Tapping into the trend of empowering so-called “citizen developers” with tools to quickly create enterprise applications, Business Process Management (BPM) platform provider Appian has announced its new Quick Apps product that lets users build apps in a few short steps.
At its Appian World 2016 conference in Washington, D.C., this week, Appian unveiled the latest version of its BPM and Case Management platform, including the new Quick Apps offering. Malcolm Ross, vice president of product marketing at Appian, told eWEEK the new release helps businesses accelerate their digital transformation efforts with new design capabilities, as well as other platform-wide enhancements.
“The inspiration of the Quick Apps solution is we’ve seen this continuing demand from the market, from IT organizations, to do more with less and to allow more people inside the organization to generate technical software solutions to help create a digital transformation inside their organization,” Ross said.
With Appian’s new Quick Apps, citizen developers can create fully functional applications in 15 minutes or less with no technical knowledge, Ross said. The Quick Apps Designer prompts users for the key points of their application. Then, all necessary data, forms and processes are auto-generated, resulting in a fully functional Quick App. The app may be used as-is to support dynamic, data-centric work, he said.
Ross noted that BPM tools like Appian have been focused on how to visually convey software logic, such as the orchestration of a process or a business rule and to make that a functional application. Quick Apps brings more of a data-centric, collaboration approach to that same model, he said.
“But it really boils it down to a three-step wizard,” said Ross. “If you can fill out three things, you can create a Quick App. Then when you hit publish the system will create all the tables, dynamically create all the schemas for the entire application. It will create all the interfaces for all the CRUD (create, read, update, delete). It will also create ad hoc passing capabilities. It integrates with Appian’s collaboration capabilities and creates all the necessary business rules and security permissions to make sure it’s properly locked down.”
Moreover, Quick Apps are automatically supported on most leading devices, from desktop Web browsers to mobile devices, without additional effort. Additionally, they provide the basis for full designers to expand the application with more advanced functionality, such as dynamic rules, automated process decisioning, and system integrations.
Clay Richardson, principal analyst at Forrester Research, who spoke at Appian World 2016, said Forrester has been tracking the low-code application development trend and has identified 42 companies providing tools for this space. Appian ranks among the leaders, he said. When Forrester began looking at the market in 2014 it sized the low-code market as being worth about $1.5 billion. Richardson said it is at about $2.5 billion today and will grow to between $13 billion and $15 billion by 2020.
“There are all of these companies trying to make application development more accessible across different skill levels,” Richardson said. “But what I like in the Appian model is with Quick Apps they’re providing a way to build apps quickly, but you can take those assets you build in Quick Apps and if you want to expand on them later you can reuse that technology. The previous generation of low-code platforms did not allow you to do that.”
Appian’s Quick Apps Move Citizen Developers Toward Digital Transformation
With the older tools, when you built something there wasn’t an opportunity to expand on it later. So you would have these non-technical developers building things but then when requirements expanded or they needed to extend the app to do more they hit a brick wall, Richardson said.
“They had to redevelop everything,” he added.
Yet, with Appian a citizen developer can get started with Quick Apps and address their immediate need and then later on when they want to expand on that they have the Appian Platform underneath that they can continue building upon, he noted.
“It gives you the best of two worlds,” Richardson said. “You can get started very quickly, but you are not hitting a ceiling after you roll the app out. That’s the piece that’s very different from what we’ve seen in the past.”
Indeed, Appian’s Quick Apps is born out of that market demand where companies not only want to accelerate IT development to create solutions faster, but also to empower non-technical staff with a solution where they can actually build apps that IT feels comfortable with, which is a careful balance between the development teams and the business users, Ross said.
Sidney Fernandes, CIO of University of South Florida, which has been using Appian since last August, told eWEEK that from a user perspective he was excited about Quick Apps, but from a CIO perspective, he had some concerns about managing the use of the tool. Fernandes said he was initially concerned about the possibility of “Quick Apps sprawl” and whether a Quick Apps application could take down the main system.
“But those are things that Appian has thought about and they have built in guardrails for the product to prevent this. I was happy to hear about that,” he said.
Moreover, Fernandes said several users from the University of South Florida were at the conference and they “could’’t control their excitement” about the possibilities with Quick Apps, “because they could prototype a business system and actually have it work,” he noted. “I think the possibilities for enabling the citizen developer are amazing. With Quick Apps I see the opportunity for opening this up a little more to our users and saying if you have something that is a simple workflow and requires just a simple integration, take a whack at it.”
Richardson said the move toward low-code development platforms is driven by a developer shortage. The Department of Labor is projecting a shortage of 500,000 developers in 2020, he said.
“So we see organizations turning to these platforms as a way to deal with that developer gap,” Richardson said. “So these citizen developers can build some pretty sophisticated apps, but you still have to have some guardrails in place—because they are not learning true object-oriented programming concepts like polymorphism and class inheritance.”