With businesses across industries looking for ways to connect to users or customers digitally and IT departments strapped for time, thousands are turning to low-code platforms because of their ability to help less experienced users easily build complex web applications quickly.
Leaders in the industry are seeing large increases in adoption since the COVID-19 outbreak forced millions to work and learn from home.
Healthcare institutions have found new life in creating telehealth platforms for those in need of urgent information and educational organizations have been able to deal with budget-challenged IT departments by giving teachers the freedom to create the tools they need.
“COVID-19 has changed things in some ways because it’s prompting a bit more creativity due to constraints that have been thrown on everybody, whether they’re economic constraints based on concerns for where we’re going or physical constraints because we can’t travel,” said Claris CEO Brad Freitag.
“It’s forcing everyone to look at things differently.”
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TechRepublic spoke with low-code experts about how the coronavirus pandemic has prompted the need for simpler technological innovation in every kind of enterprise.
Matt Calkins, CEO and founder of Appian, as well as Steve Wood, CPO of Boomi, said their companies have seen an increase in adoption and use of their low-code platform in recent months.
“Organizations are concerned about time to value and being cautious with expenditure, whether it’s to pivot their organization with a new solution, quickly deploy new digital transformation initiatives, or improve communications among employees, constituents and stakeholders. Low code is a proven, easy and often inexpensive way to achieve these important business outcomes, faster,” Wood said.
Tools being built using low code
Freitag, Wood and Calkins gave dozens of examples of the kinds of tools being built on the low-code platforms their companies provide.
“Citizen developer types are saying ‘I’m a school teacher and I have to teach virtually so I need to coordinate classroom attendance in a way that I haven’t had to before.’ I can’t just look around and see who wasn’t at their desk. Now I need to digitize it and I don’t have a central IT department who can build that for me. But with low code, I can build it in a day,” Freitag said.
“We’ve seen significantly increased interest from the public sector, governments and municipalities, K-12 and higher education. Those groups have jumped up quickly as well as healthcare in different areas. We had one group of physicians who provide direct healthcare benefits to the employees of companies and they shifted their business almost immediately to a texting service built on the Claris platform.”
Freitag explained that people who were worried about COVID-19 symptoms and desperate for communication with doctors could text these doctors for more information. The doctors were able to scale the platform and respond really quickly to the increase in demand without scaling the number of doctors on call.
Wood said Boomi developed Answers on Demand, a free FAQ chatbot that takes users about 10 minutes to deploy.
“Over 500 organizations, including many education and healthcare organizations like the Weitzman Institute—a national nonprofit dedicated to research and innovation in primary care—deployed the chatbot on their websites to help deal with the recent influx of inquiries. A women’s shelter that has recently seen inquiries surge 15 times over is using the solution to help address its #1 question from women who are in abusive relationships but aren’t free to leave because of shelter-in-place orders,” Wood said.
“Without low code, Answers on Demand wouldn’t have been possible, and those hundreds of organizations would still be spending time-intensive, manual efforts developing their own solutions, or manually answering each question rather than focusing on mission-critical services. Answers on Demand is only the first of several low-code applications Boomi is creating to help organizations in this time of need.”
Wood added that Boomi has had over 100 submissions from employees on how Boomi could support overwhelmed organizations using its low-code platform.
Calkins said his team at Appian has created the Workforce & Readiness application, which provides a central command for organizations to intelligently manage the complexities of returning employees safely back to the workplace.
One key aspect of the platform is its ability to help organizations in defining internal policy rules regarding return-to-work authorization. The tool enables automation of a phased or rotating approach to workforce return and allows HR to manage exceptions, appeals, or employee concerns using Appian’s built-in case management capabilities.
“A top 10 healthcare provider in the US built an Appian application for their doctors to submit their COVID-19 patients for clinical trial treatments with a new drug. The drug has limited availability, so the firm is managing the patient intake and approval process for this trial using Appian,” Calkins said.
“They built their application (without our help) in just 24 hours, deploying it to thousands of doctors and medical centers. Appian is also being used by other companies across several industries such as insurance, financial, government and education to manage their COVID-19 response efforts including a top 10 university, top 10 bank, and others.”
Calkins noted that like other low-code platforms, Appian is also seeing increased need and hundreds of companies are utilizing the applications the company has launched to aid companies during the pandemic. The automation low code provides “is a vital component for adapting to change quickly in an organization,” Calkins added.
One of the biggest reasons for the low-code explosion is that IT departments are increasingly realizing they cannot handle all of the tasks most modern organizations need. The COVID-19 outbreak has pushed IT leaders to the brink, straining resources and time constraints.
Freitag said that for years IT departments were more protective of an enterprises’ technology uses and needs, either out of a desire for self preservation or a lack of confidence in employees’ ability to handle complex technology.
“Any system needed to be owned by IT and they wanted to control every aspect, from requirements gathering to approval to deployment. But [COVID-19] has created an environment where IT is thinking more about governance and less about tight control,” Freitag said, noting that IT teams have shifted to focusing on security measures while allowing teams to handle their own app development if they are up to the task.
“IT departments are massively overwhelmed. The demand for digitization is so incredibly high and in some ways low code is the only way they can keep up. IT departments can focus on things like single sign-on and identity management.”
Freitag added that doctors, teachers, and other citizen developers are now using the Claris platform to create tools they can deploy quickly for a variety of purposes.
The economic downturn has forced many industries to deal with tighter resources and use some creativity to manage their needs in a situation where office cultures have been completely upended. With everything shifting to digital platforms, every enterprise has to adopt new processes just to stay afloat.
Other businesses providing services have had to create similar platforms to provide information digitally and automate to maintain continuity. Sites like Claris have also innovated themselves, creating new integrations services that allow users to look at the work their teams do on a daily basis and take inventory of how they can improve productivity or client engagement.
“We want to reduce complexity and make everything more usable to a much bigger part of the market. You can’t expect to thrive in the next decade if you’re running everything on some paper-based process, which many businesses are doing today. We have to drive awareness around the fact that you can affordably move to digital and part of affordability means you don’t have to recruit the next crop of computer science graduates from the top schools when you’re a 40-person manufacturer trying to compete against Google for that talent,” Freitag said.
“The number of computer science graduates over the last decade is almost entirely flat around the world. The big university systems are in many ways constrained and great schools aren’t producing more graduates. There’s talent everywhere and we have to source that talent in different ways. You can become an expert low-code developer in less than 18 months.”