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The demand for rapid application development has always been high, with businesses relying on their IT organizations to develop and deliver production-ready applications. According to a McKinsey analysis, Covid-19 has further contributed to this demand across all the industries. Businesses are changing their operating models and innovating rapidly to sustain and grow. As a result, companies are putting an enormous amount of pressure on IT organizations that are already stretched thin to meet strategic transformation objectives and growth aspirations.
Low-code and no-code (LCNC) platforms can reduce this pressure by providing IT with the standardized set of tools, environments, and skills to fast-track application development. They also give businesses the option, if desired, to develop applications using non-IT resources — referred to as citizen developers. The No-Code Census 2020 report estimates that application development is 4.6x faster, 4.6x affordable, and 4.8x easier using these platforms. However, as with any new tech a business adopts, integrating a LCNC platform into your digital transformation journey has its own set of challenges. Here are some tips on how to address them.
1. Acknowledge that low-code/no-code is here to stay
According to Gartner, 65% of application development will be low-code by 2024. The market for low-code development platforms is slated for increasing to $21.2 billion by 2022, up from $3.8 billion in 2017 per a Forrester study. A number of businesses are experimenting with LCNC platforms on select digital transformation use cases to test the waters. This limited immersion has resulted in myths that building enterprise grade applications without IT is only theoretical and that these platforms have limitations. Businesses need to clearly communicate their commitment to these platforms across all levels and begin acknowledging that LCNC is here to stay.
2. Ensure the platform fits the objectives and provides scale
An estimated 300 vendors cater to the LCNC market. With such a large pool of options and stiff competition amongst them, businesses are in the driver’s seat and have the opportunity for thoroughly vet them. Key points to evaluate when looking at a vendor include:
- ability to meet the immediate business objectives with out of box features
- alignment with the industry vertical, toolkits, and accelerators for development
- compatibility for cross browser and mobile usage, if desired
- ability to support desired features and integrations
- access to product training
- engagement of the user community for learning and sharing
- outlook of product roadmap to support future scale.
3. Identify hotspots for low-code/no-code adoption
Narrowing down the areas where you could apply LCNC development in your enterprise to some key hotspots is a critical piece of the overall deployment strategy. Some examples of hotspots are manual functions needing automation, paper-based processes that can be digitized, and convoluted workflows. It is imperative for the hotspots to be sufficiently concentrated, but you don’t want these use cases to be too narrow or they won’t provide the momentum to continue LCNC adoption. You also don’t want them to be too wide, since that could dilute your strategic vision and adoption focus.
4. Recognize that low-code/no-code doesn’t mean low tech or low security
Most LCNC platforms are positioned to be fast, cheap, convenient, and secure. While that may be true, applications built on them will pass large amounts of data, integrate and touch several other applications, are micro services oriented, support inward and outward facing use cases, and will use existing IT infrastructure. As a result, these applications need to follow a design, architecture, security, compliance, and DevOps rigor that is no different from a traditionally developed application. In fact, since these platforms empower citizen developers who may be more focused on “getting it to work” vs. “getting it right,” there is a heightened need for instilling this rigor. The competency center approach discussed in the next section will help you achieve this objective.
5. Focus on building competencies rather than filling the talent void
The biggest value proposition of LCNC is the ability to engage in DIY-style initiatives led by citizen developers and reduce the dependencies on other parties like IT and Operations. Often the starting point for this is engaging external consultants or hiring resources to fill the talent void and pairing them with existing tech-savvy resources to pick up new skills and transform them into citizen developers. This may work in the short term, but the knowledge to continue developing on these platforms will remain siloed, best practices may be ignored, and past learnings may be lost. Instead, focus on establishing an internal competency center. This competency center should consist of a lean but knowledgeable pool of broad technical experts and LCNC platform experts working alongside citizen developers to achieve the following:
- homogenize the application development methodologies and best practices
- establish reusable code snippets, tools, and accelerators for citizen developers to leverage
- ensure that methodologies, best practices, tools, and accelerators are leveraged properly
- maintain the knowledge content on an ongoing basis
- help evangelize these platforms and grow the community.
6. Think end-to-end digital transformation
In order to show immediate value and return on investment in LCNC platforms, businesses tend to focus on front end and customer facing applications. Friction with middle-office and back-office functions remains unaddressed, which diminishes the benefits of LCNC-enabled transformation and can make it untenable. Airlines provide a good example of this, with customers being able to cancel tickets using customer facing applications but refunds not being seamless. This is evident from the 20,915 complaints received by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in May 2020 regarding refunds. This poor customer experience can be avoided with an end-to-end digital transformation mindset.
7. Reiterate the importance of IT
Your IT group takes on more importance, not less, when you adopt LCNC platforms. This is because IT takes on a governance role to affirm that enterprise technology design standards are followed, security policies are enforced, strategic business and IT objectives are achieved, and LCNC competency centers remain effective. Overall, IT acts as a dominant force to continue driving the adoption of these platforms across all levels and to ensure the digital transformation initiatives leveraging them are sustainable.
Mayuresh Kulkarni is Director of Management Consulting at KPMG US and has deep expertise in tech enabled transformations using leading low-code/no-code platforms.
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