Presented by ServiceNow
Chris Bedi, CIO of ServiceNow, joined VB’s own Hayley Haggarty in the VB Transform Summit session, “Driving the Future of Work With Low Code and Citizen Developers,” to talk about the opportunities that are arising with low-code/no-code, and why everyone seems to be getting on the bandwagon.
There are a number of factors at play, Bedi said. One of the biggest is that over the next three to four years, 500 million new apps need to be developed to support this digital transformation — and that can’t happen with just central tech organizations developing those apps. And the citizen developers are ready. They have the talent to jump into low-code/no-code projects, they want to participate in the digital transformation, and they don’t want to take a ticket, get in line, and hope the central tech organization will get back to them.
“With digital transformation, there’s an insatiable appetite to revamp existing operations to serve both customers and employees better,” Bedi explains. “The people closest to the action, often, are the people embedded in those departments who are serving the employees, serving the customers. They know firsthand the things that are bogging them down. It’s tapping into that latent talent pool where organizations are being very successful.”
For instance, at the beginning of the pandemic, the city of Los Angeles built an app to help citizens find testing locations in just 72 hours. The global giant Airbus, needing to get a better handle on manufacturing operations, built a low-code/no-code app in less than 90 days with barcode and other data-set integration, and were able to reduce manufacturing problems by about 20%. And the Intercontinental Exchange, a financial services company, reached 3X their developer capacity by embracing low-code/no-code.
The big surprise has been that users aren’t just developing simple applications, but leaning into the technology and building applications that incorporate more sophisticated tech, like virtual agents or chatbots, or mobile-first apps.
One of their citizen developers told Bedi, “I just developed my first app. It took me about three days. I’m so much happier. I can’t wait to develop my second, third, and fourth ones.”
“Sometimes we forget about speed and productivity and transformation,” Bedi says. “Just the human impact and the engagement level that people feel when they can actually participate in making their work life better is pretty magical, actually.”
Overcoming the challenges of low-code/no-code
Much of the hesitation around adoption of low-code/no-code comes from memories of Lotus Notes and the application sprawl that created, or stories about employees developing a low-code/no-code solution and unintentionally increasing the amount of security risk or data risk because the app leveraged data in a way they didn’t know was risky to the company. Plus, there’s also the natural skepticism around adopting any new coding techniques, Bedi said.
But low-code/no-code does not mean zero central IT involvement — it means minimal IT oversight. It means adding guard rails that let citizen developers be successful and thrive in this environment, without causing security issues or that application sprawl.
ServiceNow uses guard rails internally that include not permitting developers to build an application that already exists, which eliminates application sprawl. If an app is touching sensitive data, customer data, or other PII, the developer needs to loop in the central IT department. That’s also the requirement if the app is quite complex and proposes to be used enterprise-wide. The professional coders can either augment or completely take it over.
The second way to protect the business and encourage innovation is automating security checks, data-privacy checks, and other scans so that they’re ambient or invisible behind the scenes.
The last way to promote success is by providing training. That includes things like ServiceNow’s own training program, NowLearning, which is designed to get their customers up to speed. The other key strategy is to ensure that central IT should always be available if a citizen developer gets stuck.
“This phone-a-friend concept has been very important for us, especially for first-time developers,” he says. “If they get stuck and they have nowhere to go, it can be pretty daunting. Knowing that there’s an organization they can reach out to at literally any time has been super important for us.”
“If you put all those elements in place, which we have and our customers have too, that creates a very successful ecosystem where citizen developers can thrive,” he added.
Getting central IT on board
“At the highest level, a central IT organization has three choices with low-code/no-code,” Bedi says. “Because it’s happening out there in your enterprise whether you know it or not, the only logical choice to me, is to embrace it.”
He advised starting out low-code/no-code with the analyst community within IT, to learn some lessons there with the company’s governance, security, and enablement framework. Once the kinks are worked out, it can be rolled out to select departments to start with. Test, iterate, and learn how it works on the small scale, before you scale it company-wide.
How do you make that roll-out successful?
“We have to make citizen developers celebrated and recognized at our corporations,” he said. “That, I think, will generate a flywheel effect, where more and more people want to participate. That will take a burden off the central IT organization to let them focus on solving real, complex, hairy problems that need professional developers, professional IT, while they leave some of the simpler things, those department-level use cases, to the people in the department.”
He points to the ServiceNow intern who saw that a painstaking email and Excel process wasn’t efficient, and created an app in just 12 hours. She single-handedly saved the organization hundreds of hours per month.
“Now imagine a world where all of your talent can spot all those opportunities and act on them in a number of hours,” he said. “All those things that slowed the organization down are gone. How much faster would your organization operate? That’s why I think it’s critical.”
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