(this article originally appeared on siliconAngle.com and was written by Jason Bloomberg, President of Intellyx )
Low-code platforms are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to hand-coding applications, particularly in large enterprises.
The reasons for this switch are also rapidly becoming well-established: Low-code, a method of developing software applications quickly with little manual coding, accelerates the work of professional developers, leading to a more rapid delivery of software that is also of higher quality.
However, though speed, quality and the cost savings that result are often the only argument anybody needs in order to make the move to low-code, there are plenty of other business motivations as well.
Here are five lesser-known business benefits along with real-world success stories to back them up. (* Disclosure below.)
Competing with larger companies: Colliers International
Colliers International Group Inc. is a global real estate services and investment management company. It provides advice and services to maximize the value of property for real estate occupiers, owners and investors.
Although Colliers has more than 14,000 employees globally, it runs a lean information technology shop, with only about 300 people around the world. As a result of this lean operation, “we have to compete in a different way with companies that spend more on technology,” according to Mihai Strusievici, vice president of global IT at Colliers.
In particular, Colliers needed to retire end-of-life legacy systems. In the process of rebuilding one of the systems, they found they had an opportunity to build a new mobile app. “The old app had no direct broker interaction,” explained Strusievici. “Now we have a mobile app for brokers.”
Strusievici decided to take a low-code approach and selected OutSystems Inc., because it dealt well with both the underlying data as well as building a modern user interface.
Colliers started with the broker app, but soon moved onto other apps. “We want an ecosystem of small, specialized apps with an exceptional user experience,” Strusievici said. “They need to be connected, not siloed.”
Aligning business and IT: Optum (UnitedHealth Group)
Optum provides information and technology-enabled health services for its parent, UnitedHealth Group, a diversified health and well-being company.
Optum faced challenges with its claims processing applications – both improving the core claims business processes themselves as well as improving the automation of those processes.
As with many enterprises, getting the lines of business and IT to see eye-to-eye was one of the first hurdles Optum had to overcome. “Some of the big problems were getting the business and IT to come together,” explained Mark O’Connor, director of the architecture and business process management center of excellence at UnitedHealth Group.
O’Connor’s team chose low-code vendor Pegasystems Inc. to help with the transformation of Optum’s claims processing. “We’re pursuing a partnership with Pega to build some claims applications,” O’Connor said. “The low-code features within Pega really help get those folks together and talking the same language.”
This ability to bring stakeholders and software developers together to work on new applications iteratively is a particular strength of low-code platforms such as Pega.
In fact, Optum found that developers were able to approach creating applications proactively. “By the time the developers are pulled in, they know what needs to be built, and they can do it more quickly, and it’s more clearly defined,” O’Connor said. “We can bring in a more complex problem and let the business sit right down next to us and be involved and get the solution into production quickly.”
Building workflows without adding technical debt: The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army is both a church and an international charitable organization. It has more than 100,000 employees across five global zones, and The Salvation Army USA itself has four regions. Its western region, which covers 13 western states including Alaska and Hawaii, has 6,000 employees.
The western region decided to implement Office 365 and SharePoint, and they wanted to build workflow-centric applications that leveraged these Microsoft Corp. technologies without incurring additional legacy technology debt.
Low-code proved to be the answer, and the organization chose AgilePoint Inc. “We were concerned about the limitations of products that are only Office 365/SharePoint-oriented, as well as the limitations of Office 365/SharePoint itself,” said David Brown, director of applications at The Salvation Army’s western region. “We knew we wanted something that would work with Office 365 and Microsoft SQL standards, as well as other applications like Salesforce.”
AgilePoint specializes in “digital process automation,” which was a good fit for The Salvation Army. “AgilePoint brought us a part of the project we could now do ourselves,” Brown continued. “A number of times we were able to develop the entire solution in AgilePoint. The alternative would have been traditional development, even on the Office 365 platform.”
AgilePoint and the low-code DPA approach changed the way the team looked at building applications, as it was now far simpler and less time-consuming. “For most of our applications, we have experienced a 70% to 80% reduction in our application development lifecycle,” Brown said. “In most cases, the same single IT staff member assigned to the ‘we need an app built’ project can take it from initial discovery all the way into production.”
Including software in projects: Bam Infra (Royal BAM Group)
Royal BAM Group is a European construction firm with ten operating companies active in construction and property, civil engineering, and public-private partnerships. BAM Infra is a business unit of BAM Group responsible for infrastructure projects in the Netherlands.
As part of BAM Infra’s digital transformation, it implemented a digital construction initiative that delivered supporting software for both employees and contractors before shovels hit the dirt.
Low-code was an essential enabler of this initiative, supporting a number of use cases including winning contracts, finding cost-savings efficiencies in projects, and transforming how the company runs its projects.
BAM Infra chose Mendix, a low-code platform that provided visual, model-driven development for the company’s smart electric meter project.
Reducing the time to market was an important benefit of this low-code approach. “When you win the tender, you only have two or three months to get everything up and running before you start the project,” explained Frans Verbiest, unit manager for application services at BAM Infra. “Within that period of time all the software must be built, released, tested, et cetera, and if you don’t have a low-code platform, you simply won’t get it done in time.”
BAM Infra also found that including a software component in its heavy construction bids increased its chances of winning the work. “We included in our offer that we had a complete software package supporting the whole installation process from end-to-end,” Verbiest added. “By including the software in our offer, we won the tender and we also beat out our software competitor.”
Continuous innovation: bswift (CVS Health)
Bswift offers cloud-based software and services that streamline benefits, HR and payroll administration for employers and public and private exchanges nationwide. Bswift became a part of CVS Health when CVS acquired its parent company, Aetna.
As a cloud-based innovator in the benefits industry, bswift brought the ability to deliver rapid market disruption to its parent company. “We required an environment of innovation without a loss of integrity,” explained Devin Parsons, vice president and head of digital transformation at bswift.
For Parsons, low-code was a must-have. “To be a disruptor, you can never stop innovating,” he said. “We wanted to move upmarket. We required speed and customizability.”
His team chose OutSystems, largely because the vendor built its platform to support C# on the Microsoft .NET framework. “We chose OutSystems in case we had to backstop with our C# and .Net skills,” Parsons explained. “We ended up doing very little hand-coding, however. We thought we were going to do more.”
Choosing a low-code platform afforded bswift the ability to deliver continuous improvement without incurring additional legacy debt – and the team could build apps much faster than before. “We were able to deliver apps in six weeks, which was a game-changer,” Parsons said. “The alternative was six months.”
Using OutSystems quickly gave bswift (and by extension, CVS Health) a competitive advantage. “We can deliver products in ways that competitors simply can’t,” Parsons added. “We can now be more aggressive in the marketplace.”
Has low-code arrived?
With the number and variety of low-code success stories, you’d think that every enterprise would be sold on the approach. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Low-code still experiences resistance from several quarters. Developers are worried they’ll be out of a job. IT managers are concerned that low-code platforms aren’t up to the challenges they face. Chief information officers are concerned low-code will exacerbate shadow IT issues.
In spite of such resistance, low-code is winning over people all the time, and as the products on the market continue to mature, there’s no reason to believe that low-code won’t continue to attract fans on all sides.
Jason Bloomberg is founder and president of the agile digital transformation analyst firm Intellyx, which advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives and helps suppliers communicate their agility stories. Bloomberg, who can be followed on Twitter and LinkedIn, is also the author or coauthor of four books, including “The Agile Architecture Revolution.”
(* Disclosure: AgilePoint and OutSystems are Intellyx customers, and Microsoft is a former Intellyx customer. None of the other organizations mentioned in this article is an Intellyx customer.)