Low-code platforms help with project backlogs and software development training

Boomi and Appian streamline enterprise software tasks for non-technical employees.

Enterprises across every industry now have little choice but to incorporate technology into their organizations, using software to solve a litany of business problems that routinely plague employees and customers alike. Over the past few years, low-code platforms have become an easy way for non-tech companies to build simple apps and programs that address business pain points and help less tech-savvy employees improve their skills. 
 
"Low-code or no-code platforms are a powerful business enabler that solves a pertinent problem for SMBs and enterprises alike: How to automate various business processes/workflows without depending on software developer resources," said Sachin Gupta, CEO of HackerEarth.

"Despite there being thousands of SaaS applications, there are still some workflows that don't have robust external software and that's where such low-code tools come into the picture. It empowers non-technical folks to quickly build something, which greatly speeds things up. As this technology evolves, we will reach a stage where there will be an interesting interplay between apps built via low-code technology interfacing and integrating with custom-written code."
 
Companies are increasingly finding it tough to find IT talent and low-code environments can potentially cut 50%-90% of development time compared to a coding language, according to 451 Research.
 
A recent Gartner survey estimated that more than 65% of application development by 2024 will be done on low-code platforms, showing that it is increasingly becoming the go-to option for enterprises looking to gain the advantages of software without having to hire armies of coders and developers.
 
"Enterprises are realizing software can radically change the trajectory of your business. The use of software when correctly deployed can radically change how your business does business and make it hugely strategic in every way," said Steve Wood, chief product officer at Boomi. 
 
"But how do you develop the software quickly enough to leverage all the good tools and channels to do that? How do you build it fast enough?"

Low-code platforms can help with project backlogs

Wood is the founder of low-code workflow development platform ManyWho, which was acquired in 2017 by Boomi, a Dell Technologies business. In an interview he said enterprises came to him complaining about dozens of projects that got stuck at the departmental or team level because of problems finding the right talent or software to get it done. 

The backlog was costing businesses billions of dollars, he said, because companies did not have the right staff to build what they needed in a short time span. 

With low-code, businesses can streamline and harmonize internal processes so that developers aren't overburdened and can focus on higher-value tasks, he said, adding that low-code will ultimately be a solution for the skills gap because of its ability to minimize overwhelming coding needs.

SEE: Low-code platforms: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic Premium)

The best way for enterprises to start out with low-code platforms is to start with specific projects or problems they wish to solve and work up from there. The platforms are designed for people that are tech-savvy enough to handle Excel spreadsheets and other simple programs but are not coders or developers.

Low-code platforms like those offered by Boomi only require a relatively short course to use, and you can get more certifications as you get deeper into the platform. 

Wood said nonprofit organizations like the International Justice Mission have been able to use low-code platforms to centralize donor data and payment systems, all without writing any lines of code. He added that these kinds of platforms have been integral in getting people interested in coding and improving their skills once they start. 

"They were able to do it really quickly and efficiently and the end result is that it improved donor retention and staff confidence and they got a lot out of that project. Customers do well when they start with  these projects to test out, just to know how well it's working for them. You create more developers by giving them a different kind of platform to learn from," Wood said.

"Our goal is to empower our customers to take control of the software creation process. The idea that anyone can build their own software to solve the challenges that they understand more deeply than anybody is a key aspect of low code. Get the person who really knows the problem to solve it with technology."

Teaching how to build software applications

Malcolm Ross, deputy CTO at low-code platform Appian, said the low-code platforms are great ways to teach the basic concepts of what it means to develop software applications. Low code makes the process of building software applications easier by removing obstacles like obscure syntaxes, making intuitive and easy for non-technical employees without computer science degrees.

Low-code platforms make the process more visual and declarative, giving users a more direct view into the outputs and results of coding which can be helpful for visual learners and visual developers who want to interact with the thing they're creating. Appian handles the more complex things like security so that users are not overburdened.

Appian specializes in building enterprise software applications for things like purchase request management, invoice processing, insurance claims processing, onboarding for new bank accounts, filing taxes and many other simple tasks.

The company's customers include enterprises in industries like financial services, insurance, government operations and energy. One example Ross mentioned was an app for insurance companies that allowed customers to upload photos of a car accident or directed certain customers to their specific options after they input descriptors of themselves and their health history.

One of the key things both Wood and Ross mentioned was the ability for enterprises to scale their low-code programs up to more sophisticated tools that can be amended or built out by well-trained developers.

Security is paramount for Appian and Boomi, with each prioritizing certifications and tools to help provide customers with simple platforms that were protected as much as possible.

A tool for larger companies

Low-code platforms aren't just for small organizations, either. Major corporations like General Electric and a number of oil-and-gas companies have adopted low-code platforms to help workers in the field better manage data processing so they can focus on other tasks, Wood added.

Fast food companies like Jack in the Box have incorporated low code into their business as a way to better connect with customers and try out new channels of engagement, Wood noted. Low code is ideal for solving simplistic problems but often opens the door to solving more powerful, complex issues.  

Ross said trucking company Ryder is one of their most successful customers, making the switch from paper processing to digital seamlessly. 

As the biggest trucking company in North America, Ryder had to handle thousands of paper forms for each truck and eventually decided to change over to a fully digital process through Android tablets. The company had Android tablets running an Appian application to handle all the information related to the truck life cycle, including customer rentals. 

Anyone renting a Ryder truck is interacting with an Appian app. When a customer returns a truck, they walk around it and take pictures of the vehicle in case anything is damaged, uploading the photos to the app through the tablet. Insurance claims processing is also handled through the tablet as well as yard and inventory checks.

The app allows the company to double check all of the trucks in their lot, certify their inventory and make sure the company has enough trucks to meet customer needs. Every time a tire is replaced or an axle is fixed, it is recorded through the app, documenting a truck's entire life cycle. 

The app has been ideal for less-skilled developers and users, who can simply drag and drop elements or add new process steps without much difficulty before quickly deploying it to mobile devices.

"Ryder is one of the great examples because it really is the challenge of the skills gap. It's the reality that there are only so many people coming out of college with computer science degrees, yet there is a huge demand by every organization to keep up with the pace of digital change, so low code is really filling that gap," Ross said.

"Ultimately the lines of business and IT are becoming increasingly blurred because rather than IT being a separate organization that the business gets requirements to, the business is now becoming more actively involved in the composition and delivery of digital solutions than they ever were before. I think low code is part of the main reason why that's happening."

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