In this special guest feature, Anthony Abdulla, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Intelligent Automation at Pega, discusses why low code should be adopted as the enabler to digital transformation initiatives and how organizations can get started on scaling low code capabilities and skills across the enterprise. Anthony has been building brands and launching successful products for nearly 20 years. Throughout his career, he has striven to partner with stellar products to make them well known and accessible. He joined Pega to continue doing just that. Anthony is from New England, currently lives in Topsfield, Mass., with his family and is an avid runner and aspiring oil painter.
In business, we hear a lot about digital transformation. But what is setting apart the companies doing it well and those who are struggling to even tread water? While it’s a buzzy industry term, “low code” is a critical tool. But despite low code technology’s rise in popularity, there needs to be strategy behind the implementation. The promise of low code is great, and if done correctly, all of an organization’s investments will come together in the right way to achieve true transformation. However, we’re seeing more and more that low code success goes far beyond a piece of technology, which is why it’s so important to understand how to best capitalize on its promise.
Low-code application development requires little to no coding experience – empowering “citizen developers” or your average business user to drive significant change for their organization. When done right, its technology can also alleviate pressures on enterprise IT departments to create more custom software that complies with organizational guardrails. This makes a lot of sense from a business perspective: offer technology that business users and IT users alike can work with and understand. Enabling the “citizen developer” with tools that help them enact and implement meaningful change can have profound, positive effects on a business. And the analysts agree – by 2023, Gartner predicts the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers. So how can organizations adapt?
To start, building an app – no matter how complex – shouldn’t be a struggle. To integrate a successful low-code app development strategy into an enterprise, leaders should take the same approach as for any other project. First, determine the desired outcome and ask the tough questions that promote discussion and collaboration: “how can our development team evolve to better align business and IT?,” “Are we confident we can scale from one app to 10 or 20 or 500?” Without combining the right platform with the proper strategy, an enterprise could easily find itself perpetuating a siloed, slow, and outdated approach to development.
With the right tools, delivering your first low-code project should be significantly more seamless than traditional coding. In fact, it might just take a businessperson with an idea, a low-code app development platform, and a little bit of online training. For example, capabilities like drag-and-drop objects, process flows, and visual tools allow anyone, regardless of technical ability, to build and change applications faster – making it possible for organizations quickly deliver new processes and app functionalities to keep up with, or disrupt, their markets. To go from one-off success to repeatable and continuous transformation, however, requires best practices, the right expertise, business/IT collaboration, and a framework for reuse and scale.
Here are seven tips for low-code success to achieve true digital transformation:
1. Find the “low” hanging fruit. Take an “App Factory” approach, bringing together tools, training, and guidelines, to empower business and IT teams to quickly and collaboratively build applications in a repeatable and successful manner. To establish the framework for an app factory, first identify the best functional business use cases that are good candidates for this development methodology, then get consensus from all stakeholders on a small set of projects that can be addressed in a short amount of time to meet a key business deadline. Often these are “get-stuff-done” projects in the business that are being stop-gapped with spreadsheets, email, access/permissions, or even paper sticky notes. They are also projects that are critical for a specific team or department, but won’t get prioritized by IT.
2. Don’t boil the ocean (of complexity). Aim to solve a focused challenge in a single remote office, department, or functional organization where the challenge is contained within that group. Start with a process that doesn’t have highly sensitive information or integration requirements, at least initially. Starting small and simple in scope can allow the team to find some success and iterate without creating any risk to the business out of the gate. Often, these applications grow, connect, and become more business-critical over time.
3. Identify the key business SMEs (citizen developers). Your subject matter experts are business and data analysts and operations leaders with the right skills, attitude, and hunger to take a more active role in solving everyday challenges. Outline and document roles and responsibilities for the team, including all the stakeholders. Once you understand the roles and personas involved, identify the business builders and makers who have the appropriate process knowledge, and in some cases, the appropriate technical skills required. Allow employees to start building without constant oversight or barriers to innovate.
4. Map security and governance levels to application value. Not all low-code development or applications are created equally. At the same time, the last thing an organization wants is data integrity compromised due to a lack of control. Balance the value of the application and risk with the level of controls applied to the data. Applications that contain personally identifiable information (PII) or sensitive IP and connect to transactional systems should be more highly governed than single purpose, standalone apps. Every organization should map out its own set of criteria and appropriate levels for governance and oversight. IT can build governance processes for different kinds of apps around access to sensitive data, performance, security policy, and integrations.
5. Choose a platform that scales with your digital transformation initiatives. Many platforms have sweet spots in one of two core areas of digital transformation. One offers a simple authoring environment that excels for small departmental apps, but lacks the features and tools required to scale to more meaningful enterprise deployments. The other creates a runtime environment for pro developers to assemble tier one transactional applications faster, but comes up short with business builders trying to get work done. The reality is that digital transformation is on a spectrum and many projects overlap between the sweet spots. Choose a uniform, inclusive platform to build along the full spectrum of use cases, skill sets, and ecosystem requirements, and that scales with your digital transformation roadmap.
6. Support your makers, no matter their skill level. Create a safe space for business users to experiment and build out their ideas with guidance. Offer the flexibility for makers and citizen developers to learn at their own pace in the format that works best for them. Keep in mind that business users may also need further assistance regarding design, data architecture, naming conventions, testing, governance/access controls, and security and policy compliance.
7. Scale with a plan. As projects and tasks grow you’ll need to establish a set of governance guidelines to support agile methodologies and ensure consistency across applications. Some may refer to this as a Center of Excellence (CoE), a Community of Practice, or a Guild – regardless of name, the goal is to establish a cross-functional team of experts in their functions, empowered by best practices and tools. Here you’ll include everything from the reuse of best practices to key application artifacts. This keeps all reusable assets in a centralized location and will allow all subsequent low-code applications to inherit functionality and promote a continuum of efficiency and innovation.
If implemented correctly, low code can fulfill its promise and make app development simple and accessible to everyone who touches enterprise applications. The right software combined with the proper strategy brings people, data, and insights together, empowering your organization to continually build scalable enterprise applications better and faster together – enabling true digital transformation.
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