It’s 2021 and a new dawn in the world of custom software development. As more companies enter the custom software marketplace, as sellers as well as consumers, software developers are in a position to set the tone of the next several decades. 

Whether your 2020 flew by or seemed to drag on forever, here are six custom software development trends to watch for in 2021: 

Custom Software Development Trend 1: COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic landed like a cannonball on the software development marketplace. Its ripple effects will be felt long after the face masks decompose in landfills.

Faced with an existential threat, businesses that had been slow to change had to adapt to a world of social distance and remote work. As offices went dark, managers scrambled to outfit their workforces to work from home. 

Digital security took the place of four walls and a security guard. Zoom swooped in like a condor and stole the teleconference crown from the mighty likes of Google Hangouts and Microsoft Skype. 

Companies jostled into the SaaS marketplace in search of automation solutions to streamline their operations, all to maintain payroll in anticipation of lost revenue. Laid-off workers flooded into the gig economy, hoping to stave off bankruptcy through online entrepreneurship. 

These software development vectors existed before the novel coronavirus did what it did,but it ’s fair to say that COVID-19 pushed the digital transformation ahead by years, if not decades. Amid COVID difficulties, many businesses and individuals formed all-new digital dependencies, sparking a renaissance in software development.

Custom Software Development Trend 2: Increased Demand for Robust eCommerce Functionality

e-commerce, hand holding shopping bag and credit card

Of all the software development trends to ripple out from the COVID-19 pandemic, eCommerce deserves special mention. With whole populations sheltering in place, software solutions proliferated for the online ordering and delivery of meals, groceries, goods, services … well, everything. 

According to Salesforce, eCommerce activity increased 16% in Q1 2020 vs. Q1 2019. Mobile eCommerce increased by 25%. The sale of home goods spiked 51%, while essential goods rocketed 200%.

On the business side, eCommerce was no longer optional. With many brick-and-mortar stores forcibly shut down, retailers hustled to bolster their eCommerce footprint — a commitment not only to online sales but also eCom-friendly digital marketing.

Consumers are emerging from their caves, but now that they have settled into new, digital-friendly shopping habits, expect many of those habits to stick. Ecom software developers will have to respond to these habits with an emphasis on:

  • UX. A seamless, intuitive customer journey that makes ordering easy, quick, and fun.
  • Security. Less exposure to the moral hazard and PR disaster of a cyber breach that exposes sensitive customer data.
  • Mobile. Better and better UX for mobile eCommerce, to meet the proportionally greater demand for mobile device shopping. 
  • Features. Acceleration of next-gen features like voice search, image recognition, and augmented reality.

Custom Software Development Trend 3: More Reliance on Outsourcing

The era of companies sourcing software development in-house is coming to an end. Even small businesses are recognizing the benefits of a custom software solution. It was never particularly cost-effective to keep a team of software engineers on a full-time payroll, especially since most companies do not need to design several custom software solutions a year.

The COVID-19 cost crunch led to a surge in outsourcing of custom software development to third-party specialists. This not only proved to be the more cost-effective solution, but it also produced better results. Third-party developers build one software solution after another. They are seasoned experts and up-to-date on best practices like Agile development and cutting-edge UX design.

Look for the trend of outsourcing custom software development to continue well past COVID. It will bolster the reputation not only of the big players in the space but also the fortunes of boutique specialty development houses. 

Offshore outsourcing of software development will remain a hot topic. Some firms will evangelize for the cost savings available from software development experts located in developing countries. Others, hungry for solutions more than savings, will insist on the expertise of experts closer to their target customers. Other companies will attempt to thread the needle between both paradigms.

Custom Software Development Trend 4: Cloud Computing Moves into New Era

Female and Male IT Engineers Discussing Technical Details

Unsurprisingly, Cloud computing is exploding in 2021. According to CRN, global Cloud infrastructure is expected to grow 35% in 2021 alone. This network of on-demand public-facing computing resources made possible remote work, COVID-era ecommerce, automation, and the Internet of Things — in other words, everything that made 2020 bearable.

Established and growing quickly, Cloud computing will enter a new era, dominated by innovations that make a good thing even better. Directions to watch in Cloud computing include:

  • Expansion of the Edge. The Cloud is nothing new, but the Edge kind of is. “Edge Computing” is a kind of Cloud Computing that moves the computing resources closer to the end user, improving bandwidth and response times. As the Cloud expands, consumption of services on the Edge will become the norm rather than the exception.
  • Cloud Collaboration. Gone are the pretensions of smaller Cloud service providers to be the One Cloud to Rule Them All. If only because they must stay competitive against the apocalyptic growth of Amazon Web Services, some strange bedfellows will join forces — expect to see Cloud providers putting down their swords and teaming up for multi-cloud offerings to speed up their launch cycles.
  • Dropping the Server. Serverless PaaS Cloud Services enable software developers to allocate resources to the software only when that software is in use, resulting in massive efficiency of Cloud consumption compared to volatile memory storage. Expect more and more developers to make the switch to this model, which has many upsides and limited downsides.
  • Push for Cloud Efficiency. Serverless is just one way in which end users are not reaping the full benefits of cost and efficiency possible in the Cloud. Separate industries will grow up around Cloud services to facilitate efficient Cloud management and efficiency.
  • Mass Encryption. The mass migration to the Cloud has been a largely lawless enterprise, with privacy concerns mostly left to the provider’s discretion. Governments will get physical with encryption protocols as developers hustle to encrypt all of their output for Cloud migration. 

Custom Software Development Trend 5: Accounting for the Implications of Remote Work

As of this writing, people are still waiting for a “return to normalcy” from the COVID-19 disruption. One normalcy that is unlikely to return in its previous form is work. 

Employees have adapted to a lifestyle without a commute, working from the comfort of their own homes, eating whatever they like for lunch, close to their loved ones, wearing whatever they want to below the level of a webcam for Zoom conferences.

Employers, meanwhile, have discovered that against all expectations, their employees can be trusted to do their jobs without helicopter management. Also, maybe that massive office expense isn’t as necessary as they thought.

Going forward, software developers wil design every solution with remote work in mind. This includes attention to encryption and security when four walls and a security card can’t be counted on. It will include Cloud-based workflows and self-contained back offices. Essentially, Covid has created an ecosystem where the entire business can be run online with maximum efficiency. It must also include cross-compatibility to account for personal computer selections.

Custom Software Development Trend 6: Artificial Intelligence Gains Wider Adoption

As many as 70% of companies are looking into the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) software in 2021. It’s not hard to see why — AI will be key to companies’ ability to remain relevant in the post-pandemic world.

Organizations look to AI for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Process Automation. This isn’t a new trend, but expect it to continue as software becomes better and better at performing repetitive tasks, reducing overall labor costs. 
  • Customer Service Automation. Look for chatbots and automated support to become more sophisticated, reducing customer service costs.
  • Data Analysis. Analysis of massive data sets, using both data and visual recognition, can produce actionable market intelligence.

AI will also play a key role in hiring, with organizations using AI to generate shortlists from one of the most complex datasets available — job applicants. 

Look for AI to take off in 2021 as end users clue in to a fact that software developers have known for years — that AI is a big deal, it’s here to stay, and it doesn’t portend an apocalyptic rise of the machines. 

Conclusion

We emerge from a long, dark winter season into a bright spring for software development. Breakthroughs that would have seemed far-fetched a few short years ago are now on the verge of widespread adoption. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, software developers will be key players in the development of a wealthier, more efficient, and safer world.