Op-ed: The future for web-based applications in Ottawa

Web-based applications

In the early days of computing, room-sized mainframes and dumb terminals ruled the roost, only to be replaced by desktop computers running applications directly off hard drives. Fast-forward to the internet age and applications are increasingly hosted on web servers and accessed by browsers.

As Canada’s leading technology hub, Ottawa is home to many companies working in web-based applications where cutting-edge innovations are breaking new ground. Users are accessing programs and data through their browsers in growing numbers, with Ottawa-based developers leading the way to making web-based applications easier to use and more powerful in capability.

Currently, web applications are developed using languages and frameworks such as PHP, Ruby, Python, Angular, Laravel and the tried-and-true Java. But what does the future have in store? What new developments are looming on the horizon for web applications? Most importantly, are Ottawa firms well-positioned to adapt to these changes?

Jennifer MacKinnon, CEO of Fenix Solutions, knows the exact date when web application development will change: May 25, 2018.

That’s when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect, legislating data protection and the privacy of personal information for all individuals in the European Union.

While the GDPR cannot be enforced outside of the EU, it marks the beginning of a growing number of controls being placed on how companies manage the data of their customers and those who use their applications.

“Laws affecting the collection, protection and tracking of personal data will have a huge impact on web development,” says MacKinnon, who sees the GDPR as a precursor for additional regulation and controls. “From the beginning of the internet, everything was wide open with no regulation on anything. But all that is about to change.”

Data protection (or the lack thereof) has drawn a lot of public attention, with almost daily reports of personal data breaches affecting companies from Uber to Yahoo to Equifax.

Similarly, the recent enactment of the FOSTA bill in the United States holds website operators directly responsible for the content of personal ads in order to combat human trafficking. Governments that previously avoided regulating the control of personal information on the internet are now starting to act in order to protect both individuals and organizations.

Securing the data collected by web applications is becoming increasingly important, but MacKinnon also believes that Ottawa-based companies are well situated to adapt to legislative changes.

“Ottawa is a great place to be for web application developers, as it’s a hub for both small and large private enterprise as well as government agencies,” she says.

With the combination of business, government and educational resources all in one city, MacKinnon is convinced that web developers in the nation’s capital will have a lot to draw on to face future challenges.

Those challenges include the increasing requirement for web applications and websites to be mobile-friendly. Responsive design (making applications and sites adaptable to smartphones) has been an important factor in web development for some time.

This will only increase with Google’s announced changes to its search engine algorithms as a mobile-first indexing strategy takes effect in July 2018. The pressure to make sure that web applications are mobile-friendly will only increase as growing members of the public rely on their smartphones to access the internet instead of their computers.

Another issue facing web application companies in Ottawa is being able to find the skilled and knowledgeable web developers that they need to do the work.

Steve Stanley, co-founder and managing partner at NewFound Recruiting, says he feels there is a pool of talent available to fill those roles but that companies and organizations might need some help finding the developers that they need.

“We’re busier than ever,” says Stanley. “But we sometimes find ourselves educating companies on how to find the people they need as timing can be everything.”

With widespread demand for talent, companies and organizations in the National Capital Region need to be quick and flexible in order to hire web application developers.

“We’re helping companies to look outside of our region for the employees they’re searching for as there is talent out there, they just need to widen their search to find the right developer.”

Whether it’s legislative controls, demands for mobile accessibility, or recruiting talent, Ottawa-based firms look to be well-positioned to excel in the field of web-based applications. With demand for web applications ever-increasing, they will certainly face more challenges in the weeks and months to come.

Patrick Calnan is an Ottawa-based technical documentation specialist who has worked with web-based applications for nearly 20 years.

Note: For the purposes of this article, the term “web-based applications” refers specifically to applications run on browsers through HTTP connections and does not necessarily include cloud-based computing.