some time describing why it's needed in the first place.

Why Another Methodology?

Cambridge first started developing its RAD methodology for developing client/server solutions in 1991. Over the years, as client/server technologies matured, Cambridge continued to evolve its RAD model. But Internet applications—including e-commerce, extranets, online communities, interactive marketing, and interactive web services—place new demands on software over and above traditional client/server development. The CoRAD methodology brings together four key disciplines for the rapid development of an Internet application:

  • Technical
  • Business
  • Cognitive
  • Creative

Technical Impact

Internet applications and online business have placed new technical demands on software architecture. Often, it's impossible to accurately predict how many people will use an Internet site. For example, when Netscape sized its first web site, it considered the NCSA site from which the original Mosaic web browser was distributed. At the time, NCSA was receiving 1.5 million hits per day. Netscape wanted to be able to handle at least three times that load and designed its site for 5million hits a day. That number was surpassed in Netscape's first week of operation; the site routinely handles 150 million or more hits per day, or 100 times the original NCSA reference. While your site may not see this amount of growth, experts say that Internet architecture should be capable of scaling to handle 10 times the expected load without reaching an architectural bottleneck. On an Internet site, you'll have to consider the scalability of your application software; networking and security software must also scale commensurately with application usage.

Business Impact

E-commerce applications also have a major business impact. They affect how you market your products, how you sell, and how you serve your customers. How will you transition your staff to work in this new environment, or will you need new people? What new business processes will be needed? Will you need new channels or partners?

Cognitive and Creative Impact

Finally, the creative and cognitive skills needed for successful Internet applications are substantially different from traditional internal client/server applications. No matter how good the technology employed, the business goals of an e-commerce application cannot be achieved successfully unless the targeted customers use the solution provided. Traditional client/server application users used the application because they had no choice. But today's e-commerce customers typically have several choices. They may choose to use your interactive solution, a competitor's web site, another traditional channel offered by your company, or some other option.

The Internet changes the relationship between application and content. To successfully design for the web, you need to be able to influence your customers to choose your content from your site. Your e-commerce application is merely the means for them to do so, rather than an application that forces them to do so. CoRAD's creative and cognitive disciplines come to play in creating an application with content that customers will choose to use. This is done using a five-step process as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 The CoRad approach.

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