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The Appian Way: Paved with Low-Code

Alena Davis, Appian
June 4, 2018

The Forrester report, Predictions 2018 A year of reckoning has issued a severe warning for 2018.

"Digital transformation is not elective surgery. It is the critical response needed to meet rising customer expectations, deliver individualized experiences at scale, and operate at the speed of the market." [emphasis added]

What does this mean for developers? The short answer is that their organizations will need to embrace low-code app development platforms. Why? Let's examine two key takeaways from this report:

1. Customer expectations are moving faster than products can keep up with them

The report continues, "Customers' expectations will outpace companies' ability to evolve or invent experiences, and the deferred transformation in 2017 means that companies can't adjust fast enough or well enough. [emphasis added] In 2018, 30% of companies will see further declines in CX performance, and those declines will translate into a net loss of a point of growth."

The 30% value includes those companies that have degraded performance in terms of the customer experience provided to users of their products. The companies lose a point of "growth potential" because they have not been able to improve the customer experience. They have not been able to "evolve or invent experiences" with their products that are expected, demanded by all customers, whether techies or luddites. In other words, if customers' expectations for quality aren't met, if companies can't improve the user experience in their software applications, customer churn happens, and there is an eventual loss in net profits that occurs.

2. The market is changing

With today's market conditions, developers will be forced to meet the demand for a better CX, and work to improve the UX across e-commerce platforms, software applications, mobile apps, and more. For front-end developers, this means more coding work to improve perhaps the responsiveness of their app's design, or maybe adding a requested feature. A new build that merges changes in the code, especially a new feature, means more developer workload. So we are left with more coding to do in addition to testing the new feature, as "agile testing" is a valuable driver of quality in agile development.

The solution would point to a tool that can save time writing low-level code, map out UI, workflows, connect to backend processes as well as incorporate automated testing and debugging. Developers testing their own code remains a hotly debated issue in developer communities.

The solution to the "save additional coding and develop testing workload appears with the multi-functional low-code platform: what amounts to a drag-and-drop IDE (integrated development environment). It adds up to a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) code editor, what now is known as a drag-and-drop interface. This type of application platform can define UIs, workflows and data models. It's like a powerful ORM library that connects and automatically manages back-end data models, storage, and retrieval of data. And it manages the application lifecycle with automated tools that build, debug, deploy, and maintain apps; from test to production.

Digital Innovation is paved with fewer lines of code

By using low-code software, applications can be delivered faster with visual IDEs and less hand coding. This translates to lower cost for the enterprise and more free time for developers to work on what's most important: improving the front-end experience to meet the rising demands of consumers desiring a better user experience. Since the quality of the UX drives mass adoption of applications and increases the bottom line for companies, this is a no brainer.

Fewer bugs, more AI

Less code also means fewer defects that need debugging and fixing. And any connected API would've been tested previously. Moreover, AI is already incorporated. Tasks such as integrating different data sources or analyzing semi-structured or unstructured data can all be automated via RPA and intelligent automation. And automation, obviously, saves time.

Low-code embraces scalability and prototyping

From tiny apps to enterprise-wide deployments, low-code platforms are inherently scalable. There will always be custom code required for specialized applications, algorithms, or external, add-on functionalities. The low-code visual IDE is a powerful way to amp up app deployment with exponentially longer timeframes that don't involve thousands of lines of code. Prototyping and building MVPs are now much easier, as software verification and validation (V&V) can quickly and easily be completed before final functionality is built out. It's helpful to know if the app functions as designed without bugs and if it meets all high-level requirements.

Visceral fears of developers, explained

The change from the old SDLC with armies of developers coding and compiling to incorporating low-code development platforms into workflows will be slow. And there are bona-fide, visceral fears in developer communities about breaking jobs, shadow-app quality (no control, with more bugs) and no custom code capability, to speak to but three of them.

Developers might worry that the use of low-code platforms will literally automate away some of their job functions, and that their jobs themselves might be at stake, but nothing could be further from the truth. Since developers may free up more time to do other things, they can spend more time thinking of the product as a whole, focusing on what matters most in the end: the end user and how satisfied she is with the user experience. Devs will be challenged to think of the big-picture benefits their product should provide to the entire ecosystem of the end user.

Some have expressed the fear that such a low-level code environment would be unmanaged, and subject to low quality builds with more bugs. Low code cooperatively allows the business developer side to collaborate with developers in a drag-and-drop environment that remains in the control of IT, where developers might fear the loss of control and the "black box effect." And, even as devs maintain complete control over the developer environment, automated testing cuts down on the level of bugs, as well as iterating faster. In the end the team ships a better product, which returns us to the faster iteration / shipping equals more time benefit.

One common concern of devs is that the platform is simplistic and the "we can't use custom code" complaint. In fact, the low-code platform is a powerfully customizable development tool. Through the use of APIs both on the client and server-side, new functionality can be built out, packaged and distributed such as adding external services for machine learning, or integrations that extend the app's native features to databases, widgets or recyclable UI elements. And leveraging APIs to create this extensive functionality is driven solely via custom-coded solutions. In fact, most applications deployed with low-code platforms include some JavaScript custom-code and other language integrations such as C# or Java.

Dev Leaders Drive Enterprise Profits

With more free time and emboldened belief in the power of automation, rapid debugging functionality, and quick-scalable deployments, developers will be empowered with more opportunity for leadership than ever before. They'll rise to meet the challenge of constantly working to improve the front end.

Gradually, the entire enterprise will sign off on what's necessary for digital transformation in this marketplace: to tailor software with an improved UX, to meet customer-driven expectations of the market, and to stop churn.