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A Crash Course in Low-Code Software : What it Is, What it Does, Why it Matters

Roland Alston, Appian
July 2, 2018

In case you haven't noticed, digital disruption is on an exponential growth curve.

And with the explosion of artificial intelligence, it's going to accelerate a lot faster than anyone ever imagined.

Keeping up with the blistering pace of change is the existential challenge that every business faces.

So, if you're the CXO of a large organization, you don't know when disruption is going to come, but you know it's coming.

It's essential that you not wait for the inevitable, but build the capabilities you need to outmaneuver threats and capitalize on opportunities before your rivals do.

To do this, you basically want two things: You want speed: You need the agility to adapt at digital speed to fast-moving opportunities and threats.

Additionally, you also want power: You want the power to build enterprise apps faster, so you can get ahead of expectations and stay there.

Which brings us to the topic of low-code software.

There are many different ways to talk about low-code.

Perhaps the best way is to focus on what it is, what it does, and why it matters.

Low-Code Software: The Secret to Creating Business Value Fast

With old-school custom coding, speed to business value was limited. Not so much, with modern low-code development tools.

Low code gives us the capability to turn great ideas into business apps up to 20x faster than banging out code, enabling enables you to do everything from:

    • On-boarding customers faster and speeding time to revenue, to

    • Quickly taking advantage of fast-moving business opportunities, to

    • Giving employees access to the information they need, anytime, anywhere, on any device, to

    • Streamlining processes across multiple customer touch points in your organization, to

    • Creating consistent, customer experience across web, social, mobile, and more

By favoring visual composition over writing code, low-code breaks down barriers that hamper collaboration between business and IT.

"It's about enabling the entire organization to get involved in digital transformation and digital innovation," says Clay Richardson, Co-Founder & CEO of Digital FastForward, a consulting firm that specializes in digital transformation.

"The key," says Richardson, "is that, historically, BPM has been sold as a platform that business analyst and pretty much anyone could use. The reality is that, in most cases, developers are required to do 90% of the work."

"What we're seeing now with low code is that the vision for BPM is now becoming a reality," says Richardson. "... Non-developers can now get involved in building solutions, and testing them out with customers. And so, the takeaway is that digital transformation and innovation can't just be in the hands of a few people in the organization. That's a recipe for failure."

Unleash Innovation Across Your Organization

The alternative is to have a handful of people on your IT team do all of the innovation for your organization.

Pretty soon, though, the team becomes a bottleneck. And people in your organizations will view digital transformation as just another buzzword because nothing gets delivered.

Better to adopt a low-code approach that allows non-developers to design, build and test new ideas with customers and stakeholders. This could have a huge impact on your organization.

For example, low-code platforms offer a fast, easy way to add robotic process automation (RPA) capabilitys to your digital transformation portfolio.

"People tend to think of RPA as a complex implementation," says Richardson. "But low code simplifies the automation process. Which frees up developers and back office and front-end workers from doing low-value, routine they can focus on high-value tasks instead."

"It's not about the traditional approach where you're trying to automate a core process," says Richardson. "It's about bringing all of these elements into play. But it all comes down to focusing on the customer experience...and using low-code process automation to deliver a better digital experience that connects the front end and the back end of your organization."

3 Big Barriers to Operating at Digital Speed

Working at digital speed is incredibly difficult. It's even harder when legacy systems are holding you back. Do any of the following situations sound familiar?

    • Extended App Development Cycles: Custom apps have emerged as key points of competitive differentiation for businesses. But traditional coding means long development cycles. All requirements must be known and locked down because coding is inflexible and making changes at a later stage could mean costly delays Writing large amounts of code with limited resources is hard. So, you're constantly playing catch-up to keep up with app demand.

    • Rigid App Architectures: The complexity of custom apps makes it difficult to alter them once they are finally completed. Small tweaks to the underlying code must be thoroughly tested and brought carefully into production. This limits operational flexibility as rigid app architectures are challenging to change.

    • Mobility Treated as an Afterthought: For many organizations, rebuilding traditional IT methodologies to get apps developed for different mobile operating systems and user interfaces has been an afterthought until recently. Which leaves businesses scrambling to transform operations around smartphone, tablets and mobile users.

The good news is that low-code development eliminates these barriers by simplifying app architectures, creating solutions that work on traditional and mobile computing devices and breaking down barriers between business and IT.

Low-code capability is unsurpassed at being hyper-responsive. From a business value standpoint, low code offers fast, iterative delivery of business applications which separates digital leaders from the rest of the pack.

Cracking the Code: Build vs. Buy

If your IT organization is like most, you have a backlog of projects that never ends. The business needs apps to keep up with expectations, and IT has trouble keeping up with demand and keeping operations humming.

Of course, you could buy off-the-shelf solutions to meet business needs. But, then integration becomes an issue. Silos of data and process start to build up, and before you know it, you've created a bigger problem than you had before purchasing them.

So instead, you can choose to build your own. This has equal challenges with developers unable to keep pace with demand. You could try to add more developers, but talent is scarce and expensive.

Low-code development addresses all of these challenges and more, by making it easier for both non-developers and IT developers alike to create enterprise-class apps, fast.

There's no doubt that low code augments the app-building capability of experienced developers. But it's also worth noting that low-code development platforms are designed to support any app throughout its life-cycle as well.

Agile Approach to Software Development

The agility of low-code platforms makes it extremely useful for CIOs looking toinject Agile development processes into their IT organizations.

It's a fast, easy, way to expand and scale apps across your organization. And since they are governed by IT, apps built with low code can instantly become a standard piece of your enterprise architecture.

Flexible enough to meet your functional needs, and powerful enough for enterprise-class projects too, you don't give up control with low-code development. You can put your app administrators in the driver's seat and allow them to set permissions.

That way, information is only shared with those who need it.

So, whether it's a simple app or a complex app with thousands of data points. Whether you're a novice or expert developer, it really doesn't matter. Low-code development has the speed and power to fit your needs.

Low Code Soars at Robins Air Base

Every organization runs on software, and Robins Air Force Base is no different.

As the largest employer in the state of Georgia, Robins employs roughly 25,000 military members, contractors, and civilian workers, and runs mission-critical operations in support of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. aviation.

Officials at Robins needed a dynamic case management system to identify, track, and accelerate resolution of potential on-base hazards and maintain comprehensive audit trails for regulatory compliance. And the way they decided to do it was to build a customized, Hazard Reporting Tool (HRT) on Appian's Low-Code Application Development Platform.

The solution was jointly developed by the 402nd Software Maintenance Group (SMXG) and other stakeholders that had never used Appian before. Nonetheless, they were able to build and deploy the enterprise-class HRT application after just 2 weeks of training.

On top of that, they were able to deploy HRT to 20,000 users in a single day.

The app captures employee input through a simple digital form, which triggers a Base-wide process of case management reviewing and tracking from creation to resolution.

Taking the Complexity out of Data Integration

Appian integrates case-related data across several legacy systems, and gives 25,000 end users a 360-degree view of relevant data to make faster, better, more-informed case management decisions.

Every case-related activity and document is captured by the system, which creates a comprehensive audit trail, and gives officials the visibility they need to detect potential hazards before they become a compliance problem.

Base officials have deployed more than 40 applications on the Appian Platform in the last for years, to do everything from, project management, peer reviews, quality assurance auditing, purchase approvals, talent management, and more.

In another low-code success story, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank a major Australian bank with more than 1.6 million customers and over $66 billion in assets deployed Appian's low-code development platform to roll out dozens of tier-one enterprise applications at the incredible rate of one app per month.

Banking on Low-Code App Development

By 2025, banks could lose 60% of their profits in consumer finance to fintech disruptors , 34% in payments and small business lending, 30% in wealth management and 20% in mortgages, according to recent research from McKinsey & Company.

But Bendigo and other digital-savvy banks are fighting back with low-code technology to speed service delivery, elevate the customer experience, and stay ahead of the risk and compliance curve as well.

"Our vision is to make our customers' journey completely seamless, regardless of which part of our bank they interact with," said Andrew Watts, Executive for Customer Service Improvement, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

"The speed at which Appian helped us develop and deliver these mission-critical applications made them the ideal partner to bring our vision to life."

Do You Need Low Code?

Here's the thing. Seventy percent of all business transactions are still processed in COBOL, a software language designed in the 1950s.

Or so says Informationweek.

But in the age of constant acceleration, your organization must evolve to keep up.

So, embracing digitization is important.

On the other hand, the more you embrace digitization, the more complex your IT architecture can become.

And, with expectations of immediacy from your business and customers alike, how can your IT organization possibly come out on top?

These are just two signs you may be able to take advantage of low-code development.

Here are some more signs you could benefit from using a low-code development platform:

7 Warning Signs You Need Low-Code:

    • All those systems you installed five, ten, twenty years ago? They simply can't keep up with ever-changing customer expectations. That makes it so much tougher to win new customers, let alone keep more of the ones you already have.

    • You're on the hook to capitalize on new business opportunities. But, you can't build apps fast enough to take advantage on them. This is a real headache. And not the kind you want to deal with when your company's growth is at stake.

    • You urgently need top-notch software developers. But it's getting increasingly difficult to find and retain them.

    • You call the shots on business operations, but you're too busy tracking down data from every corner of your organization to step back and see the big picture. And your employees? They spend what seems like more time looking or finding than actually doing.

    • As a business process leader, your job is to deliver cohesive, mobile, omni-channel user experiences. But, you worry about the fractured customer experiences created by your legacy systems...which don't talk to each other.

    • You operate in a heavily regulated industry. And you're struggling to stay on top of fast-changing, complex regulations. This constantly puts your compliance at risk.

    • Your IT organization is constantly slammed with business demand. As usual, staff and resources are limited. And you worry about the menace of Shadow IT. It's a real problem.

Staying on Top in the Digital Age

What it all comes down to is this.

Don't be fooled. If you're the CXO of a successful organization, it's easy to get trapped in systems that got you to the top in the first place.

But yesterday's software was designed for the pre-digital economy and likely based on a single dominant idea to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

The problem is, expectations are now rising faster than anyone ever imagined, and competitive advantage can evaporate in a flash.

So, if you want to stay on top in the age of digital transformation, low-code development is not an option.

It's a necessity.

P.S. Download the Forrester Wave: Low-Code Development Platforms for AD&D Pros, Q4 2017

Download the Forrester Wave for low-code development platforms