The rush is on to digitise products, services, customer engagement and operations; both to capitalise on the opportunity and to avoid becoming a victim of new and faster competition. According to MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research, 32 percent of revenue is at risk by 2020 due to digital disruption. This suggests a debilitating future for firms which lag behind in the digital revolution. Leaders will steal their revenue.
Creating an innovation ‘fast-lane’
To survive and thrive, every company must become an innovative software company. Firms must harness the power of modern application software to differentiate themselves; create new products or channels that weren’t accessible before; and engage customers, partners and employees in new ways. Perhaps most critical of all, it means releasing applications early and often and ensuring a cycle of continuous innovation.
The challenge for established firms though is that existing IT teams are rightly focused on maintaining core applications and critical systems. To overcome this, many companies embrace a ‘bi-modal’ IT approach to digital transformation augmenting existing resources with small, cross-functional teams focused exclusively on innovative applications. Typically, team members are tech-savvy business people or business-savvy tech people – the point being that they’re able to bridge the gap between business needs and technical possibilities to transform ideas into applications quickly.
It’s important to recognise that requirements for digital solutions are often fuzzy at the start of the project. Teams should work, in short, iterative cycles in close collaboration with end users. The key is to define the minimum viable or useful functionality required of an application, build and release that version, then iterate continually based on user feedback.
No need to Code
Writing applications using traditional code-based approaches doesn’t always suit rapid-pace software development. Skilled coders are in short supply and can be challenging and expensive to recruit. And coding an application can take a long time, versus other approaches, without delivering the desired business outcomes. An alternative is to consider a low-code development platform, which offers a visual modelling ‘drag and drop to a workflow’ approach to building applications. Mendix is one of many such platforms.
The use of visual models to define an application’s data model, user interface and logic creates a common language for business and IT to collaborate and progress the build iteratively. It also delivers significant productivity gains over hand-coding. Typically, suitable applications are given six, even ten times faster when using visual modelling than via traditional coding approaches. Visual modelling platforms also further shorten time to market through offering reusable components, drag-and-drop connectors to enterprise systems as well as IoT, big data and machine learning platforms, one-click cloud deployment, and more.
How to use a Visual Modelling Platform
While a logical mind is imperative, most low-code development platforms require no prior programming experience. Learners can expect, to begin with a vendor provided online training session or workshop. This will present the basics of how to use their platform to capture requirements, and build applications simply via selecting themes and components from a library and dropping them into a workflow. Delegates can learn in just a day or so to build their own simple web and mobile applications, which they can deploy locally or in the Cloud. Most have an active developer community offering guidance, support and meet-ups. Vendors typically also offer advanced training courses and workshops. Some provide formal exams too, allowing progress to certified developer status on that vendor’s platform.
Of course, the ability for non-coders to quickly pick up these platforms shouldn’t imply that professional developers can’t also leverage them. In fact, developers who value speed and close collaboration with peers from the business over getting bogged down in specific technologies often embrace visual modelling.
Evidence from the Field
Does it work? There are plenty of good examples around for using low-code development platforms to speed up digital transformation projects. At UK insurer Liverpool Victoria (“LV=”) the CIO says that using a visual modelling platform is helping them to achieve the speed and agility to compete in a growingly innovative UK industry. Springer Healthcare, a publisher, built in just 12 weeks a mobile application for its sales force that would have taken 52 weeks to create using code, while Kao Beauty built a global sales application for its mobile workforce in just one tenth of the time coding would have taken. Another visual modelling advocate is the charity Action for Children. Its head of business systems development says that constructing applications this way is fast, giving working prototypes they can demonstrate to users in just days, enabling the step-by-step creation of user-friendly and fit-for-purpose applications.
The demand for digital transformation projects is putting lots of pressure on business and IT leaders. Low-code development platforms are well proven to support the innovation and fast delivery of fitting applications that customers, employees and partners are eager to use. Skilled coders are worth their weight in gold. But your people don’t always have to be able to code to create great digital applications.