Leveraging low code and citizen development platforms to accelerate digital transformation

Instituting low code or citizen development platforms can enable CIOs to meet the application development demands of digital transformation programs.

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Once you complete a digital strategy, develop a deeper understanding of how to improve customer experiences, rationalize the potential impact of new digital competitors, and consider strategic impact of leveraging emerging technologies - all these and other analyses that go into a digital transformation program - you’ll soon realize that a large part of executing the plan will involve modernizing legacy and developing new applications.

Some of these applications will be customer facing and others will help automate employee workflows and improve productivity. Some will be mobile first experiences while others will address complex workflows requiring the integration of multiple enterprise data sources and external services. Many will address business processes that were developed around email and spreadsheets and never had formalized workflows.

So as a CIO, you have to consider what practices, platforms, and people you will leverage to address the potential explosion in demand for the development of new and upgraded applications. Many of you will leverage agile practices to develop the applications so that you can incorporate user feedback to prioritize work toward a minimally viable product. But being agile isn't enough, so what other options will you consider to give another boost in productivity?

Will you stick with traditional development approaches and build applications in your standard application development stacks or will you explore other “low code” platforms aimed to give your application developers a boost in productivity? Perhaps you will go beyond IT and consider platforms that target “citizen developers”, that is, employees that are not trained software developers but have sufficient technology skills and understanding of the business process that with easy to use platforms, can be very successful developing and supporting their own applications.

The explosions on new low code code and citizen development platforms

My first experience with a web based citizen development platform was about fifteen years ago when my startup needed a platform to manage ad sales. We used Quickbase to develop workflows for capturing new ad sales, buying inventory from a network of websites, and generating invoices. Today we know this as an ad network, but back then there were few tools to enable this workflow between publishers and advertisers.

Today, there’s an explosion of these platforms. Forrester identifies fourteen low code platform vendors, Gartner has its magic quadrant for “Enterprise High-Productivity Application Platform as a Service”, and there are many tools to accelerate mobile development. I strongly suggest getting a deeper understanding of the differences between low code versus citizen development platforms, and reviewing a typical process of how these applications are developed.

At the recent nGage Enterprise Transformation Exchange conference, the CEOs from three emerging platforms PowWow Mobile, SkyGiraffe, and Sapho discussed the value of their platforms. Since it is difficult to evaluate development platforms, I asked them to suggest metrics and KPIs that help differentiate the business outcomes of using their platforms versus traditional application development languages. Here is the quick list suggested by this group:

  • Usability metrics that demonstrate how quickly end users adopt and leverage the applications to deliver business value.
  • The number of applications developed on the platforms since you’ll have higher return on the platform investment with more applications developed.
  • Time on design and other speed to market metrics that demonstrate the platform’s productivity impact around rapid development.
  • Openness of the platform and reusability of developed components to avoid vendor lockin and to ensure applications developed can be easily supported. 

These are all metrics that enterprises will only be able to measure and understand once a platform is selected and leveraged for some time. When evaluating these platforms, CIOs should consider developing a portfolio of use cases and developing a handful of pilot applications to aid in the evaluation. But failing to consider these tools may be a big mistake for CIOs especially if their IT departments can’t keep up with the demand for applications and if business units make rogue investments without IT support.

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