Low-code development becomes ‘table stakes’ of business practice

The lack of software developers and IT workers in general is forcing businesses to turn to “citizen developers” within their organizations to create business applications that support digital innovation efforts. .

Finding workers with software development skills, or training them in -house, is becoming a priority, according to John Bratincevic, a senior analyst at Forrester. When talking to business clients, he says, the most common question he gets is how they can stand up and measure a citizen development strategy.

What makes citizen development possible is a raft of low-code and no-code development platforms, enabling business users with little or no coding experience to build apps based on needs. of business. Companies use these platforms to create “hundreds or thousands of citizen developers in their organizations. They want to know how to take care of people, so they’re really good at low code,” said Bratincevic.

“In my opinion, where it all goes is that low -code development will be just table stakes for the business worker – like personal productivity tools,” he added.

Rising low code

A January survey by research firm IDC on 380 businesses showed that 49% of respondents buy low-code or no code platforms to move in-house innovation. The second biggest reason for buying software tools (39%) was “pandemic -related needs.”

By 2021, the global market for low code development technology will reach $ 13.8 billion in revenue. And the adoption of low-code software development platforms is growing by more than 20% a year, according to research firm Gartner. By 2023, low-code development is expected to be adopted by more than half of all medium- to large-sized companies.

Low-code development tools have removed the more commonly used code base and replaced it with a graphical user interface or visual “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) interface to build a application. The technology allows employees who may not have a technical background to become citizen developers, expanding opportunities beyond the traditional hiring pool or day-to-day workflow. Additionally, low-code tools allow traditional developers to focus on more challenging tasks while others handle simpler development jobs with low-code technology.

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While there are dozens of companies offering low-code and no-code toolsets, the marketplace leaders are OutSystems, Mendix, Microsoft, Salesforce, and ServiceNow, according to Gartner. The platforms sold by Appian, Oracle, and Pega are considered “challenges” to those leaders.

Business units understand business application needs

Cloud computing software provider ServiceNow says more than 80% of its customer base now uses its low-code solution, the App Engine. And App Engine’s active developer base is growing 47% per month, the company says.

Marcus Torres, general manager of App Engine Business at ServiceNow, said that the ability to create business applications with low -code and no -code tools is becoming an expected skill set for businesses. Most of that is because the home business side understands the application needs of a company better than an IT shop.

Millennials and younger workers who make up the majority of today’s workforce are more comfortable with technology, including software development, than older workers. “They understand that there’s an app that provides some utility for them,” Torres said. “They are included [low-code] platforms, people usually try it, get some initial success, and then try to do more. ”

Torres has seen groups from facility teams to human resources departments develop applications, along with development work done by people typically without a technology pedigree.

For example, employees of the ServiceNow cafeteria team created a food menu application using App Engine’s low-code tools. After the menu went live, employees asked if they could order their food through the app, so the facility team expanded the app to include food orders using the same tool sets. Then, of course, the app needs to include a payment system to purchase orders, so it’s even more thriving.

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ServiceNow App Engine graphical interface (click image to enlarge)

“They [employees] usually starting with a form-based app, then seeing that they want to do more, ”Torres said.

One of ServiceNow’s clients, Deloitte UK, has created a portal using the App Engine for everything employees need to do their job. Inside the portal is a “MyOnboarding” app that digitizes the onboarding process, including former paper forms that are printed, scanned, then emailed. Employees can also use the portal to search for upcoming holidays and book meeting rooms. Human resources is a major user of low -code development tools, according to Sarah Pfuhl, vice president of Global Talent Development at ServiceNow.

HR is a hotbed for citizen development as the business needs there continue to evolve-particularly after the pandemic and increasing remote employment. In fact, the Pfuhl department’s most widely used application was created by an HR employee who only saw one point of pain and found a fix for it.

Before creating an online hub for learning and development (L&D), Pfhul’s HR team would email back and forth with employees looking for educational opportunities. The process is difficult, time consuming, and immeasurable as the company grows.

The HR team used low code to build a new L&D hub that centralized all training programs in less than a month to better engage the company’s 17,000 employees worldwide. They were able to add to the learning program nomination process within a week using those same tools.

“This woman is not a developer, and she just started doing HR a few years ago,” Pfuhl said. “He built the L&D hub using low-code in a week. He then goes to our digital technology team to make sure it’s within the management of our business and goes into the business to make sure it’s done right for them. ”

“Once he can show what the product will be and what it can do for people, everyone gets on board,” Pfuhl continued. Since launching in February, the L&D hub has been used by 16,000 people.

“There’s no way there’s going to be that level of engagement without that hub,” Pfuhl said. “I think [low-code is] the wave of the future. Like all other digital transformation, HR also needs to embrace it.

“I think we know what our people want. We listen a lot, ”he continued. “If a company does the right thing, it’s because you’re doing what employees tell you they need. They like the workflow. They want it easy to use. You want the iPhone to be easy. “

Preventing citizen developers from becoming rogue

Critical to launching any new app created by a citizen developer is management, Pfuhl pointed out. You cannot launch an app; once it is built, the business side should always consult with the IT side to ensure that it is in accordance with the company’s guidelines.

“I have to tell you, from now on I’m looking at the product mindset on my team, because I think it’s going to be the future,” Pfuhl said.

Schneider Electric, a digital automation and energy management provider with approximately 130,000 employees worldwide, has had a citizen development program for the past seven years.

Abha Dogra, senior vice president of Digital Technology and North America CIO at Schneider Electric, said managing and managing to prevent app proliferation is key to a successful strategy without code for development.

app engine management center Service Today

ServiceNow App Engine app management center (click image to enlarge)

Otherwise, business applications made outside of the traditional development process can expose a business to vulnerabilities, such as cyber security attacks, and the creation of immeasurable digital assets. . It can also increase “technical debt,” or the amount of additional development that comes from choosing the easy solution in a more thorough way.

“Your use cases usually start with a small problem, but gradually they become larger and require a full-fledged software application with hardening development, and proper testing with checks and balances for in threat modeling. It’s a very thin line when a small use case, perfect for low code/no-code, suddenly enters the space of a full-fledged application, ”Dogra said.

“So, while there is a need for every business to have a low-code/no-code platform, its launch and its introduction for citizen developers should be well thought out and have a good management mechanism behind it. of it, “Dogra added.

ServiceNow’s Torres agrees with Dogra, saying that while IT departments have always had to contend with “shadow IT,” low-code and no-code tools have exacerbated the need for carefully planned management. .

The ServiceNow platform allows users to create a Center of Excellence for management and rules around development where each application created can be reviewed.

“People who don’t make software for a living don’t understand that the maximum cost isn’t related to making apps but maintaining them. In the past, you’d see departments develop an app and then be told , ‘Here you go, IT. It’s yours now,’ “Torres said.” It’s like, ‘Whoa. One, I don’t know about this application; two, I’m not the staff for it; and three, what is it? ‘”

“It’s not because IT doesn’t want to partner [with citizen developers] and helped. This is because ultimately, they are responsible for the security of systems and data throughout the company, ”Torres said. “They don’t want this app to spread … where they look and there are 10,000 apps they don’t know about.”

Ultimately, citizen development programs must offer IT visibility to any application made before it goes live, which also ensures that the software stays within the security and regulatory guardrails of an organization.

“That’s how you do things in size and how you make sure there’s no issue that could be a security or compliance issue,” Torres said.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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