Effectual application development on digital platforms


The development of novel software applications on digital platforms differs radically from traditional software development. In this position paper, we posit that software development managers and teams face unique challenges in platform environments and require new development approaches to be successful. While traditional software development approaches have focused on achieving application-market match, platform-based applications must also achieve application-platform match, application-market match, value propositions exceeding platform’s core value propositions, and novelty. We argue that these desired properties support a new vision of the software development team as entrepreneurs. To support this positioning insight, we discuss the limitations of existing software development approaches and introduce an innovative approach for application development on digital platforms that is grounded in the theory of effectuation from the field of entrepreneurship. We investigate an existing application development environment (Apache Cordova) on digital platforms to see if the concepts of effectuation are present. The preliminary findings provide support for the promise of effectual development methods. We conclude with a call for innovative effectual methods of software development on digital platforms and an accompanying research agenda.

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  1. 1.

    We adopt the definition of digital platform given by Tiwana et al. (2010) and extended by Ghazawneh and Henfridsson (2015, p. 199) as “software-based external platforms consisting of the extensible codebase of a software-based system that provides core functionality shared by the modules that interoperate with it and the interfaces through which they interoperate.” For reviews of digital platforms and their components, the reader is referred to de Reuver et al. (2017), Tiwana (2013), and Parker et al. (2016).

  2. 2.

    Updates to a platform’s connection interfaces are typically focused on the data available via the interface. For example, an update to a platform’s core may allow the sharing of additional data. The connection interface may use the same technology and standard (e.g. XML or JSON).

  3. 3.

    https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/updates/ (accessed 07/11/2018)

  4. 4.

    These follow the accepted definitions of value and novelty in software development context as used by Austin and Devin (2009) who builds on extant literature related to new product development in the fields of information systems, business, and psychology.

  5. 5.

    Extant work (e.g. Weiner et al. (2016) and Harris et al. (2009)) has considered software development for technological platforms (e.g. JAVA or .NET environment which define specific framework requirements for the development team). However, the platform considered in prior work does not include the uncertainty and risk characterized by third-party ownership of the platform, competing firms on the platform, and focus on novelty of the application.

  6. 6.

    “Effectuation processes take a set of means as given and focus on selecting between possible effects that can be created with that set of means. Causation processes take a particular effect as given and focus on selecting between means to create that effect.” (Sarasvathy 2001, p. 245)

  7. 7.

    We use the term controlled-flexible in preference to the term agile. The term ‘controlled-flexible’ is identified formally by Harris et al. (2009) with a Control Theory foundation. The term ‘agile software development’ is used informally in common parlance and can identify a broad range of flexible software development practices (Baskerville et al. 2011).

  8. 8.

    The Apache Cordova application supports application development digital platforms on mobile operating systems. Application developers use the Apache Cordova framework to develop their applications as Cordova abstracts the complexity of developing specific components for different platforms. Therefore, this empirical study considers Apache Cordova as the application and mobile operating systems as platforms.


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We gladly acknowledge the contributions made to this research by Rosann Webb Collins, Diana Hechavarria, Matthew Mullarkey, Richard Will, and Balaji Padanabhan. Partial funding was received from the Gaiennie endowment in the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida.

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Correspondence to Alan Hevner.

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Appendix 1

The sample stories in the table provide examples of the coding performed in the qualitative data analyses

Story description Codes
with cordova-plugin-contacts 1.1.0 “Contacts”
When I get the whole list of contacts It’s working but when I choose: navigator.contacts.fieldType.phoneNumbers in the options.desiredFields
I get properly some first contacts, then (maybe because one of my contact phoneNumber value), I get this error:
Error in Success callbackId: Contacts598408154:
SyntaxError: Unexpected token u cordova.js:312
Cordova plugin contacts - PhoneNumbers error
Acceptable Risk - Commit limited resources
Action – Fixed bugs
Expanding cycle of resources – new technical knowledge
Means – Technology
Add the file plugin and browser platform (edge, from github or local repo) then cordova run browser gives the following in the console:
Error: exec proxy not found for:: File:: requestFileSystem
File plugin on browser platform causes “proxy not found” error on Chrome
Action – Fixed bugs
Expanding cycle of resources – new technical knowledge
Platform - Technology
Most of automatic geolocation tests were pended on Android because we didn’t have the tool to detect if the tests are running on a simulator or on a real device. Now we have device.isVirtual and can use it to pend the tests only on an emulator. Make geolocation tests use device plugin to properly detect Android suimulator Means, Action, Aspiration – Novelty, application-platform match, Logic of Control
I came back from the Android Dev Summit, and sure enough, I forgot about the “Do not show me again” box on permissions. We need to handle this somehow and send a different exception. We should allow developers to tell users why they need the permission, otherwise their application experience will suffer. This will be an API addtion, not a change. I don’t believe we need to go up a major version for this. Cordova does not handle use case where we need to show rationale about permissions Acceptable Risk, Aspirations, Expanding cycle of resources, converging cycle of constraints, means, platform
Under Adobe AIR, you can open a connection to a SQLite db and point to an existing file. The benefit of this is that your application can ship a database seeded with data. Without this support, your application has to initialize the db via scripting. While not difficult, it does increase the application’s first run time and also complicates the code unnecessarily. I understand that this isn’t per the Web SQL spec, http://dev.w3.org/html5/webdatabase, but it could certainly be useful. Support opening a database that connects to an existing file Acceptable Risk, Aspirations, Expanding cycle of resources, converging cycle of constraints, means, platform
The ALAssetsLibrary framework has been deprecated in iOS 9, replaced by the Photos.framework. Once our minimum dependency is iOS 9, move to it.
1. iOS (CDVURLProtocol)
2. Camera plugin
3. File plugin
4. File Transfer plugin
5. Local-Webserver plugin (cordova-plugins)
Update deprecated ALAssetsLibrary usage in plugins
Acceptable Risk, Aspirations, Expanding cycle of resources, converging cycle of constraints, means, platform, Logic of Control
MediaFile.getFormatData result data was empty (filled with default “0” values) for all types of capture: image, video audio. Problem encountered on Android iOS.
I solved this by changing the url passed to native code from localURL to fullPath.
Tested with two different Android phones (5.1 4.4) one iPhone 5 (iOS 9). The fix works! MediaFile.getFormatData does not work with localURL; changed with fullPath
Acceptable Risk, Action, Expanding cycle of resources, converging cycle of constraints, means, Logic of Control

Appendix 2

This appendix summarizes key aspects of software development approaches considered in this position paper

  Plan-driven Controlled-Flexible Ad-hoc Effectual
Assumption (Environment) Stable, well-defined market boundaries, known competitors Dynamic, Uncertain, ambiguous, blurred market boundaries and competitors Dynamic, Uncertain, ambiguous, blurred market boundaries and competitors Dynamic, Uncertain, Risky, Resource constrained, blurred market boundaries and competitors
Assumption (Market) Mature market Mature but fast evolving market Mature but fast evolving market Nascent market, mature but fast evolving
Project Execution Linear Iterative Iterative Iterative (effectual cycles)
Key Concepts Prediction, resource gathering, milestones Partial prediction, resource gathering, scope boundaries, ongoing feedback constant calibration of its course by reacting to changes in the environment Existing means, aspirations, acceptable risk, control, effects
Underlying Logic Causation Causation and adaptability Rapid Adaptation Effectuation
Process Define outcome (specification) based on consumer needs, gather required resources, plan milestones, execute to realize the outcome Define partial outcome based on consumer needs, gather required resources, set scope boundaries, monitor development with feedback Development follows changes in consumer needs Define partial outcome using aspirations, existing means, and consumer needs, identify multiple effects from existing resources, select effect that is controllable and has acceptable risk, monitor the development based on feedback from consumer needs, aspirations, and platform
Decision making Systematic information gathering and analysis, expected return of the alternative Systematic information gathering and analysis, expected return of the alternative, feedback Expected return Acceptable risk and logic of control
Outcome Product-specification match Product-market match Working product Product-market match, product-platform match, value exceeding platform’s core proposition, novelty
Use of Knowledge Rely on existing knowledge base Synthesize existing and new knowledge (created with every iteration) Act on new situational knowledge Synthesize existing and new knowledge (created with every effect)

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Hevner, A., Malgonde, O. Effectual application development on digital platforms. Electron Markets 29, 407–421 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12525-019-00334-1

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  • Digital platforms
  • Software application development
  • Effectuation
  • Novelty

JEL classification

  • M15