The Low/No Code Environment
The term citizen developer has quickly become a fully-fledged member of the digital buzzword dictionary. There is no doubt the use case for low and no code app development is strong. There are clear advantages in the way of reduced cost, faster delivery, self-reliance, and business enablement. The uptake has certainly been assisted by the pandemic fast-tracking digital transformation over the last couple of years. For digital leaders considering implementing these platforms, the advantages are very attractive, especially shifting development to the business for self-reliance can seem like a big win. Reducing the demand on IT while having the business deliver their own apps seems like a “two birds with one stone” situation.
A Risky Situation
With the fast adoption of low and no-code application platforms, there is inherent risk due to the culture change and new dynamics needed between the business and IT. There’s also a bit of a trap with the hype currently pushed around these platforms when it comes to limitations that need to be both understood and managed.
It can also lead to similar impacts businesses have faced with cloud adoption and shadow IT SaaS solutions, resulting in ballooning cost through propagation and uncontrolled use. For example, are you prepared to manage the continual Opex increases as apps propagate throughout the organisation? In other words, the same caution needs to be applied to low-code platforms as we have now for cloud, to avoid a repeat of these lessons and avoid conflict between IT and the business.
Some of the risks faced are:
- Underestimating the skills required to get the desired results - yes, low-code platforms require less skill for simple functionality. However, there are many cases where a higher level of skillset is required to be able to meet requirements. This can increase an uncontrolled demand on IT or require external partner support.
- Uncontrolled propagation of applications - an explosion of apps throughout the organisation that, over time, become critical to the functioning of the business. This can lead to a large complex landscape, which the business becomes heavily reliant on and that IT will inherit by default.
- Avoidance of core system functions/process - through building shortcuts that could increase business risk or drive duplication of functionality, eroding confidence in IT and core systems.
- A cost trap - where propagation leads to ever increasing cost due to licencing models or exposure to non-compliance in licensing. In some cases, there is a bait and switch model where you get simple functionality for low cost, but as demand grows for the higher value functionality, the licensing costs increase significantly.
- Exposure to change risk - where apps cease to function due to dependencies within the core infrastructure, causing disruption to the business and a negative view of IT.
- Data exposure risks - as it can suddenly become easy for internal data to be pushed into public spaces.
How To Manage These Risks
To avoid these traps, it’s important that IT leaders start with a clear strategy for their low-code platform and how it will fit within the business. It’s also important this includes how IT and the business will work together once the platform is implemented, and the governance tooling available for your chosen platform.
Be clear on the outcome
I recently read on Computerworld:
“You can’t just launch an app; once it’s built, the business side should always consult with the IT side to ensure it fits within corporate guidelines."In my view, this is too late. IT should have been there at the start to discuss the need. Otherwise, you are put in the position of saying no after the fact. It doesn’t matter if it’s due to security concerns, misalignment, duplication, or any other factor. It only means that the business wasted time developing an app they wanted to implement, and then had the experience of IT being a blocker rather than an enabler - a reputation IT has been trying to shake for a long time.
Choose the right platform
Once there’s a clear strategy and an understanding of how the platform will be used, this information can be used to select the platform that best suits the business. Many of these platforms have limitations. So, it’s essential to understand how they will fit into the overall environment to avoid disappointment later.
Understand the costs involved
This is the same for the potential cost impact. If you can, you want to quantify the number of potential uses and how the apps will be used so the cost implications can be well understood. For example, if licensing is per user and the HR department creates several apps that all employees are expected to use, this can result in very high cost that will continue to increase as the employee headcount increases. So, the financial aspect needs to be part of the strategy, business case, and purchasing decision.
Manage the adoption
Most low code software is separate from your day-to-day environment. It’s separately licensed, it’s a separate service, it’s a separate vendor. It may even be a separate login, which means adoption tends to be more managed.
In this case, Microsoft is the exception though. By default, Microsoft allows anyone with an O365/M365/D365 license to build Power Apps/Automate. As a result, the apps get a lot of exposure in SharePoint and the Office navigation waffle as the staff use/see every day. This has made the Microsoft Power Apps platform a popular choice as it’s simple to implement and integrate. In other words, adoption can become more organic, without IT’s involvement.
Once the platform choice has been made a governance approach needs to be considered. To limit uncontrolled growth of apps, it is recommended that IT own the platform and there is a simple approval process for any app being considered for development to avoid breach of policy, process, or security.
This also provides the opportunity for any ongoing cost impact to be understood and agreement on where the funding will come from. This puts IT up front in the process as an enabler, either giving the go ahead for the business to build their app or providing an alternative approach to address the need without wasted effort. This will also ensure IT has a good view of what apps are in the environment and any potential reliance they have on core systems and the impacts of changes to those systems for better management.
It's also recommended that owners are established for each app created and there is a clear understanding of what this means. With the democratisation of app creation away from IT, there is a risk that over time applications will become orphaned and end up with IT by default, creating a headache. By establishing clear ownership of the apps within the business and agreeing the roles and responsibilities between IT and the business owners, it will ensure expectations are well set and reduce possible conflict further down the road.
If supporting the platform or the use of the platform by the business is a stretch for IT, then perhaps you can consider a partner that is an expert in this area. By providing the business the ability to seek support externally from a trusted partner when needed, you will ensure the speed to value promised by these platforms is realised. If the business is forever waiting on IT when they hit a capability barrier, then nothing changes, and IT will again be seen as a blocker.
Lastly, having a process in place that drives a review of apps in the low code environment will help ensure their lifecycle is well managed and any cost considerations are addressed. As we learned with the move to cloud, the majority of the time things were turned on and then never turned off, driving cost and complexity. By ensuring you poll each application regularly to ensure it’s still relevant and in use - and turning it off if it’s not - will help reduce cost and complexity.
I very much believe low- and no-code platforms have a bright future and will make a significant impact over the coming years. I also believe there will be a few organisations who face significant challenges due to implementations which are not well considered. My best advice is to lean on your digital partners who have experienced previous implementations and leverage the lessons they have taken from business that have come before.
Enlighten Designs: Empowering organisations with low/no code apps