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Low Code, High Scale?

Staff, Appian
June 16, 2015

If you attended last week's Digital Transformation Webinar, you are now a rising expert on developing innovative business applications on a low-code platform. However, in case you missed the webinar, here's the quick rundown:

    • Traditional development methods such as code aren't keeping up.

    • Low-code, model-driven development platforms are gaining popularity and traction as the best way to build apps fast; update them frequently; and deploy securely to every desktop, mobile device and sensor in your enterprise.

The next pressing questionÖ What happens if one of these platforms actually works as promised? What if my shiny new mobile customer service app is so effective that the CIO wants to deploy it to every region and every customer? What if I want to deputize a large team of developers to build 150 more apps that share common business rules and user interfaces? What if I want to tie hyper-efficient workflows into every legacy system for data access and reporting? Does the initial premise of "build one app really quickly" scale nicely to what an enterprise really needs?

To paraphrase Marianne Williamson: Our deepest fear isn't that low-code platforms are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that low-code platforms are powerful beyond measure, and we will end up with 1,000 hastily-built silo apps that IT has no control over.

The bad news: This is a very real concern. Some IT departments we talk to are still recovering from post-Microsoft-Access trauma. Others have accidentally built quick apps for HR, CRM, Project Management, and IT Access Management on 4 different platforms that can't even physically talk to each other. One of our current customers originally started building apps on a very popular point-and-click platform, only to realize that deploying it to over 5,000 users with different roles was almost completely impossible.

The good news: With the right platform, it's possible to combine fast development, enterprise scale, AND governance to ensure that model-driven app development is integrated properly into your overall IT strategy, not skulking alongside it in the shadows. Some important factors to consider when choosing a rapid application development platform for the long haul:

    • Does it scale for large amounts of data? As you start to build more powerful and mission-critical applications, a platform needs to accommodate large transaction volumes, complex data models, and high user concurrency. Be aware of any explicit usage caps (especially in the cloud) and ask your vendor for references and benchmarks at your desired scale.

    • Does it scale for many developers and projects? If a platform isn't designed to leverage development artifacts intelligently across multiple apps and projects, many of the initial up-front time savings are eventually lost. Application Lifecycle Management and governance features will encourage re-use, developer organization, and collaboration. Enabling many developers to build different applications on the same platform requires proper access controls and a flexible security hierarchy.

    • Does it scale across platforms and systems? Depending on your organization's requirements, you might want a platform that can be hosted in the cloud, deployed behind your firewall, or both. A strategic business application will need to integrate with many different internal and external applications, rather than creating yet another organizational silo. Look for both pre-built and customizable connectors for inbound and outbound transactions ñ and any hidden license costs associated with these integrations as your apps grow.

    • Does it scale for my end-users? Perhaps the most easily overlooked factor when building many apps is how it affects the user experience. Will users need to download 50 different mobile apps to their iPhones? Scroll down an infinite menu of apps or tabs that keeps getting longer? Is it easy for them to find exactly what they are looking for, personalized by roles and preferences? Will you need to train employees on each new app? Consider the benefits of a unified front-end that accommodates multiple applications while keeping the user interface simple and consistent.

We'd love to hear from you about your good, bad, and educational experiences trying to scale model-driven application platforms across a growing business. Happy low-coding!

-Lizzie Epstein, Director of Platform Marketing