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A modern approach to enterprise software development
Overworked IT departments need a better way to deliver digitally enabled products and services at the speed the business requires
By 2024, 80% of technology products and services will be built by people who are not full-time technical professionals. This is one of the findings revealed by Gartner during its annual Symposium in Barcelona.
Combined with robotic process automation (RPA) and the concept of composable business, in which teams across IT and the business implement composable applications, on the takeaway menu at the Gartner Symposium is the fact that CIOs may need to rethink how and where they allocate resources to support digital business initiatives.
In a presentation entitled The new economics of technology, Gartner distinguished analyst Daryl Plummer asked delegates to consider what the notion of writing the code means to them. He said: “Is it about writing code or is it something else?”
Low-code and no-code tooling makes it easy enough for almost anyone to “program”, which, according to Plummer, means the business needs to distinguish between tasks that can be achieved by workers using such tooling and where specialist developers are needed.
In fact, using eBay as an example, Plummer suggested that low-code and no-code could be regarded as part of normal work activity. On eBay, for instance, although it provides a site for auctions, all of the actual work – from uploading images of products to writing descriptions and postage – are tasks that eBay customers do for themselves.
It is the concept of “bring your own” application and data analytics, in which employees take on responsibility for creating applications and the analytics needed to do their work. Professional developers are then free to develop the IT integration and governance required to support this environment.
Such a policy on application development may offer IT leaders a way to combat the ever-growing IT skills crisis and work backlog brought on by the business’s appetite for digitisation, artificial intelligence and RPA.
Manufacturer Dyson is a customer of low-code tools provider Mendix. It has used Mendix to develop native web and mobile applications, which can be used at the point of manufacturing or in a distribution centre.
Discussing the opportunities of low-code tools, Tom Wilmot, strategy transformation manager at Dyson, said: “Low code is a fantastic capability for making business react in a secure and safe environment. It enables us to work with IT in a way that we do safely without a full project lifecycle.”
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant report for low-code tools, published in September 2021, forecast that by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies – up from less than 25% in 2020. Gartner reported that, on average, 41% of employees in an organisation are business technologists. These are employees who report outside of IT departments and create technology or analytics capabilities for internal or external business use.
Although all of this is positive news for overworked IT departments, there is a huge risk that low code could open businesses to a nightmare of unmanaged applications. It happened with Excel macros, where people developed neat spreadsheet automation tricks that became embedded in business processes. But if the person who originally developed the macro leaves the business, because the script is undocumented, no one in IT is aware of the macro or how it works.
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Given the potential benefits that low-code tools offer in terms of enabling people in the business to develop their own software to improve the efficiency of the business processes with which they interact, the industry is recognising the massive risk that this poses.
Dyson’s Wilmot said the business has concentrated on operational excellence focused on project audits, adding that people and the process around low-code development are crucial. He suggested that CIOs should decide: “Who will be your core low-code coders in IT and in the business?”
Wilmot also urged CIOs considering the idea of opening up low-code development to business users who would like to code, to ensure that processes are in place to prevent the code they develop from “running wild”.
Clearly there are numerous opportunities to improve on how things work, especially in organisations that have grown organically over time, where, to achieve a business objective, employees need to use numerous systems that don’t talk to each other. More often than not, data has to be rekeyed, which is both error-prone and labour-intensive.
Gartner regards low code as a key component of hyper-automation, which it defines as orchestration using multiple technologies, tools or platforms. Such orchestration offers a way to integrate disparate systems that eliminates, or cuts back on, the level of manual intervention required. Research for its Magic Quadrant report found that 13% of business technologists indicate that low-code development tools are among the three tools used the most (based on frequency and volume) to support automation initiatives.
For instance, Santander, a Blue Prism customer, has used RPA on a number of projects to save 625 hours of work. Piotr Wyrzykowski, IT area lead at Santander Bank Polska, said the bank had run a discovery process to identify projects suitable for automation, one of which involved customer complaints. By using RPA, he said, Santander was able to reduce the complaints-handling process from two days to two hours.
Santander is also using RPA to integrate its services, which can then be offered through partner financial institutes to fulfil customer banking needs using the bank’s products and services.
These technologies can be tied together in an overall strategy for digitally empowering the business. Gartner uses the term “composable business” to describe a business organised, from a digital technology perspective, into distinct blocks of application functionality designed for easy configurability to meet ever-changing business requirements.
According to Gartner, organisations are adopting application composition technologies that enable teams that combine business and IT people to implement composable applications.
Low-code application platforms are one of the key technologies that drive greater composability of application services, functionality and capabilities.