Low code apps: the future or nightmare

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Founder & CEO, Elements.cloud
30+ years in business transformation and operational excellence as executive sponsor, consultant and software vendor. Author of 8 books, prolific blogger and conference speaker Based in San Francisco, London and in a 747 Powered by Duracell

Low-code apps are maturing and being adopted in more and more corporations – often taken in by the business users.  IT often sees them as threat and a risk.  But they can help IT and make them able to be more reactive and supportive to the business users’ needs. But, are they too much power in the hands of citizen developers who are fragmenting the IT architecture?  However, cloud low code apps mean that IT will struggle to control their growth/usage. This article explores the pros and cons and the right reaction from the CIO.


The business is now in control
Now that every organization is dependent on technology, Line Of Business(LOB) management are more aware of the capabilities and potential for technology to drive transformational change before their business is undermined by a more nimble, technology enabled start-up.

Clearly, new technologies are a key factor in delivering a better customer experience, rethinking how staff can deliver more effectively, and leveraging 3rd parties.  Therefore, the heads of business units have become more involved in the investment process – the specification, selection and procurement – for technology.

IT reputation/responsiveness
CIOs have lost the confidence of the business because they are seen to be unresponsive in delivering the infrastructure and applications that the business feels they must have to be competitive.  In the last 5-10 years, the business users’ experience of what a great technology UX feels like, and what applications are capable of doing is shaped by their experiences as consumers.  And that colors the business user’s expectations.

What the business user fails to appreciate is that many of these very compelling apps often have a narrow scope. They are not easily integrated into the corporate IT architecture. And they probably fall short of corporate IT infrastructure, compliance and security standards.

Over the last 2-3 years, the CIOs’ pain has got worse as now they are being judged against enterprise apps that are being launched in the cloud, with very compelling price points, truly elegant UXs, and very easy onboarding. So CIOs recognize that they cannot stand as gatekeeper.  With the cloud it is too easy for business users to fly under IT’s radar and start using cloud apps without the permission, support or knowledge of the CIO.

But, business users are now implementing cloud apps, taking advantage of the freemium and trial pricing models offered by cloud vendors. Purchasing decisions are made based on short term ROI and a superficial view of the functionality. Little or no consideration is made of how the apps will fit into the IT architecture and there is no technical due diligence of the company behind the app.   “We are running on AWS” is not a universal stamp of approval.  It does not give any indication of the level of backup, restore and disaster recovery support that the vendor has put in place. For some industries data location is critically important. “It is in the cloud” is not an acceptable answer.

Business is in control
The immediate gratification of getting started within minutes of registering, intuitive functionality, and low pricing make it compelling.  For all of this, the business users are happy to make compromises, such as multiple logons and integration work-arounds.

A recent and interesting development is that cloud apps are now coming to market in the workflow and integration space. These are enabling business users with only a little technical knowledge to build and deploy complex workflow apps to the web and mobile. And they are no longer stand-alone.  Many of these apps can be integrated into core enterprise data and applications such as SAP, Oracle or Salesforce, with little or no support from the IT department.

The low-code app builders
Low-code app vendors are targeting the LOB user. They promise rapid development of robust apps deployed onto any device.  And, rapid means days not weeks.

The extraordinarily development speed is achieved by very visual tools for designing the process, drag and drop WYSIWG screen builders with reusable templates for the different devices, and pre-built connectors into the core enterprise applications. But also a different mindset when building the app: think “disposable apps”.

The speed of development, often less than a day from user requirement to first cut of the app, is encouraging an iterative design approach: get something out and cycle until you get it right. It also means that smaller short term disposable apps can be built and still get a positive ROI.  Before the cost of internal IT development to solve a small problem was too great. Now many more problems can be solved by small, rapidly built apps.

CIOs worst nightmare
The thought of tens, if not hundreds, of unmanaged and undocumented apps in the cloud, that are being used to deliver operational processes, tapping into and modifying core data is frightening.  And this also opens the company to security, regulatory and reputational risks.

Opportunity on both sides of the table
Rather than look at the downside, this could be seen as a huge opportunity. The CIO could support the business units and use a low-code app builder to start to reduce the backlog of projects.

Clearly not all projects can be delivered this way. But it will also build some bridges between IT and the business. However, this cannot be seen by the business as a way for the CIO to muscle in and control or shutdown these activities.  Any whiff of that and it will drive the development underground.

The business should see this as a chance to leverage the CIO’s team to build apps that are more integrated into core data. But they need to think about when and how they approach the CIO: just after a representative app has proven to be a success. It is far better to engage the CIO – at the right time – than remain black-ops hoping you are not discovered.

Final word
With or without the CIOs’ blessing, low-code apps will start to be deployed in companies of all sizes. This is an opportunity for the CIO to leverage the technology to build bridges with the business, reduce the backlog of business projects, be seen to be more responsive.

Finally, the CIO could look like a rock star in the eyes of the business user.

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