MTN App of the Year

Low-code is here – how can your business start using it?

There’s an app for that! Only, this isn’t true. You can find software answers for all your personal needs on a mobile app store. Yet businesses don’t have that luxury.

By James Francis for ServiceNow

They have many nuanced software requirements, only some of which app stores and platform marketplaces can answer. When it comes to improving processes or projects specific to a business, things grow complicated. Now the company has to invest time, money and additional human talent to resolve what could be a simple issue.

Let’s look at a solution. Consider a store taking stock and capturing that information to a Google spreadsheet. An employee creates a Google Form that gives everyone a simple and intuitive interface. No more puzzling over spreadsheets – just fill in the fields. And nobody had to bring in IT or a programmer to make this happen. This is the power of the no-code/low-code era.

“Companies cannot keep up with the demand from the business for digital apps to improve processes,” says Muhammed Omar, ServiceNow’s Country Manager for Africa. “But they can empower the business with low-code and no-code solutions and start taking control of their digital destiny.”

Low-code and no-code, sometimes called citizen development, gives business-savvy people, with even a little technology confidence, the scope to create software for specific company use cases. The idea goes back to 1982, in James Martin’s book Application Development without Programmers. Forty years later, it’s time companies take these reins. But how?

Foremost, they can look to software platforms, pervasive in modern organisations. The right platforms provide fantastic no-code low-code (NCLC) functions. IT departments must establish the guidelines and guardrails for NCLC projects. Other parts of the business must encourage its adoption through policy, governance and participation with specific use cases and functional hackathons.

Platforms get you coding

NCLC makes software development simpler and more intuitive through drag-and-drop features or modular bits of code that slot into a workflow. If a person can design and read a workflow chart, they can wrap their head around NCLC tools.

Software platforms are making it much easier to access NCLC tools. Some of the leading enterprise platforms, including ServiceNow, are fundamentally NCLC platforms, and the services that their customers use are built using native NCLC tools. There are significant advantages when using platforms as the soil to plant NCLC seeds.

“You’ve got all the capabilities around mobile apps, analytics, machine learning and AI,” says Omar. “As an integrated platform, additional use cases can be added to complement the current out of the box functionality that is being used. Business users can solve specific problems as part of citizen development. For example, one of my customers is a tower management company. They’ve leveraged the low-code no-code capabilities available on our platform to basically manage the entire tower management process: assigning contractors for refuelling, managing access control to the towers, collecting data such as photos before and after, etc.”

Businesses can choose from many NCLC tools and platforms, yet this often creates paralysis. CIOs don’t know where to place their citizen development bets. Omar’s point is that existing service operations platforms within a company’s software walls may already offer the NCLC tools required to tailor operations.

Getting the company onboard

Adding NCLC capabilities can be as simple as the choice of business platform, possibly platforms, brought in for other needs such as service management. How should organisations exploit these features to their benefit?

IT can support the move by providing safe and low-risk NCLC development components. Apart from managing the underlying platform, they can add guardrail features such as data protection and access control. Other parts of the business can focus on providing structure through governance and policies, and recruiting people from different disciplines to decide where the NCLC priorities are and how to focus on them.

This can happen in tandem with exploring a few choice use cases identified by that multidisciplinary group and enabling people who would benefit the most from those use cases.

“Predominantly where we’ve seen uptake is when customers take on one or two use cases and see how it goes. As they start to see how easy and quick it can be done, then they start to go for more complex use cases,” says Omar.

Hackathons for everyone

There is even an attractive way to plunge into the NCLC world: the hackathon. Usually an activity we associate with techies, hackathons are unexpectedly excellent vehicles for getting non-IT people to see the potential of NCLC. The idea even surprised Omar, who saw it in action at a customer.

“A hackathon can be boring and redundant because whatever gets developed is just thrown away afterwards. But what one customer did was to identify a number of use cases that were key business pain points and host a hackathon to get its people to come together. They created the coolest apps to solve business issues and won prizes for creativity. And once the business sees how easy it can be, that momentum builds. Automatically that starts to permeate in the rest of the organisation because the right people see what can be done to accelerate innovation.”

No code and low code are the answer to nuanced software development in businesses and it’s likely right within reach. Take a closer look at the platforms providing other services to you or invest in a business service platform with native NCLC features. Then get the ball rolling among your people – who needs an app store when you are the app store?


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