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By Jeff Koyen
Teach a person to fish, the old saying goes, and they’ll feed themselves forever. In the low-code era, that’s also true for many employees. If you give them the right tools and training, they can solve their own business problems by building custom apps.
“We’re seeing a lot of knowledge workers outside of IT embracing low-code tools to solve the challenge of automating their business processes,” says Gregg Aldana, senior director of creator workflows global solution consulting at ServiceNow. “It’s happening in every department, including HR, marketing and sales.”
These workers, sometimes called “citizen developers,” are serving not just their colleagues, but also other departments. Sanctioned by IT and empowered by management, their bespoke low-code apps are saving time and money for entire companies.
Aldana shared stories from several industries that illustrate the strategic value of citizen developers.
The Hospital That Cured Its Paperwork Problem
Like thousands of other organizations, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was forced to send many of its employees home when Covid-19 hit. And like many other companies, the hospital quickly realized its workflows were not optimized for remote work.
One issue: Contracts and other documents were stored as PDFs on a third-party platform, DocuSign—which wasn’t integrated with other key services. One employee saw an opportunity to fix the problem by building a low-code app.
“This employee was far from your traditional full-stack professional application developer,” Aldana says, “but in less than three weeks, he was able to go from idea to production, building a new low-code workflow application that used an out-of-the-box, no-code integration to connect to their document management platform, DocuSign, and then intelligently route the contracts through reviews and approvals, helping to facilitate the electronic signing process.”
This example highlights how low-code can streamline mission-critical business processes.
“Within healthcare, there’s a great deal of repetitive and non-value added manual tasks that cause friction and take away from providing essential care to patients,” Aldana says. “It’s the perfect environment for automating these processes rapidly with low-code apps.”
The Aircraft Manufacturer That Flew Through Approval Processes
Another use case for low-code applications is what Aldana calls “doc ops”—or document operations. To explain, he points to how an aeronautics manufacturing company built a low-code application to manage its flight manual publishing processes, which significantly increased efficiency.
“Without an up-to-date flight operations manual, a plane is grounded,” said Aldana. “And every time they manufacture or modify a part of an aircraft, they have to update the corresponding operations manual.”
That’s a lot of updates—and the potential to lose a huge amount of time and money if an airplane can’t fly because of an out-of-date manual.
Until recently, revisions and approvals to these flight manuals were managed and exchanged inefficiently as emails and countless non-value-added manual tasks among the manufacturing engineers, publication writers, diagram illustrators, content taggers and quality assurance professionals.
Enter: low-code. “Rather than price out an expensive off-the-shelf point publishing solution that would need to be dramatically customized, they used ServiceNow’s low-code App Engine to automate these workflows between the different personas involved,” Aldana says. “Now, when a publication text or diagram illustration needs to be updated, those tasks are automatically routed to the right individual in a timely manner. Changes are made and versions are tracked automatically, all within the low-code app on ServiceNow.”
The app is helping to eliminate 88% of the non-value-added time required to update flight manuals. Updated flight manuals—whether hard copy or electronic—will be able to reach operators up to 75% faster than before.
The Retailer That Opened More Doors For Its Employees
This global retailer has a famous “open door” communications policy dating back to the founding of the company. Within it, senior executives pledge to consider every employee’s concerns and ideas.
But the volume of feedback can become a challenge for a company with millions of corporate and retail employees. This ambitious program had grown into “18,000 emails landing in the CEO’s idea and concern inbox monthly,” says Aldana.
Management needed a more efficient system for collecting ideas, complaints and whatever else might be on the minds of employees.
Solution: A low-code app. Built in just a few weeks, it invites all employees—corporate and retail—to submit their questions and concerns through a simple interface. Every query is intelligently routed to the correct level of management and the right department. Every employee receives a confirmation with an expectation of when they will receive a response that they can track.
“This has been one of the most successful low-code applications I have seen a customer implement,” Aldana says. “It’s improving employee retention and communication, and it’s generated some really cool ideas that may never have made it up the ladder otherwise.”
The Snack And Beverage Company That Aligned Marketing And HR
The marketing department at a large food, snack and beverage company used low-code app development to automate their business and collaborate with HR.
“Marketing needed an app to create new in-store trade promotions more effectively, and the field reps needed to pull together a lot of resources very quickly,” Aldana explains. “They built a low-code app with ServiceNow in two days to manage this process.”
Each new trade promotion required the company to onboard temporary employees. Rather than initiating these requests manually through a separate application in HR, the marketing team built a low-code integration in their app that connected directly to HR’s workflow apps.
“This was a total game-changer, “Aldana says. “They built the app with our low-code App Engine and Integration Hub in two days and were able to rapidly integrate the marketing campaign with HR. The temporary employee onboarding workflows started automatically as part of the trade promotion app.”
And if those temporary employees needed a cell phone or a laptop, similar integrations kick off IT service management workflows automatically.
“It’s all part of one continuous low-code workflow that is transforming their enterprise service management strategy” Aldana says.