Low-code development platforms have been sweeping the industry promising lightning fast digital transformation to organizations across the globe. In theory, they’re great—you don’t need to get a developer involved to make changes to the system? Sweet!!!
But there’s a catch…
Popular low-code platforms on the market today typically use one of the following approaches, which simply don’t work for large, complex companies:
- Replace your existing investments with an “all in one” solution
- Change the way you do business or sacrifice functionality
- Require a vendor-specific programming language
These approaches may work for small businesses, or even some mid-sized companies, that are able to change the way they do business to “make the system work.” But large organizations which have been around for a while, have home-grown apps, or require acts of Congress to make a change simply don’t fit into these models.
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Replace your existing investments
Many of the all-in-one low-code players look amazing in the demo with everything configured in the same system. Keep in mind though that most demos are shown starting from nothing. In the real world, you already have multiple finance, HR, IT and ops systems in place. It would take a massive project to replace just one of them— let alone all of them. Time and again we’ve seen companies spend millions of dollars choosing the “all-in-one” solution only to fail halfway through the implementation.
There’s another problem with this approach: vendor lock-in. We’ve seen many organizations pricing models increase dramatically when the vendor sees how locked in you are to their product. It happens more often than you’d think, especially at the enterprise level.
Read more about why extending your current system beats replacing.
Better Option: Take the approach of incremental improvement for a successful digital transformation. A platform doesn’t need to do everything itself. Choose one with the flexibility to work with your existing investments, the strategies to solve the problems of today and the philosophy to work through the challenges of tomorrow.
Change the way you do business
Let’s face it, the lower the code, the lower the flexibility. There’s simply no way to create every variation of UI widget, page layout, process flow, or integration ahead of time. Why? Because those details are specific to your company.
In the companies we’ve worked with, there’s always a few outlying use cases that require specific UI widgets or page layouts. Sometimes it’s to make it “look the way it did before” to avoid having to re-train thousands of people, and other times it’s because the issue they’re solving just happens to be very complex.
Take, for example, a workflow that requires an approval before continuing. That approval needs to go to five group members, and if three of the five “approve,” the process moves on. Sounds straightforward, but here’s a real-world set of requirements:
- All five must respond.
- If one doesn’t make a decision in 24 hours, escalate to their designated backup.
- If the backup doesn’t make a decision in 24 hours, escalate to their manager (who should be retrieved from the HR system).
- Send a notification to the end user each time the approval decision is delayed.
In many everyday, low-code platforms there’s typically just one or two ways that an approval process can be configured. At this point, either the process needs to change or functionality be added to the tool by the vendor, introducing delays and/or additional projects.
Better approach: Provide a framework that allows developers to build micro-processes (we call these routines) that take a standard set of inputs, provide a standard set of outputs, and use a common programming language to perform logic that can be tested in isolation. The developers can then expose this micro-process as a step to be used within a workflow by non-technical business users.
Require a vendor-specific programming language
If the first two approaches don’t work, popular low-code vendors will allow customers to extend their platforms to meet specific needs (which is a GREAT idea).
There’s a catch, though. This requires developers to use the vendors own proprietary programming languages to make these extensions fit easily into the underlying ecosystem. Now, not only do you have to have a developer, but you need to spend lots of money getting them up to speed AND keeping them up to speed in the proprietary programming language.
Better tactic: Extend using common languages that your existing developers already know, work with and actually enjoy using.
A Better Approach
No low-code for big companies? No—this just means that we need to start thinking about low-code differently.
Large organizations can’t turn on a dime. They require tools that can conform to their existing processes and standards and iterate over time. The perfect recipe for true digital transformation is to provide a platform that makes it simple (low-code) for non-developers to modify things that change often such as end user forms, workflow process definitions, etc. and leave the rest to developers who can extend the platform in every area using open languages like JS, Java and Ruby.
At Kinetic Data, we’ve been doing workflow projects with large companies for over 20 years. We’ve helped some of the worlds biggest organizations find ways to make their processes (IT, HR, finance, compliance) more efficient using our workflow software that leverages what they already own.
Author: James Davies
Director of Products at Kinetic Data View all posts by James Davies