Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Where low-code development works-and where it doesn’t

Low-code platforms can be an effective way to streamline business processes, but how and where do you start? Here are some keys to keep in mind.


Large enterprises have traditionally faced a few core problems common to all companies. Accordingly, unified software solutions were created that could tackle these problems similarly across all organizations. Think widely used databases or customer relationship management systems.

But that still leaves the sorts of problems that are unique to each company, problems that a generic solution can’t solve. Instead, customized solutions are necessary. Consider purchase orders. Every company deals with them, but the requirements of each company are so unique that a single product that manages the entire process for every company doesn’t make sense.

Rather than a product, these long-tail problems require a platform solution, one that lets companies easily build just what they need instead of hoping they can adapt off-the-shelf solutions to their particular concerns.

What is low-code development?

That solution is a “low-code” platform, one that allows non-technical staff members to create their own applications without IT involvement—and with little to no programming knowledge. By using a graphical user interface, drag-and-drop modules, and other user-friendly structures, non-programmers can create their own apps for their particular needs. These apps fill the special gaps that business users experience but for which there isn’t a standard fix.

It seems like a solution the business world has been anticipating for decades, but it’s important to take the correct perspective on low-code approaches and realize there are times when it is appropriate and times when it isn’t. To understand how low-code can serve a business, let’s take a closer look at this distinction.

Where do low-code platforms work best?

A low-code platform is an ideal solution when:

  • Business users want to create their own applications.
  • There is no homogeneous solution that solves the problem.
  • The application is a normal business use case.

These are abstract guidelines. It’s useful to imagine this in the context of real-world business concerns and decisions, so here are several examples from different aspects of business operations.

First, let’s think about sales. How companies generate a sales invoice varies widely. Of course, the invoice needs to be connected to a customer relationship management system, but it also usually has an approval chain that needs to be documented. The sales team are best-suited to create and design the software-driven management of the sales invoice, as no one understands these issues better than they do. Because the application that generates invoices need not be sophisticated, they can use a low-code platform to create the application themselves.

Second, consider marketing. Your marketing team works in a world of content approvals, with a diverse group of co-workers needed to sign off on a piece of content before it goes live. That process, if handled manually, is susceptible to delays and mistakes, so automation with software is very beneficial. Yet most marketing teams rely on getting approval by hand (via emails mostly), as most task management systems don’t make it easy to do in an automated way.

Because each marketing team has its own process, there is no way to easily use a ready-made solution. Instead, with a low-code platform, the marketing team could build and rebuild an approval workflow as often as it needs—and all without IT’s involvement.

Finally, consider the human resources department. A surprisingly complex and mission-critical operation within all businesses is employee onboarding. Despite its universal importance, it’s nearly impossible to create a standard method for onboarding. Every company has different requirements, training, and paperwork processes.

But hires and other personnel changes often need to happen rapidly. HR certainly can’t wait for weeks while IT clears off more urgent and important work. So a low-code solution, in which HR team members can update their automated onboarding process themselves, keeps the experts in tight control of the product they will need to get their jobs done quickly and effectively.

For example, an HR manager could build the app, creating a form that collects all the information needed from the candidate and a workflow that includes all the departments with which he or she will interact. After someone from each department completes the relevant tasks, the data automatically moves to the next step, eliminating the need for a middleman and making onboarding more efficient.

Where low-code platforms don’t work

In any organization, you will find two kinds of processes: those that are structured and those that are more open-ended. Structured processes, which are typically followed rigorously, account for roughly two-thirds of all operations at an organization. These are generally the “life support” functions of any company or large group—things like leave management, attendance, and procurement.

For example, a magazine might have a defined process of how an article gets published. Let’s say it’s written first by a contributor, then reviewed by a sub-editor. Then, the main editor checks the article before approving it to go to the design team. Finally, it is handed to the publisher, and the accounts team processes all necessary payments.

To avoid chaos, this workflow should remain consistent from week to week, and even quarter to quarter. Given the clear structure and obvious objectives, these processes can be handled nicely by a low-code solution.

But open-ended processes are not so easy to define, and the goals aren’t always as clear. Imagine hosting a one-time event. You may know a little about what the end result should look like, but you can’t redefine the planning process because you don’t orchestrate these events all the time. These undefined processes, like setting an agenda for an offsite meeting, tend to be much more collaborative, and they often evolve organically as inputs from multiple stakeholders shape the space.

Considering that these types of tasks are less well-defined, they are difficult to craft solutions for using low-code platforms. Platforms such as Workplace by Facebook, Slack, and the like are better suited for these workflows because creativity works best without the rigid structure suitable for low-code solutions.

Of course, these unstructured activities are often ones that generate the most value in an organization. So it’s crucial that they get the time and focus they deserve. By offloading the repetitive, rigid, yet necessary processes of an organization to a low-code solution crafted by in-house experts, you free up all personnel to pursue the creative problem-solving that drives transformative innovation.

Getting started with low-code platforms

It’s clear that low-code platforms can be an accelerator toward success for companies that implement them. But given how new these approaches are, it is not always easy to know where to begin with getting them set up at your organization. Keep these key principles in mind as you enter the low-code world. 

1. Embrace SaaS 

Before you can plunge into adopting an application platform as a service system that leverages low-code approaches, you have to make sure your whole team is willing to look beyond old-school enterprise tools in order to leverage productivity. Here, “looking beyond” refers to the general SaaS industry, and APaaS (application platform as a service) in particular.

These online platforms are clearly not a tech fad—they are here to stay and are changing the way businesses stay competitive. Change can be hard for any organization, but those who are unwilling to pivot as the technological landscape evolves will be left behind. So before anything, be sure that your organization is willing to embrace online platforms as solutions. If you encounter hesitation, you must convince the key stakeholders involved that this upgrade is not just a matter of convenience, but rather a game changer in terms of operational efficiency.

2. Allay fears about security

SaaS and cloud solution vendors are all too aware that security must be one of their main priorities if they want to remain competitive. One publicized breach can spell the end for their organization, so it’s unsurprising that security features are baked into most SaaS products. Increasingly stringent standards such as the General Data Protection Regulation are making SaaS offerings even more robust in terms of security than on-premises solutions. IT professionals know this, too. In a 2017 survey by Schneider Electric, 78 percent of respondents said they believed the cloud was secure.

Don’t let security derail or delay adoption of a low-code platform. Be sure to inquire about security practices from the vendor and have an open and honest conversation about those concerns. In most cases, you’ll find that the cloud solutions are making security one of their top priorities, allowing your company to focus on creating value in your domain rather than worrying about security.

3. Let the pros use the tools they need

You unlock innovation when you let your professionals use the best tools, rather than restricting what they can and cannot use. So leverage their insights and empower them rather than create policies that hinder them. Deciding to move forward without consulting IT and other daily users of your technology is a recipe for disaster.

Thwarting IT personnel risks pushing them to make decisions that, though well-intentioned, can become liabilities, such as setting up private servers at home-a clear security concern. Some disagreement over technological solutions is normal, but sometimes protracted contention in the face of a bold new solution can make existing problems worse.

When experts have control over their domain of expertise, and can quickly and painlessly make changes that enhance their operations, organizations benefit immediately. By adopting a low-code platform, companies can allow everyone, from HR to marketing to IT, to work in the area they know best, and put their unique skills and talents to work.



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