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Are we about to make the same software failure mistakes all over again?

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(Image credit: Image Credit: B-lay)

Increasingly, businesses are realizing the benefits of technology such as Low-Code application development platforms (LCAPs), that allow them to digitalize and transform complex enterprise processes with increasing scale and pace, without compromising on IT governance. Earlier this year Gartner forecasted 23 percent growth in the LCAP market in 2021, a surge encouraged by Covid-19 putting urgency on organizations to adapt and automate more quickly. Now that many organizations are realizing what is possible with Low-Code, they are not likely to turn the clock back to old ways of working. 

This Low-Code popularity has reinforced the role that both IT, and businesspeople, must collectively play in digital transformation; with collaboration between the two sides is crucial to success. However, Gartner also says that 41 percent of employees outside IT, what it calls “business technologists”, now customize or build data or technology solutions themselves. And Gartner predicts that by year-end 2025, half of all new Low-Code sales will derive from business buyers outside IT. This suggests that not only will ‘the business’ be using Low-Code tools, but they’ll be also the ones buying them too.

This raises hope but also concern. The hope is that it shows businesses are engaged in transformation and want to get hands-on with the tools that enable it. The concern is the possibility that the business side may, on its own, drive the technology decision around app development, and increasingly exclude IT and developers from the conversation. This would not be a productive outcome for future digitalization.

For years we have heard about software projects going awry. This is the case with both implementation of ‘off the shelf’ products and the organic creation of bespoke systems by developers. According to Standish Group’s Annual CHAOS report (analyzing 50,000 projects globally) 66 percent of technology projects end in partial or total failure. And the proportion that are wholly successful shrinks to 8 percent in larger organizations. Over and over, we have seen the delays, the scope creep, the budgetary swell, the canning of ill-conceived business ideas that do not match with developer resource. Do we really want to do it all again? In the pace of change the world is facing there isn’t capacity for this level of failure anymore.

A development conversation

The risk ahead lies in the fact that many of the tools being used in Low-Code development environments divide rather than unite the various specialists in the process. They create ‘fiefdoms’ between tech and business rather than bringing the two sides together into one ‘development conversation.’ On the one hand we hear about developers wanting to retain control of their knowledge (and rightly so in many ways), while trends such as the citizen developer suggest it is OK for nontechies to build their own systems in isolation. It is OK at a basic workflow level, but not when you’re addressing mission-critical problems and enterprise application use. 

Although Low-Code is booming right now, it has been around for years in several guises. Unfortunately, the evolution of the Low-Code sector has, itself, exacerbated these fiefdoms. First-generation Low-Code was about giving developers shortcuts, but these were still developer tools, requiring the continuation of long-standing translation exercises between IT and business and long, protracted development cycles. 

Second generation Low-Code swung the other way in the form of citizen development, where lines of business could independently create simple workgroup apps, but with no capacity for scale or complexity and almost always lacking critical governance features required for widespread enterprise use. Each of these approaches has its own strengths, but neither brings the core values of the other to bear. It is only recently that we see third-generation LCAPs are emerging to solve this conundrum. These platforms provide a collaborative environment that can be used by technical and business sponsors in tandem, while bringing the best of Gen 1 and 2 capabilities to bear.

What is collaborative development?

True collaborative development goes beyond teams sharing the job of producing a new digital app. It is where all relevant stakeholders work together and contribute their subject matter expertise, facilitated by technology, in one efficient practice. This accelerates the process by cutting out the traditional and continuous translation of requirements from business to IT and back again. And with it, much of the rework associated with getting those requirements right or modifying those requirements as a result of seeing solutions develop in their construction phases. Instead, work is ‘democratized’ across all relevant business and technical subject matter experts supported by technology, allowing the team to build together within the platform, rather than working in isolation on their composite parts. It requires a platform that is intuitive for all but also enterprise-grade in capability – has built-in governance, supports mission-critical change, and can scale using cloud-native architecture.

The collaborative process should exist at all stages of the development cycle too, from designing the new process, building interfaces, and data modeling, through to document building, designing APIs, publishing, and analyzing app performance.

Why is collaboration so important?

Firstly, the increasing pace of change imposed on organizations in the post-Covid world means that there simply isn’t time to work in isolated silos. The business batting development requests to IT teams, then waiting for the return volley, causes delays. Balls invariably get dropped along the way, and curveballs from either side have the potential to stop play. organizations’ customers are expecting an almost immediate response, so the organization must be able to adapt internally just as quickly.

Secondly, software developers are in increasingly short supply, especially in the UK where talent supply was hit hard by Brexit. According to CompTIA, software developer roles topped the list of open vacancies in 2021 with nearly 250,000 jobs posted by employers during the period. Collaborative applications can take the pressure off developers by bringing the two sides together to jointly build apps using intuitive Low-Code platforms.

Thirdly, organizations are realizing that their critical digital transformation goals can be achieved by building more and buying less. There is a growing appetite to make better use of the technologies and data sources that already exist rather than ripping out and replacing core systems. The anticipation of success has also increased. With digital transformation now an imperative, experimental, and low-level workflow changes do not measure up. organizational teams need to be working as one to facilitate rapid and core change.

Democratization is key

A big part of the effective collaboration process is the democratization of the work across the development team. The app creation process is accelerated through the collaborative use of a single platform by all relevant subject matter experts. Each of those subject matter experts is invited to insert their expertise in the system in a manner that is intuitive to their skills and experience. This approach promotes wider involvement in technology across multiple stakeholders in the organization, both tech and non-tech, while ensuring adequate governance controls that are essential in large enterprises. Although Gartner’s business technologist prediction is valid, the future should not just be about business functions developing apps in isolation of IT; IT and the business need technology to bring them into the same room, albeit often a virtual one.

The latest generations of Low-Code platform have the power to accelerate automation and digital transformation at enterprise scale. However, true collaboration across the business and IT is critical to success. The future is not about the business becoming techies and going it alone. It is about creating a development conversation between all individual subject matter experts.

Jonathan Wiener, CRO, Aurachain

Jonathan Wiener is chief revenue officer at Low-Code application development platform company, Aurachain.