Every corporate IT organization feels the pressure to keep costs and solution delivery times down. But during the COVID pandemic, these pressures have become even more intense.
The global economic slowdown, reorientation towards a mobile, remote workforce, a growing home-delivery service model, and rapidly changing regulatory environment compound pressures on corporate IT to quickly deliver value to internal and external clients. While there is no silver-bullet solution for these pressures, one viable path forward is the rising set of low-code and no-code development platforms (LCDPs) like Mendix, Microsoft Power Apps, and Oracle Apex.
Low-Code Development Platforms (LCDPs), a term coined by Forrester Research (Gartner group calls them Low-Code Application Platforms), is getting a lot of press these days. Many LCDPs bill themselves as Rapid Application Development (RAD) platforms and some (e.g. Mendix) possess an entire built-in RAD project management functionality. LCDPs typically feature a no-code drag-and-drop capability to maximize access to business users.
Professional programmers can quickly develop more complex apps with a reduced amount of coding required. This class of development tools appears to have reached a maturity level required for widespread adoption, and its RAD capability is poised to foster the speed and agility needed by enterprises today.
The idea of fostering application development by nonprofessional programmers has long enticed business unit managers weary of waiting for their corporate IT group to deliver digital capabilities. There have been several attempts over the years to enable business domain experts to become “citizen developers”, such as Computer-Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools and 4th generation languages. By most measures, these previous efforts have failed to gain traction, but LCDP may be the tool to accomplish this long-held desire.
Similar to LCDPs, No-code platforms feature a drag-and-drop interface that lends itself to adoption by non-programmer business users. No-code platforms typically perform well for development of small department-level applications but are not suited for more complex enterprise-level applications.
Together, these low-code/no-code development platforms have been on the rise and are helping to accelerate the IT project pipeline. They easily and securely connect to back-end enterprise data through a straightforward graphical visual interface that enables front-line business leaders to quickly develop enterprise-grade applications that meet with the security and infrastructure requirements of IT.
In this eWEEK Data Points article, Michael Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of Information Systems Technology Management, and Erik Krogh, PhD, Practitioner Lecturer of Information Systems Technology Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School offer four suggestions for how IT organizations facing the pressures of the pandemic can get started with LCDP.
Data Point No. 1: Define a problem space
LCDP tools can be used for almost any enterprise application but are especially valuable for back-end applications, mobile applications, and web applications.
A good first step is to identify critical pain points of customers or internal stakeholders that current systems fail to solve. Examples include business processes that are moribund in legacy spreadsheets (e.g., expense reports, customer help requests, student progress reporting). A typical first LCDP project is “spreadsheet-conversion-to-app” with the benefits of integrated enterprise data and security. CIOs welcome the controls and security built in to LCDPs as spreadsheets become applications.
Choosing where to start using LCDP may require a few conversations with business leaders to reveal a broad collection of pain points that could be easily addressed with LCDP tools.
Data Point No. 2: Select a tool
There are many excellent tools to choose from. As this space grows we expect to see more players enter with more significant commitments. Increasingly we see the world’s leading software companies entering into this space with major commitments from Microsoft, Google, and Oracle.
Early market leaders include Mendix, Betty Blocks, Appian, Out Systems, and Visual LANSA. Many of these vendors offer robust training solutions for customers to explore.
Data Points No. 3: Form an agile team
Once you’ve chosen an LCDP tool, it’s time to get started. One of the key benefits of LCDP is the minimal support required from central IT. It does, however, require that users understand the business rules and logic of the enterprise.
A small team of well-informed business users can create a pilot solution quickly and independently. In many cases, this effort can take as little as three to four weeks depending on the complexity of the project. In selecting a team, review the problem space, and KPI’s by which the solution will be measured to ensure alignment across the project.
Data Point No. 4: Iterate on value
Once an initial solution is crafted it can easily be assessed for value. Does the initial solution meet the requirements of the business? Are the KPIs moving in the right direction? Are there other KPI’s that should be addressed in the problem space? After some trial and error, other solutions may emerge to further improve performance. One of the benefits of LCDP is that it accelerates the pace of innovation and iteration, which has never been more valuable.
These four steps can get you started on your journey to reaping the benefits from implementing an LCDP. Gartner Research projects “by 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a [low-code platform] as one of their strategic application platforms”[i], and there is market evidence that companies are indeed adopting LCDPs at a rapid pace. If your firm is not using them yet, the COVID-19 pandemic creates the perfect opportunity (and urgency) to investigate the rapid application development capabilities an LCDP can offer.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Michael Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of Information Systems Technology Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. Dr. Williams is an associate professor in the Information Systems and Technology Management Department.
Erik Krogh, PhD, Practitioner Lecturer of Information Systems Technology Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. Dr. Krogh is a full-time member of the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School faculty and academic director of the business school’s MS in Business Analytics program.