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Dutch province pioneers no-code platform

Software development platform removes the need for expert programmers when adding functionality to applications

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The Netherlands province of Zuid-Holland has signed an agreement with rapidly growing Dutch “no-code” platform supplier Betty Blocks to replace outdated applications and develop new ones. Other Dutch provinces and governments are also showing interest.

“No-code” or “low-code” platforms enable businesses to create applications without having to write in any programming language.

Alkmaar-based software company Betty Blocks is growing quickly, according to CEO Chris Obdam, who runs the software company with his brother Tim.

The brothers established the company 17 years ago. They developed tailor-made software, Chris working as programmer and Tim as operational director.

To date, Betty Blocks has focused entirely on building a no-code platform, and has been recognised as a visionary in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant and a leader in the Forrester Wave. It now has overseas branches in London and Atlanta, and continues to grow steadily, despite being without venture capital or other investors.

At the moment, Betty Blocks is seeing the strongest adoption of its technology in the Netherlands. “The Netherlands has always been progressive in the field of software tooling,” said Chris Obdam. “All major players in the field of no-code platforms are active in the Netherlands and also have a sales office, simply because our market is already the most accustomed to this concept.”

The company has sealed a strategic partnership with Zuid-Holland, a region of 3.68 million inhabitants that is responsible for developing regional plans, zoning guidelines and environmental management. 

All 12 provinces in the Netherlands are currently under pressure to step up their digital innovation by 2020.

Mike Gonesh, business applications team manager at Zuid-Holland, said: “In the past, it could take quite some time before we came back to users with an answer to their questions. What is more, the search for the answer to a question always took place within the IT department.”

The speed of action, agility and user participation offered by a low-code/no-code platform appealed to the province, said Gonesh. Initially, it looked at the market-leading platform, but soon several suppliers were on its doorstep to show off their technology.

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“Betty Blocks was one of them,” said Gonesh. “We put a number of use cases to various suppliers to gain insight into the differences between their platforms, the functionality and which solution best suited our organisation.

“In fact, their platforms did not differ much from each other, but the feeling about Betty Blocks was very good, as was the price they offered.”

The two parties signed up for a three-year collaboration, with a possible extension. “In this way, we are assured of good service in the coming years,” said Gonesh.

If Gonesh and his team now receive a question from the organisation, they have an extra asset to use. “We currently have about 130 applications,” he said. “This requires a lot of maintenance and management in terms of functionality. All the new requirements from users require a bit of customisation. With the Betty Blocks platform, we can set this up quickly and flexibly.”

It is always possible to buy off-the-shelf applications from the market, said Gonesh, but the agility and ease of deployment of the no-code platform is appealing. “In our organisation, Excel sheets have always been used as a kind of application, but these files become difficult to manage, although there is quite a lot of business-critical information in there,” he said. “The Betty Blocks platform is a good way to secure information from, for example, Excel and Access.”

Obdam said: “Users are looking for a tool that solves their problems precisely. This is often done with Excel or Access, because everyone wants to make their own work more efficient, so they are more successful and can work more pleasantly.

“Platforms like ours offer the ability to build real applications that can be used by multiple people, comply with laws and regulations, and are secure.”

Gonesh added: “Collaboration is vital in the development of no-code applications. When we start working with a question, a team is formed including the users themselves and the developer – in our case, this is often EsperantoXL, a partner of Betty Blocks with whom we work a lot.

“You try to bypass the programming language as much as possible in order to make it as simple as possible for the users in their professional jargon.”

Completely satisfied

Zuid-Holland province is now using its first Betty Blocks application – for the administration and settlement of damage claims – and users are completely satisfied, said Gonesh, adding: “I have only heard positive noises about the process and the final application.”

It is not the province’s intention to transfer all of its 130 applications to the no-code platform. It makes a distinction between business-critical (mode 1) applications and smaller systems (mode 2 applications). “With regard to the latter, we must take a critical look at what it costs to repurchase them, what it costs to convert them into no-code and what advantages this offers compared to what is already available on the market,” said Gonesh.

Gonesh is surprised how often he is approached by other Dutch provinces and government agencies that are interested in how Zuid-Holland works with the no-code platform. “They are curious about our experiences, what we do, what we use it for and what it brings us,” he said. “We are really ahead of Netherlands governments in this area.”

According to Gonesh, the province is only at the beginning of its use of no-code platforms. “If this really takes off and our organisation and IT department have a clear idea of the possibilities offered by this type of platform, I think it will become the standard for our organisation in the future,” he said.

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