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What extensibility means to business efficiency and innovation

Miguel Valdes Faura CEO and Co-founder, Bonitasoft
Male dancer in arieal spin, demonstrating flexibility

Companies of all sizes depend on a wide array of software to help them handle the challenges they face today—and hopefully to take advantage of opportunities that will come up tomorrow. To effectively meet these objectives, organizations continuously implement new technologies and ideas. But it's always best to innovate in ways that avoid system overhauls, because that saves resources and speeds time to market. 

This is where software extensibility comes in. When the IT team has the power to modify and adapt the software to meet changing business requirements, companies can respond quickly to the challenges they face on a daily basis.

When an information system is highly adaptable, developers can modify it to help their organizations stay competitive without affecting the system's core functionality. Extensibility features make it much easier for developers to add new functions and capabilities to their existing software platforms. Flexible products are also natively designed to integrate with third-party software, even brand-new ones.

Importance of adaptable systems

Taking advantage of extensibility gives the IT team more tools to address shifting business challenges with existing software and tools. By taking this into consideration as they build their systems and architecture, the technical team helps the entire organization to be better prepared to take advantage of rapidly evolving industry trends.

A flexible platform lets developers create and run applications that address the needs of the business beyond what the platform allows out of the box. Extension points on the platform make it easy for developers to add new features and connect add-ons that enhance performance and usability.

Platform extensibility features include REST and other APIs to connect to other pieces of the technology stack and tooling known as connectors that share data and actions with other software.

Extensions developed by professional developers can be saved and reused. They become new out-of-the-box or standard capabilities of the platform that are then available to nontechnical users in future projects.

Extensibility vs. customization

It is important to note that while extensibility is not the same as customization, extensions can be used effectively to deeply customize a business application. Extensibility allows developers to add new code to the platform without changing the existing code, so they can add new features and use the built-in aspects of the platform in new and different ways without affecting or having to change its internal structure.

A major limitation of no-code or low-code software intended for citizen developers is that it can't be fully customized. When developers can use a platform's UI extension points to work with their favorite front-end design tools, they can customize user interfaces to be exactly how they want them.

Extensibility, then, is the mechanism that allows developers to jump in and add their own magic, as they can use extensible design methods in all types of business software. For example, some digital process automation platform vendors allow developers to expand the software to meet specific business requirements. An e-commerce or digital process automatization platform might natively provide only the features that a majority of companies need most of the time.

For other functionalities that a company might need, such as the ability to edit orders or incorporate robotic process automation to fill forms, platforms can expose an open API that allows developers to integrate third-party apps into its processes.

Examples include web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, which were designed specifically with extensibility in mind to allow developers to build onto existing browser frameworks so that they can offer new services and products, such as ad blockers.

Features of a good extensible software platform

When organizations implement new software, they should pay attention to flexibility, since it will ultimately reduce costs, time, and other resources necessary to maintain and update these systems. When a platform is not extensible, a company is often forced to pay its vendor to add new capabilities and then wait for the provider to finish the job.

One of the most important features of an expandable software platform is that it includes many out-of-the-box capabilities that organizations might need so that they do not have to extend the platform from day one.

CIOs and technical teams should ensure that whatever software platforms they select have been well thought out and designed to allow developers to easily add new code without breaking any part of the platform.

Open source is generally a good choice because, by definition, extensibility is part of the DNA of open-source solutions.

Vendors should also make it easy for developers to extend their platforms. Providers have two options: They can offer developers the tools they will need to build their extensions, or they can allow developers to work with their own tools.

The option of "use your own tools" offers important value to the development team. Like everyone else, developers do not like to be forced to use technologies that they did not choose, and they can work better, faster, and more efficiently with tools they know and are good at using.

Expand—or else

To be customizable to specific company needs and to be sustainable and provide value through a long life cycle, any mission-critical software platform must keep up with ever-changing business needs. No one platform can provide everything an organization needs out of the box, and no low-code solution can be fully customizable and maintainable over a long life.

The extensibility of a software platform is essential for today's businesses, to develop and run solutions that address their current needs while supporting innovation at low risk to ongoing operations.

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