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Whoa! Low-Code Finds Sweet Spot with Enterprise CIOs (Part 2)

Roland Alston, Appian
May 9, 2019

Eric Bloom, Executive Director of the IT Management and Leadership Institute

(This is the final installment of a two-part series on how low-code development unlocks the power of IT productivity, featuring Eric Bloom (@EricPBloom), former CIO, best-selling author and Executive Director of the IT Management andLeadership Institute. Read part 1 here.)

There's a strong argument to be made that the pressure cooker of digital transformation is stoking demand for new business applications and causing anxiety for IT.

But you might be surprised at just how many developers and IT execs feel like they don't have the tools they need to minimize the business pressure of digitally transforming the organization. In the previous installment, we mentioned that 75% of companies worry about not being able to deliver applications as quickly as the business needs them, according toForrester.

Additionally, an overwhelming majority (86%) of IT professionals blame rising application demand and emerging technology integrations for causing the most anxiety in their organization.So says a recent surveyby IDG.

One way to minimize this problem and hot wire business impact is with faster, user-friendly development tools.And a whopping 80% of IT professionals believe that low-code development is the best place to start.

Which is a good segue to the final episode of this important conversation about the rise of low-code with former Fortune 500 CIO Eric Bloom.

As a tech columnist and best-selling author, Bloom has written extensively about digital transformation and the benefits of rapid application development. He says that 75% of digital transformation is about usingdigital technologies to enhance performance, reduce costs and improve competitiveness.

"We've been doing that forever," says Bloom.

"...But where I really see it (low-code) is in process re-engineering. Because you can do rapid development to enhance internal processes. And that's a really good thing for companies looking to transform their internal operations in a way that fits under the digital transformation umbrella."

We powered downpart 1of this series with Bloom giving us the lowdown on how low-code can help eliminate the problem of shadow IT. In this episode we'll take a deeper dive into the business value of low-code development, how it fits into the big picture of digital transformation, and what comes next.

Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Low-Code: Driving Business and IT Productivity

Appian: Let's switch gears and talk about the business value of low-code development and how you explain it to C-Suite execs who don't have technical backgrounds?

Bloom:I see no-code/low-code as being an arrow in IT's quiver to be used in the proper places. I see it as a way for IT to help the business constituency and enhance their productivity. If they (business execs) want to take advantage of low-code development, they need to go through some type of centralized training sponsored by IT. It's a great tool, but don't try to do it on your own.

I would say this about any cloud-based application. Realistically, for any business area, to implement a no-code/low-code platform on their own, all you need is a credit card and a connection through the firewall. That's because everything is now cloud-based and can be done without IT's knowledge.

For example, consider any popular SaaS based CRM vendor.They market to sales people, get them to like the product then push it onto IT to get them to implement it. To be honest, if I ran a SaaS company, I'd do exactly the same thing, because IT can say no but they can't say yes.

IT can't say to the head of Sales: "Hey, I found this new SaaS and we're going to replace all of the software you really liked for the last 20 years. And we're going to implement this new application called [pick any SaaS vendor].

ROI on App Development Goes Through the Roof

Appian: So, is that the wrong approach?

Bloom:I'll just say it's historical fact.

Because no code/low code platforms are now integrated infrastructure, I think they should be presented as a rapid development, enterprise-based architecture, because that's what IT listens to.

Also, whatever it costs per desktop per month, per quarter or per year depending on the tool and number of desktops involved it (a low-code development platform) can provide significant financial savings because you can build many types of apps on it and it doesn't change the per desktop price.

If it's properly deployed and used, the first app may be a little expensive. But with the second, third, fourth, fifth app and beyond, the ROI goes through the roof because the apps are developed quicker and the platform environment is amortized over multiple apps. So, development cost becomes very low on a per application basis.


Low-Code, Not an Alternative to Working with IT

Appian: Talk to me about the flip side of that. What are the biggest misconceptions you hear about no-code/low-code?

Bloom:Let me ask you this. Why did Buick come out with new ads that said: This is not your father's Buick?" Honestly, a lot of CIOs, including me, have been burned by no code/low code applications in the past. As a programmer, back in the day, I was told to use a fourth generation COBOL software generator where I entered my requirements via point-and-click and the software generated the COBOL code.

Appian: And then what happened?

Bloom:If you had to include a feature that the platform itself couldn't facilitate, when you looked at the code it created, it wasn't readable. These code generators were very often called no-code tools.Then, over the years, there were a number of other great software development platforms, including Excel, used by people who don't program professionally.

And when the data was wrong or lost, or the person who created it left the organization, IT was asked to step in and clean up the mess.

What makes the situation worse is that, over the years, lots of vendors and I won't say which ones in particular have presented the no-code/low code approach to business users as an alternative to building applications with IT. So, there are a lot of CIOs out there who hear about no-code/low-code and they're rolling their eyes at it.

Appian: Because of past experience?

Bloom:Yes. But I think that if this (low-code) could be presented to IT as an application development platform that has arrived, then I think that's a different animal than sneaking in the back door with the accounting department because IT won't build your application.

Business Process Re-engineering on Steroids

Appian: Let's shift gears to a related topic. Everybody's talking about digital transformation. How do you see the low-code story fitting into the digital transformation narrative?

Bloom:What's digital transformation? Just kidding (laughter). I've written on this topic quite extensively. I've also lived it a as a CIO.

At its base, I like to think of digital transformation as business process re-engineering on steroids. From that perspective, IT has been doing 75% of digital transformation for 30 or 40 years.

Appian: So, how do you define it?

Bloom:It's the use of digital technologies to enhance performance, reduce costs and improve competitiveness. Data is the new oil for digital transformation. But as for no-code/low-code from a data transformation perspective, where I really see it (having an impact) is in process re-engineering. You can do rapid development to enhance internal processes. And that's a really good thing.

I don't think these platforms are going to create new revenue streams like Uber. But for companies looking to transform their internal operations in a way that fits under the digital transformation umbrella, I think youcan use low-code to enhance business processes.

What Comes Next? 2020 and Beyond

Appian: Speaking of enhancing business processes, let's talk about artificial intelligence (AI). It's a hot topic right now. It's mainstreaming faster than many people imagined with Alexa and Siri and the IoT. What big trends are on you radar for 2020 and beyond?

Bloom:You mentioned Alexa and Siri; those are really auto bots. They just do voice-to-text transformation. And they're really good at it. Don't get me wrong. I love telling my Amazon Dot to play music and it does. But I wouldn't mention that and AI in the same sentence. It's a facilitator to get data into AI. Perhaps I'm a tech purist, but I see them as different applications.

The biggest thing that I'm seeing everywhere is machine learning. I see machine learning as a technology that's used to implement AI. You're seeing it everywhere. The algorithms are getting better, the data is getting bigger. It's incredible to sit back and watch it.

I think every application in the next few years is going to be coming out with some kind of machine learning module.

I see big data, the cloud and social media no longer as leading trends. I see them as enabling technologies for other things. These other things being like predictive analytics, sentiment analysis, and basically how to better use data. I think every application in the next few years is going to be coming out with some kind of machine learning module.And I think the further integration of those kind of AI capabilities makes this an exciting time to be in IT.

(For a closer look at why low-code is catching on with CIOs, check out The Impact of Low-Code on IT Satisfactionsurvey by IDG.)