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It’s fair to assume that any organisations not going through some form of technology enabled transformation are today firmly in the minority. However, according to McKinsey, 70% of digital transformations fail, suggesting that intent alone is no guarantee of success.
We help organisations scope and implement transformative projects using low code and the challenge we experience is too much slow and steady and not enough opportunism. Most organisations have large scale change projects that think big and have the potential to tackle numerous objectives under the broad banner of ‘digital transformation’. But these may be hard to get off the ground, could be slow to adapt and the more stakeholders you add into the mix the higher the risk of inertia. By the time it's complete (if indeed it does even get completed) some business requirements may have already moved on.
Smaller projects may be less exciting on the CV or seem unambitious when getting executive buy-in, but they allow the opportunity for tightly focused programmes that deliver results quickly. An over-focus on strategic transformation projects involving huge scoping and planning can be at the detriment of quick wins needed to build groundswell and momentum. The fixes that are needed urgently tomorrow get missed, and over time, appetite for transformation wanes while cynicism grows. When the pandemic came along and forced organisations to implement digital applications in days rather than months, it was a lesson for many that not everything you want to change needs to take forever. It also thrust low code and ‘citizen development’ into the limelight.
Low code platforms, such as ServiceNow and its App Engine solution, absolutely provide the framework required to build and deploy transformative apps quickly without huge amounts of technical knowledge. In fact, low code has the power to enable organisations to ‘cherry pick’ the crucial quick wins and benefit from them to build more transformative momentum than any top down strategy alone can. Although big transformation projects are still essential, changing and improving the way people work in small and focused ways gets different business functions thinking more creatively about change and actively contributing more ideas to IT.
The dangers of digital inertia aren’t simply that things won’t get done. With technology becoming increasingly democratised, there’s also a high risk that people will go and find their own solution, leading to a long blind alley of shadow IT that is very hard to reverse out of. Low code platforms provide an antidote to this by giving organisations an approved platform that is easy to use, on the proviso that good governance and planning are in place too.
Although low code platforms offer the means for rapid transformation, they don’t find the solution for you. Organisations still need to locate and isolate the problem, however niche, to be able to create the necessary fix. Low code, coupled with business analysis and implementation skills, gives IT the ability respond quickly to urgent needs while still pushing the company-wide transformation agenda forward. It helps IT counter feelings of disenchantment, because the big promise of improvement seems never to happen.
The ideal low hanging low code project
There are various projects that are ripe for rapid transformation through low code development. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in this context, this is commonly true. The greater the urgency for genuine change, the more suitable the project (and low code as the means).
COVID-19 triggered many such projects. For one train network operator, as the legislation and responsibility for tracking COVID cases in organisations evolved, we were asked to build a company track and trace system in a matter of days. One person had the unenviable job of manually checking shift patterns to track who members of staff testing positive for COVID had had contact with, and then communicating the need to isolate.
We worked with the customer to scope the process and that thorough discovery allowed us to fully understand what they required. We then utilised applications we had already developed combined with low code to quickly deliver a solution. This removed this stressful personal burden from the individual and ensured there was no backlog in contract tracing. Driven by necessity, low code provided a quick and effective route to transformation.
Another major requirement for low code apps in 2021 could be the change driven by permanent remote and flexible working. Although many quick solutions were found during lockdown, now that restrictions are lifting it has become clear that many people will work either fully remotely or a mix of office and home. This is likely to present further challenges that must be solved quickly to ensure continuity and productivity as organisations grapple with how to effectively manage hybrid working.
Other key triggers include new legislation and regulation changes (anything involving a hard deadline). Exposure to risk is also a common motivator for low code projects, particularly around fraud; financial fraud rose 33% during lockdown in 2020 for instance.
Speed and effectiveness
While low code can help to deliver transformative apps very quickly, it is crucial that speed doesn’t dilute the effectiveness of the project. Low code should be about delivering what is needed and when it is needed. The applications must be robust and support IT governance. Often, projects require super-quick prototypes to demonstrate to the business why funding for an application is required and what can be eventually delivered. This is often the case when we’re contacted by organisations wading through in-depth discovery and strategy imposed by expensive consultants that are simply outsized for the scale of the job. They are asking if there’s another way and if low code can provide the answer. We’re also seeing far more demand coming from organisations wanting to innovate with apps in stages because time to value is critical. It doesn’t have to be perfect first time. Low code is effective in this regard, as you can develop ‘lite’, deliver value quickly and build on that.
What low code isn’t
For anyone attempting to use low code platforms, it’s just as important to recognise what it cannot do. Low code allows skilled technical people to build apps quickly. It’s not a guarantee that your app will deliver on its promises. Nor is it something that anyone can jump into on a whim and start building.
Any organisation first needs to implement a low code platform to give it a standardised framework for app development. This is essential as many of the smaller automations and apps draw data from across the organisation so it needs to work within a governed IT environment and infrastructure.
Organisations also need to ensure that they understand the requirements of any app clearly before starting. This is about the age-old IT issue of pinpointing the business problem before starting to build. Rapid business analysis is just as crucial as a low code platform for rapid development. Organisations need partners who have the experience of rapid implementations and know what questions to ask during high energy workshopping sessions. They also need honesty about what is and isn’t achievable, and about price. It’s a case of more haste, less speed and ensuring that a premium isn’t being paid for every quick win required.
Projects that go awry and don’t deliver rapid and effective results are those where the scoping hasn’t been appropriate, however good the developer or low code platform is.