Success with digital transformation requires new technology. But it doesn’t mean your organization has to purchase new business applications. Or be stuck with the traditional build-versus-buy dilemma. Here’s a better approach.
Why Business Software is Hard
As noted here previously in All Business Applications Are the Same, enterprises buy packaged software in order to solve common problems quickly and get up and running with “good enough” processes.
The first reason business software is hard is that enterprises almost universally soon discover that those “good enough” processes really aren’t. And so they tear apart the software, customize the software, and make it work the right way for their organization.
Then six months later…the vendor releases an upgrade. It breaks all of the customizations, forcing the customer to update or rewrite them. Then there’s another upgrade. And another rewrite. Lather, rinse, repeat. How many times do you want to do that?
The Deadly Embrace
This is related to reason number two, the “deadly embrace.” Large enterprise systems are typically sets of interconnected components. For example, an ITSM system includes incident management, change management, knowledge management, and other modules.
A company may heavily customize one of those modules—for example, asset management—to meet its unique needs. Then the vendor comes out with a new release that has some really attractive features in the incident management module. But upgrading would mean losing all of the customizations made to the asset management piece.
Because there’s no way to update just one component, the organization is frozen on that version. No one gets any improvements. Then, the company falls three or more versions behind and support is about to be discontinued on the version they are running, so they are forced to upgrade. And rewrite all of their customizations.
Then it’s back to lather, rinse, repeat. The never-ending problem.
Let’s Just Not
A third phenomenon that makes business applications difficult is when an organization decides to deal with the challenges above by just using the software as is. The business reduces the pain of upgrading by avoiding customizations, making no changes at all.
A few changes, a few tweaks to the software, could make every support call a little bit shorter, every support rep’s life a little bit easier. But the organization will tolerate thousands of little annoyances to avoid messing with the software.
And it’s not just annoyances. Perpetuating suboptimal processes can impact delivery times, employee morale, costs, revenue, and customer experience. Business applications are expensive. Avoiding customizations at all costs can be an even higher price to pay.
Business Applications Are Great…For Vendors
Changing business processes because they can be made better, more efficient, is a good idea. But changing them to fit the way some new software works? That seems crazy.
Additionally, it seems that once vendors have eventually developed a pretty solid application, they feel obligated to add new features—more so because customers paying for support expect new features than because the new feature is needed or critical. The longer a product is in the market, it seems, the more “edge case features” start to show up. These edge cases are largely irrelevant to the existing user community, yet you will have to deal with them on upgrades.
And of course, especially in the SaaS world, users are at the mercy of when the vendor decides to release new code. Timing is driven by the vendors’ schedules, not the needs of customers.
A Low-Code Platform to the Rescue
What’s the solution? What does “never buy a business app again” mean?
If your workflows really don’t change very much or very often—and when they do, it’s because you want to change them for your business reasons—then you should be changing them. Instead of keeping up with the latest version of some vendor’s application, what you want is a platform on which you can build your workflows.
Low-code platforms enable business users—those closest to the actual business processes—to create their own workflow automations, using drag-and drop environments, with little or no help from IT. Unlike writing completely custom software, there’s no need to hire scarce and expensive software engineering talent, and no ongoing maintenance headaches.
The platform provides all the fundamental attributes needed: security, scalability, auditability, reporting, versioning, etc.. Everything that you build on top of it is yours. So, you end up with exactly what you need.
You can choose to update and expand it (or not) based on your business needs. You’re never forced to upgrade, enabling you to avoid that whole world of headaches. You are in control.
Employees are happy because instead of being forced to change their work processes based on a business application vendor’s whims, they get to create, tweak, and improve their own processes. Instead of complaining about “the way the vendor designed it,” they are invested and take pride in the system they helped build.
Vendors make a lot of money selling out-of-the-box software. If you instead just buy a platform and assemble what’s right for you, it avoids much of that expense.
A final benefit of the low-code platform approach is speed of being able to change. As new opportunities arise or market conditions change, the ability to react quickly and make tweaks and changes to your own processes can be a competitive differentiator.
Eventually, you may also be able to buy content like:
- standardized data sets (e.g., a list of all computer models in the market, or the most common support questions with answers about Microsoft Word to dump into a knowledge management system);
- data models (e.g., standard definitions for customers, hardware, warranties, EDI transactions, etc.); and
- standards set (e.g., project management, GAAP accounting, ITIL).
These can then be combined with your unique workflow. These are often components or elements built into packaged software, for which independent markets either already exist or are likely to emerge.
As Charles Darwin (allegedly) said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Summing It Up
Those are the ideas behind “never buy a business app again.” If all business applications are the same, built up from the same 19 (or so) basic components, why not just buy a low-code platform that lets business users assemble their own workflow automations from those building blocks?
If times have changed, and you can actually build apps very quickly that are scalable, secure, debuggable, etc., why not build the thing that’s right for you?
First, it’s right for your organization. Second, you’re not going to be forced by the vendor to upgrade everything every six to nine months. Third, it works with your systems.
Quite frankly, what else do you really want?