I would like to share the experience after delivering a couple of PoCs and hackathons with enterprise customers in the past year. Many enterprises left the solution in PoC due to various reasons. This article may help you evaluate the value and usefulness of the solution.
- What is No-code/Low-code development platform
- Comparison of traditional waterfall model & hand-coding vs. Low-code/low code development platform
- My thoughts
The business requirement from users
There are many tasks for IT professionals to work on. According to The phoenix project, there are business projects, operations projects, changes, and unplanned work. How to prioritize tasks as well as quickly adapt to market trends can be challenging.
Lack of skills to solve the issues
Users understand the business process the most. In many cases, they can point out the bottleneck and even come up with an idea to solve the issue. However, they often lack IT skills to realize the idea.
Legacy System Modernization
With changing customer behavior, enterprises have changed their norms and business applications. You have legacy systems that were not built for mobile. They may not have built for the Web. For example, the idea of modern workspace and work from home became popular these days during the pandemic. On top of that, the waterfall model may take longer to adapt to the change as the processes are sequential. This approach does not make allowance for the change of defined requirements as the project progresses.
What is No-code/Low-code Development Platform?
Low-code/no-code development platforms are types of visual software development environments that allow citizen developers to drag and drop application components, connect them and create mobile or web apps. The platforms reduce the amount of traditional hand-coding, enabling accelerated delivery of business applications. With the advancement of technology transformation, cloudification has become democratized. Cloud-based low-code development platforms have become popular.
Comparison of traditional waterfall model & hand-coding vs. Low-code/low code development platform
In the past, there are linear sequential phases to follow in app development. Take the library catalog as an example, the progress flows in one direction through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, deployment, and maintenance. Not to mention sometimes the result and the expectation may not be aligned. Even with more modern development approaches such as agile development, a significant amount of time can pass before the first minimum viable product (MVP) is delivered to users.
The development experience of low-code development is “What you see is what you get”, you can experience the actual working app very early in the development process. In this way, users can easily add new features for their library catalog app and make sure the concept and deliverable are aligned.
There are many good examples I’ve seen from different customers and most of them came from users. I listed some of which can be implemented for most companies:
In fact, all the use cases can be achieved through hand-coding. What makes the difference is the ideation and realization that came from citizen developers.
Feature: Replace paperwork or information located in different systems
Business Impact: Avoid data silo, collect more data, learn the insight, and optimize the business process
Scenario: A customer survey app to replace social media such as LINE. An inspection app to replace paper documents and cameras, embedded video and audio features to collect different types of information.
Feature: Build a business process to instruct the user following the guideline
Business Impact: Decrease loss and waste
Scenario: work order, spare parts management, instrument management, inventory check
Feature: Build a project platform for announcement, notification, and follow-up
Business Impact: Improve cross-team collaboration, communication, and efficiency
Scenario: Projects, Order Tracking
Scenario choosing it’s the most important part. Be careful when choosing the scenario without solid business value. I have a customer was very excited about the idea and would like to implement a lunch ordering app so that the admin in the office don’t need to take note for the colleagues manually every day. I ask the customer: What do you think the possibility for the company to approve this budget even if everything works smoothly? The business use language like ROI and budget. It’s important to distinguish the tangible value and intangible value. Assume the app was ready in a very short time frame and the user love it, we couldn’t neglect the fact that the business value should be the most important factor.
Furthermore, I’ll recommend the best scenario is to tackle a pain point in the business process so that it helps the organization achieve maximum effectiveness. For instance, I was working with a customer to use the low-code development platform with their ERP system, modernizing the system with a mobile app and API. Before introducing the platform, the worker needed to carry the laptop and camera locating and inventorying of assets in office buildings. After taking the photo, it took time for recording and archiving. When the worker learning the power of low-code development platform, including built-in connectors for the camera, ERP systems, and cloud storage, he realized the last mile of data entry and streamlined the business process, minimized human error. This scenario demonstrates the importance, and the complexity, as well as the business value, which makes the case more powerful.
It’s important to understand the security portfolio that the platform offered. For example, the platform should have an administration center managing all the traffic. Furthermore, classifying the data sources and connectors within the enterprise to avoid data loss. It’s recommended to have a Center of Excellence to not only help enterprises realize the value of the platform but also defend themselves against internal and external threats to data and IT system.
It’s not only the financial cost but also the time cost. In Taiwan, there is abundant engineering talent to hire so the management tends to believe it’s more cost-effective to hire talent and develop and customize the system by themselves. It does not only save money for the company in the short run but also keeps the asset inside the organization, comparing to the subscription model. However, what if the organization can have business users fulfill its own requirement? In this way, the coders can focus on tackling more complex issues and solving more problems. On the other hand, with changing customer behavior, enterprises have to change their business applications but the legacy systems were not built for mobile or the Web. It then becomes a hassle whether to migrate to a new system or redevelop the legacy system. I worked with a customer who developed the email system by themselves a long time ago and has no choice but to move to SaaS in order to fulfill business requirements. The journey of migrating a system with thousands of users is a big challenge. When evaluating the cost, the enterprise should also take the type of cost aside from money into account.
The target audience of the low-code development platform used to be citizen developers instead of professional developers. The professional developers are familiar with various IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and command-line interfaces and may not prefer the graphical user interface. I had feedback from the user after trying the low-code development platform saying that “It’s too slow in this way, I’d rather hand-coding!”. On the other hand, it lowers the entry barrier for those who are not familiar with coding tools, even encourages them to create more business scenarios. It’s important for the enterprise to have a clear positioning when introducing the low-code development platform, avoiding the platform became just another hassle system to maintain for IT pros.
Low-code development platform has encouraged citizen developers to solve the business challenges through digital tools by themselves. With the advancement of a graphical user interface, they are more hands-on in daily work. I believe this new concept helps users from business and IT organizations have more conversation and, hence, more understanding. When they start to speak the same language and identify the information gaps, the enterprise will be on the path to success.