Removing the IT Log Jam: 4 Keys to Faster Project Delivery

Forms, Workflow and Integration with no code

No Code Platforms Are the Key

Today, it is a common theme:  IT departments are understaffed and have a massive backlog of projects to deliver.  Last week, I was engaged in a customer panel discussion, and one of the folks, an IT Manager, stated that their IT project backlog put many of the projects out to 2020.  I thought to myself, how can you even plan that far ahead in the technology space?  Every 3 years it seems there is some kind of disruption that changes strategy and direction.  So the real question is how can you deliver faster results for the business and remain agile?

Forrester put out a great report last year on the emergence and popularity of No Code Platforms (see it here: Forrester No Code), and leveraging them to change the way you deliver results to the business.  It is all about delivering smaller, quick, No code applications to immediately provide solutions to problems within departments.   Using these platforms, IT can create quick wins, eliminate backlog pressure, and focus on larger projects with free resources.  Forrester states in one large customer, over 15,000 apps were deployed to meet all different types of needs, a feat only possible with a no code framework.

So what are the key pieces these platforms provide, and how can they help?  See below:

  1.  Forms/UI – In the customers I work with, forms are a very popular request item, and are typically a key backlog component, as most are built with custom code, or on a legacy forms product like Microsoft’s Infopath.  No form request is ever simple, and add data and integration requirements, and a small forms project can blossom into a full-blown dev engagement requiring custom integration, custom web-based code and pieces of workflow.  With no-code platforms, forms can be built in hours, not days, through drag and drop design.  Below is a great video put out by K2, called Easy vs. Hard, where an expense claim app is built both in K2’s no-code platform, and through custom code.  The results were amazing, and no-code was the winner built at 8x faster than hard coding.

2.  Data/Integration – Ah, the pain.  Seamless access of data across your line of business systems seems to be a “pipe dream”, and integration efforts typically take the most time across any app project.  With no-code platforms, a true integration bus that provides configured integration is one of the most valuable components, and can add massive value.  Spanning line of business systems through point and click integration, takes away a massive dev burden and will provide acceleration of any project.  This “smartobject” layer can also be re-used across projects, and provide easy access to SharePoint, SAP, Oracle, SQL, Web Services and any other system.

3.  Workflow and Logic – Even the most basic application requires some type of logic, flow or back-end handy work.  A robust workflow engine can provide simple functionality, like an email notification or a document routing, but can also provide complex functionality usually reserved for custom code.  Eliminating the need for custom work in this realm can also provide great benefits, and reduced delivery times.  This layer can be easily coupled with any forms or data projects to extend functionality, and drive value.

4.  Reporting – Reporting is all about the data, and most organizations will use a separate reporting platform to deliver on requirements.  This usually leads to engaging separate resources, and sometimes a second project to provide what the business needs.  Wouldn’t it be nice if reporting and dashboards could be automatically generated for the specific app, form or workflow?  This is what the Business Process App platform brings, a truly coupled reporting engine.  Most platforms also provide access to their data layer for additional extension of reporting capabilities.

So the best thing about the no-code platforms?  You can combine any of these pieces, in any way, to deliver on business requirements without the need for custom work, or the engagement of your dev department.  Did I miss anything?  Thoughts?

 

 

 

Advertisements

Notes From the Field: Mobile Applications and Rapid Development

Enterprise Mobile Strategy

CIOs Looking for Enterprise Mobile Platforms

As I look back at 2015, I am definitely seeing some trends in my day-to-day interactions with IT teams and CIOs: Mobile is driving many conversations.   It is no wonder if you look at some of the surprising statistics (from Kinvey):

  • Only 11% of end users access business apps from the corporate office 100% of the time.
  • 75% of Fortune 500 companies are taking steps to deploy HTML 5 mobile apps
  • Mobile CRM apps will grow by 500% over the next few years

Organizations are looking at alternatives to custom dev when examining their mobile strategy, and need agile, rapid development tools.

Below are two examples of customer use cases for deals that closed last quarter:

  • A large, global textile services organization looking to enable their mobile sales team on their tablets and phones.  This organization wanted a mobile app that could house all their sales forms and marketing materials, and give field reps the ability to access deal process information and get automated status notifications.
  • A mid-range construction company that needed a mobile safety app for field inspections from an iPhone.  Safety inspections can be a complicated business process, and often require notifications, follow ups and follow on process.  Most of the standalone apps on the market do well on the forms side, but fall short in the back-end process and reporting realm.  This organization needed a flexible, rapid dev platform to meet complex needs.

So, as I examine the mobile opportunities in the pipe, I see some commonality when it comes to what CIOs are looking for in a mobile business process app platform:

  1. The Ability to Build and Refine Quickly – Kinvey has a great report on the State of Enterprise Mobility, and there were several key findings in this survey of CIOs:
  • Over half said the time required to build a single mobile app is 7-12 months.
  • 50% say the process takes way too long
  • Mobile app dev is deemed as costly, slow and frustrating

More and more IT departments are looking for platforms to speed up development, and ease resource requirements.  Beyond the initial build, flexibility and agility for change is also a key requirement.

2.  Integration with Existing Systems – For any enterprise application, integration is often the biggest pain point, and typically reflects the largest time investment, and mobile applications are no exception.  Having an integration layer that can reduce or eliminate custom code and complex integration can not only speed up development, but also be a catalyst for opening enterprise systems to external, field workers.  An example of an accelerator in the data and integration space would be the K2 smartobject layer, which provides line of business integration through configuration with no code.   This layered approach is in line with Gartner’s Bimodal IT framework.

3.  Form Driven Workflow/Process – using mobile devices to collect data using forms is just the tip of the iceberg.  The IT departments I work with are looking for deep process after the data is entered.  This process contains not only basic notifications, but also several other components:

  • Business Logic and Rules – leveraging a process engine to make decisions and route work and information to the appropriate department or individual.
  • Integration with LOBs – writing the collected information, or portion, to an appropriate back-end system.
  • Form Archival – this provides the ability to take a “snapshot” of the form, and digitally archive it to an existing document repository through the integration layer.
  • Interaction with other systems – the ability to “check” with other systems during a process, and dynamically make decisions based on data.

So, what do these have in common?  They are typically steps within a manual process that are performed by humans, and consume time.  Efficiency is a core driver for the CIO looking to make an impact when using mobile devices to initiate processes.

4.  Reporting and Insight – Taking real-time data from field-based workers and providing insight to management is a key requirement in Enterprise Mobility.  Information that might not be accessible for days or weeks is now provided instantly to management.  Issues and bottlenecks can be resolved, and real-time, business impacting decisions can be initiated in an instant.

Just some thoughts and experiences ;).  Any feedback?  Also, if you want to see a video demo, you can see my latest post here:

Enterprise Mobility App Demo

 

 

The CIO’s Quandry: Build, Buy or BPM?

Benefits of BPM over Custom Development

Choosing the Right Application Strategy Path

I have the privilege just about every day to be involved in one of the most complex decisions on the IT Strategy front:

What is the most effective way for our organization to introduce new applications or rebuild old ones?

These discussions are always bound by key options:

  1. Build a custom application.
  2. Buy an off the shelf commercial application.
  3. Buy a BPM/BPA Suite.
  4. A hybrid approach.

My position gives me the unique advantage of being an “outside” observer, and seeing how each choice is viewed.  Along with gaining insight into the minds of IT professionals, and how they view the application landscape, I also make a conscious effort to identify what works and what doesn’t (historically).   Below is a summary of my experience, and a compilation of opinions on each option.

Build

Ah, the custom application.  The promised land, everything you want, built exactly to requirements ;).  My favorite CIO quote in my time in BPM is: “I am so tired of being a custom software development house.”  The Build option has historically been the de facto path to meeting the exact business needs of a desired application, and truly tailoring functionality.  But building comes with unique resource requirements, longer timelines, and rigid change management that prevents agility.  Add in the standard requirement of Line of Business (LOB) System integration, and even small applications can require large teams with diverse skill sets to deliver.  For this reason, many organizations leverage 3rd party partners to help with development, which adds to overall project complexity.  The benefit?  If managed correctly, you get exactly what you want.  Some great info on Build vs Buy here:  Build Versus Buy Whitepaper

Buy

Whether its Safety, HR, Accounting, or any other core business function, there are focused commercial applications to meet business needs.  Most of these applications will meet about 80% of an organization’s requirements, but what I find is that missing 20% is the true gold.  Many applications offer APIs to extend and add functionality, but this requires custom development or hiring the 3rd party’s services team to extend.  I am seeing more and more organizations that are trying to get their app “bloat” under control, and reduce the number of niche applications in use by their business.  There are some key questions to ask when evaluating focused apps:

  • How easy is it to integrate with my LOBs?  Code or configuration?
  • Is the system overkill for what we are trying to accomplish?
  • How difficult is it to administer?  Will I require certified staff?
  • What is missing and what will it cost to extend and maintain?

I find many organizations “settle” when it comes to off the shelf applications, and adjust their business to the application.  The key benefit, in most cases, is you get up and running quite quickly, and can glean advantages and ROI without waiting for dev or build time.

BPM/BPA

The Business Process Management/Business Process Application suites are just about always in the mix, but I find there is always some deep education required on capabilities.  There is quite often core resistance to them, especially from the development teams.  No/Low Code platforms can be perceived as a threat, but smart dev managers see them as powerful tools that can lead to reduced delivery time, increased agility and quite frankly, a driver for accomplishing more with less.  The benefits are shorter dev times, agility when it comes to modifying the applications, and creating process centric applications that map to the business.  These platforms have evolved into a true “swiss army knife” of IT, and can be used as a plugin to provide solutions around all types of requirements.  More on No/Low Code here:  No/Low Code Platforms

Hybrid

The hybrid approach seems to be quite common, and many of the inquiries I see today involve organizations looking for BPM/BPA platforms to round out their existing inventory.  Maybe they have a custom dev project where they need a workflow engine, or a data integration layer, and see the platform as a way to provide core capabilities.  Perhaps they purchased an off the shelf app, and need to extend it, or wrap it with a more capable forms or reporting engine.  To see how a hybrid strategy including BPM/BPA can impact an organization, see this post:  BPM Benefits  The true benefit of this hybrid strategy is that you can have all the benefits of the core BPM engine, and use extended capabilities through the APIs to add value to other existing apps or projects.

Just a quick overview of App Strategy observations.  Comments?

 

 

 

 

5 Great BPM Articles on CIO.com

BPM Resources

BPM, Low Code Platforms, Mobile Process, Strategy and More

CIO Magazine Online has some great assets on BPM, with a broad ranging set of articles covering all types of topics.   Here are 5 posts everyone should read if you are in the market for BPM solutions, or just want to stay current on the topic:

Why BPM is Broken  – A quick glance at the “pre-active” process, and the importance of agility in Business Process Management.

Low-code Business Apps vs. Traditional BPM – a look at the latest no/low code trend, and how it is disrupting the BPM market.

Delivering Mobile Process Efficiency – a look at the mobile evolution, and the impact on process and how work gets done.

BPM, Strategy and Agility –  A look at why “Speed is King” in the modern BPM era.

Paper, Process and Business Apps – Taking a peek at traditional business process, and the impact of new technologies and Business App Platforms.

 

 

 

 

Strategic Imperative: Embrace Digital Tech or Become Obsolete

Business Process Transformation

Report: Digital Transformation Success and Failure

During my morning reading and research, I ran across this great set of stats provided by the Sloan MIT Management Review and Capgemini Consulting.  They interviewed almost 1600 executives and managers across a wide variety of industries, and found some interesting results.

Below are some key highlights and core findings:

  • There is consensus that adopting digital business process is critical to organization success.  Execs and management are all in agreement that they must embark on the digital transformation journey, and modernize process and core business functions.
  • Most employees find the transition process complex and way too slow.  Employees and management are typically frustrated with the lack of progress and a missing sense or urgency.
  • Companies who succeed have comprehensive a plan.  Successful, transformative leaders share a complete vision, provide a roadmap for success, reward employees and distribute authority for implementation.

Here are some great stats as well:

  • 63% of respondents say the pace of technology change is too slow.
  • 93% of employees believe digital transformation is the right path.
  • Most agree transformation must happen within a 2 year time frame.
  • The top obstacle to success is a “lack of urgency”.

For more info, here is a link to the research:  Embracing Digital Technology

For more on Paper to Digital transformation, see: The Evolution of Business Process

 

 

 

Forrester Report: Revenue, Customers and BPM

Forrester BPM Report-Revenue and Customers Shape Process Excellence

Revenue And Customers Shape The New Business Case For Process Excellence

This new Forrester report by Clay Richardson  focuses on the re-framing of Business Process Management (BPM) initiatives for not only internal process improvement, but also focusing enterprise architects on:

  • Accelerating customer acquisition and revenue
  • Protecting current business opportunities and revenue
  • Increasing up sell/cross-sell abilities

This ties into my previous post which gave an overview of the trends in BYOA and Customer Facing Apps.   The full report can be downloaded here:

Forrester: Revenue And Customers Shape The New Business Case For Process Excellence

No Code Dev Platforms for Customer Facing Apps

No low code platform

Driving Fast External Apps with No/Low Code Business App Platforms

She sits in her office, and stares at the calendar.  “There is no way to get all these projects done on time,” she mumbles to herself.

Enter the life of today’s development manager.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the month, months in the year.  With IT departments struggling to keep pace with the speed of their internal and external customers, low/no code app platforms are quickly becoming necessary in all aspects of business.  Of particular importance are those apps that are customer facing, driving interaction with products and services, as well as personnel from sales, marketing, support and operations.

“Low-code platforms are a converging category, not a new one. Most vendors of these products established their technologies with internal-facing applications. Customer-facing applications are quickly becoming a popular new use case for these platforms because these types of applications demand rapid delivery and evolution.”

Forrester Whitepaper: New Dev Platforms Emerge for Customer-Facing Apps

So how can these platforms be leveraged?  See below for some key benefits:

  1.   Quick Web and Mobile Integration with Line of Business System Data – The bane of any CIO’s existence is integration and cross system communication.  With no/low code business app platforms, integration and surfacing data is a snap.  An example would be K2’s smartobject technology for line of business integration.  smartobjects take away the pain of integration, and make integrating with any line of business system, whether on-prem or in the cloud, a snap.   No more code…just “point and shoot” through configuration.  Imagine surfacing SAP or Oracle data in a web form in hours, not days, and making it available on a vendor portal, or to a partner ecosystem.
  2.   Use Powerful Forms Technology to Save on Dev Time – imagine a powerful component-based technology that gave you a library of form controls, a form rules engine and fantastic data capabilities at your finger tips.  Just use powerful wizard driven interfaces to auto-build components, and customize further through an intuitive drag and drop design canvas.  When you are all done, embed the form or view into any web page.
  3.   Create Once.  Reuse Often. – reusability is a core theme to no/low code platforms, and one of the biggest benefits.   Over time, organizations can create a set of forms, data, reports and workflows that can be utilized as an accelerator in any application project.  No more reinventing the wheel, over and over again.

The above are just a few of the benefits.   Below is an overview of how an organization can leverage a no code platform to deliver functionality in short order for external users:

 

The Evolution of Business Process: Paper to Platform

Business Process Evolution

What would Darwin say about business process?

Transforming a business and its processes is always a challenge, and like anything else over time, process management and the flow of work has evolved.  It’s a balance between cost and benefit, pain and efficiency.  And every business has a complete and total mix of how they get work done.  Paper is still ubiquitous in the business world, as are what I call “Franken-processes”, or those that are a combination of paper, Excel, email correspondence and anything else that might be at hand.  Many drive their critical processes with custom applications, and the lucky ones have fully evolved, and implemented app platforms to drive speed and flexibility.  In this post, I will provide an analysis of the 3 key process solutions:  Paper, Custom Apps and App Platform.

So, as a primer, every process can be evaluated on 4 key axes: Degree of Automation, Scalability, Flexibility and Speed to Implement.  Below is a quick overview of the evolution of business process.

 

Paper-based

Paperless process with workflow and forms
Paper is fast to implement, but inefficient  (Image from K2 Whitepaper “It’s a BYOA World”)

 

Paper processes have been part of business process forever, and it is still a pervasive medium for transactions and the flow of work.  Paper forms and documents flow through businesses every day, exchanging hands, passing through in boxes and out boxes, being copied, placed in folders, and ultimately ending up in a file cabinet as a permanent record.  To evaluate paper on our 4 axes, it is quite fast to implement, and can be somewhat flexible.  Just create a form in Word or Excel, kill some trees through the printing/copying process and distribute.   But we all know that processing paper is painful, and about as far from automated as you can get.   Many organizations attempt to add automation to the mix through scanning and capture, but layering of processes just creates complexity, and decreases the ability to scale.  See the chart above for a visual representation of paper process, the lowest on the evolutionary chain.

Custom Applications

Replace custom apps with no code platforms
Custom apps great for automation, but slow to implement. (Image from K2 Whitepaper “It’s a BYOA World”)

For many organizations, the only option, or next step in the evolution of process is the custom-built application, focused on automating a core set of processes critical to the business.  Custom apps can be a powerful technical transformation tool, and although the benefits can be huge, there are some key draw backs.  Using our axes, you can see the prime benefit is automation (as shown above).  But due to the long cycle times for development and updates, plus the requirement to grow and expand features overtime,  custom apps can be a core constrictor on flexibility and adaptability.  In this day and age, custom apps and all their draw backs are becoming and unacceptable way to automate business and drive process, and are just far too costly.

“Traditional mobile-app development typically costs at least $250K and takes more than 6 months for a single app”

Kevin Benedict, Mind the Gap

Business Apps Platform

No code for data, forms, workflow and reports.
No code platforms are the best of all worlds (Image from K2 Whitepaper “It’s a BYOA World”)

Evolution in and of itself, is a process of growth, formation and change based on environmental factors, and the current apex in business process technology is the Business Process Application (BPA) platform.  Built for speed, automation and flexibility, the BPA platform provides a broad reach on all the axes of evaluation (as shown above), and allows agility through a no/low code foundation.

“In the age of the customer, everything runs as quickly as customers and markets – and software delivery must keep up.”
Forrester

With IT departments struggling with the demands of the business for applications, the market and customer requirements have driven the evolution of BPAs.   With delivery time being reduced by a factor of 3-10x, and beneficial cost reduction, forward-looking CIOs are quickly adapting the platform-based approach to transform the way they automate and deliver applications, workflows, forms and reports.   Below are some great links to more information:

Forrester Report on Low/No Code Platforms

Business Process Apps – No Low Code Webinar

 

 

IT Concerns in Manufacturing: Infographic

Applications for Manufacturing

Is BPM the Cure For Manufacturing IT Woes? Infographic

BPM in Manufacturing
Click on the Image for the Full Whitepaper

 

 

Is the Cloud the Ultimate Silo?

There she stands.  Alone and unafraid.  The Breaker of Silos.

One of the core challenges for any CIO and his/her team is to create a seamless flow of information throughout their organization, and that begins with the breaking down of silos.  Connecting the dots, and creating those all important system-to-system touch points is almost always a custom development effort including integration at the data layer, forms and some portion of workflow.

BPA to Connect Silos
Every CIO’s Silo Nightmare

As the cloud has become a logical extension of the enterprise network, it brings with it additional challenges when it comes to integration.  Below are some of the key challenges:

  1. Security – Cloud security has always been a core concern of CIOs, with a focus on confidential information exposure.  When it comes to breaking silos, there is a whole new dimension around authentication and authorization.  How do I allow users access, but restrict what they see and use?  How do I link my on-prem security structure with my cloud additions?
  2. Data – Cloud data is readily available to enterprise applications through a host of APIs and services.  But what happens when I want cloud apps to have access to my enterprise line of business (LOB) systems?  We now create a plethora (one $20 word per post 😉 ) of issues that usually involves an endless array of meetings with the IT Security Team.
  3. The Flow of Work (Or workflow for the so inclined) – creating an end-user experience that is not totally painful is quite difficult as teams struggle on how to flow “digital work” in and out of the cloud.  Do I start my process in the cloud app, or as an on-prem experience?  Can I surface data from both cloud and on-prem systems in a form?
  4. Mobile – Mobile adds an entirely new dimension to the game, with most cloud-based apps providing a singular and “pre-silo-ed” experience.  This is great if users only use a single system, but how many mobile apps do I really need to get my job done?  Creating a single mobile user interface for work is the cloud “unicorn”.
  5. Duplication of Information – as a workaround, organizations typically have some degree of data duplication in their cloud applications.  The above mentioned challenges usually lead to many violations of a core tenet of every IT department: Minimize duplication of data.  Pulling down cloud information for cross-platform reporting can be a painful and labor intensive exercise.

So how can we solve these key challenges?  Business Process Application platforms hold the key to solving the cloud-silo dilemma.   Platforms like K2 blackpearl and Appit address all of the above concerns and then some without the need for costly custom development, and are built with the Hybrid Enterprise in mind.  More info: BPA for the Hybrid Enterprise