6 Key Facets for Maximum Benefit with No Code Platforms
Many organizations are looking to give a face lift or do a full replacement on their legacy applications. This can be a daunting task, especially when confronted with the costs for a full rewrite. I am seeing more and more organizations using low/no code platforms to accelerate the process, reduce costs and leverage existing data assets. When looking at no code, there are some key requirements, “must haves”, and below is a quick list:
Adaptable Data and Integration Layer – providing no-code integration with an existing set of data is a critical requirement. You should have a broad set of existing integrations that you can leverage immediately to jump-start your project. An example? Last month we worked with a large law firm looking to replace a custom built set of applications to run their firm. All the data was housed in SQL, and they leverage several tables and stored procedures. With smartobject technology, the integration was point and shoot, with the table structure and SPs being auto-discovered and available in the designer immediately. Want to move the data to a newer line of business system? Having a selection of SQL, Oracle, DB2, and many others can help you rebuild or redesign a data layer quickly.
Flexible Web-based UI – With the broad range of devices workers leverage today to complete tasks, applications need to work on desktops/laptops, phones and tablets. Building an app that can span all these devices can be challenging. Leveraging a platform that can provide a responsive, modern web-based foundation can eliminate work, and the requirement to build separate UI for each independent device. The UI needs to be standalone, and able to deliver without a dependent technology.
UI Rules Engine – the ability to build rules based on form or user interface actions can help with automating data entry, provide seamless integration with line of business systems, and create a dynamic, responsive user experience. In addition, this can be key in mobile development where managing the limited real estate with regards to screen size and usability is paramount. The ability to do all of this without code can save days or weeks from build time. This functionality can also deliver validation, and prevent the entry of bad data. An example would be a triggered data pull from multiple back-end systems when a field is toggled.
Business Logic Process Engine – having an engine behind the scenes that can coordinate the flow of information, control human to system interaction and perform process automation is a critical facet. Some key items here include: automatic assignment of actions based on directory hierarchy (Active Directory/LDAP), “flow” based rules to control branching, and complex workflow pattern capability. Example: the automatic routing of an inbound referral based on a specific UI field.
Reporting/Dashboard Components – pre-built reporting components that tap into specific app data and process information can accelerate the process of gleaning insight from application activities and events. Typically, these components are just easily accessible modules within the web UI, and can be instantly added via the design interface. In addition, support for embedding 3rd party reports is necessary to facilitate and all in one report experience.
Complete SDK – no matter how many features you add to a “no-code” platform, there are still requirements for the extension of the platform. A framework for extending the UI, the data layer and process engine are required, as well as a well-formed method for tapping into these using custom code, or other applications.
Just a quick set of “must haves” when looking at platforms to rebuild you legacy apps. Thoughts?
It’s no wonder organizations are moving to no-code mobile application development. Just a quick posts on some graphics I found.
A Forrester Survey found that the average amount spent on a typical mobile app ($50,000 to $150,000) turns out to be just 35% of the true two-year cost.
See some great mobile development stats here:
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:
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?
In working with several customer on mobile application initiatives, I am finding the most important concept is managing the “Real Estate” of the device screen. How do you give users an efficient and seamless experience without having to scroll, and minimizing “taps to completion”? Likewise, how do you manage the transition from one form factor to another? Here are four core features every mobile platform must support to optimize UI usage and forms development:
1. Responsive Themes – Business Process App and Mobile Development Platforms must support mobile responsive design principles. Many platforms provide “design once” functionality where you can build forms/UI that will automatically span any type of device through auto-adjustment. One example is K2’s smartforms, digital forms technology that are HTML 5 and completely responsive. This can be a massive time saver for IT staff and developers, and eliminate the need for building digital forms for every mobile platform (iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry). K2 Mobile provides a great responsive foundation. Details here: K2 Mobile App Dev
2. Collapsible Views/Sections – Usability in mobile applications becomes challenging, especially when you have long forms with data entry requirements. Giving the user the ability to collapse UI sections, or even better, providing this dynamically can provide a more manageable experience. Being able to do this without code can speed up app dev, and drive productivity in the field.
3. Tabs – How do you display 3 screens in one? Having built-in tab functionality can allow users to easily switch back and forth between screens, and provide a seamless way to manage limited space on a mobile phone/tablet. Limiting long scrolls and the opening of forms can reduce time and limit the complexity of tasks.
4. Form Automation – Just what is forms automation? Once again we go back to the theme of “minimizing taps to completion.” Having a “no-code” rules engine that helps to drive dynamic automation based on forms interaction is absolutely required. Examples? See below:
All of this facilitates rapid data collection, and enables field workers to complete their tasks efficiently. Want more info on Mobile App Dev? Take a peek at my previous post on Mobile Apps and Rapid Development.
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:
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.
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
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:
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.
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
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?
As I continue to work with customers and prospects, I find some common ground in those looking to expand beyond SharePoint Workflow and Forms (And those products that rely on the underlying engine) . There is definitely a BPM journey that organizations seem to take, regardless of whether they realize they have embarked. This journey almost always leads to expanding beyond the confines of SharePoint, as well as a deepening need for more complex capabilities. Here are some of the common trends I see in organizations looking to take their business process management to the next step:
So, in summary, if you are looking to step outside of the SharePoint workflow engine and its forms capabilities, take some time to evaluate your next step in the journey and focus on at least these 4 points. For some additional considerations, see the below post:
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.”
So how can these platforms be leveraged? See below for some key benefits:
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: