At this year’s World Economic Forum, global digital transformation was a hot topic once again. World business leaders gathered to discuss developments and numerous industry reports were issued assessing the state of progress in the journey to unlocking digital advantage. My sense of the overall sentiment? “Could do better.” It seems many enterprises are struggling to realise their digital transformation ambitions, even though they know it’s vital for success. So why are companies finding digital transformation so difficult? And is there a silver bullet?

Moving to a Digital First Environment: Uncoupling From the Analogue Approach

A recent Gartner report found that 42 percent of CEOs describe their company’s business posture as “digital first” or “digital to the core,” and this figure is only going to grow. However, such bold statements often belie an organization that is still operating with an analogue mindset. The failure to evolve a company’s app development processes to cope with the expectations, timeframes, and innovation demanded by the digital era is testing traditional IT departments to the point of no return.

Relentless demand for new apps means overstretched and under-resourced departments are accruing backlogs that frustrate business units who see market opportunities slipping away. Evidence suggests that, however fast IT teams work, it won’t be fast enough for their demanding customers. Recent Gartner research found that 75 percent of organizations say that IT is too slow.

Add to this a shortage of skilled developers, the challenge of integrating with legacy systems, and business and development team silos that hinder communication, and you have some idea of the roadblocks to full-speed digital transformation.

The fact is that the appetite for digital transformation is simply not matching the capacity of IT departments to deliver it.

Apps? There’s a Factory for That

Every leap forward requires us to adopt new ways of thinking and working. So, why would digital transformation be any different? Let’s look back in time. In the 18th century, factories kicked off the increases in productivity and quality that acted as a shot in the arm for global development. Machines took over the labour-intensive processes that had previously been carried out by hand. As we navigate the fourth industrial revolution, why not apply the same principle? But this time, the factory is digital.

A digital factory has a far better chance of delivering high-quality finished applications. Why? Because its structure answers the key challenges that have been holding back digital transformation initiatives. It operates on agile principles and makes use of low-code, cross-functional team structure, and automated testing to respond to the biggest challenge: speed. A successful low-code digital factory can deliver multiple apps concurrently in short timeframes, allowing businesses to evolve at the speed of the market.

Teamwork Makes the Low-Code Factory Work

The low-code digital factory is powered by its team. It brings together specialists from business users, product owners, tech leads, and developers. They all work together, thereby eliminating the communication issues that can plague digital transformation initiatives. The team moves apps from ideation to swift development of a visual minimum viable prototype, which is followed by presentation to stakeholders and incorporation of feedback. After that, it’s on to full development and testing, delivery to the end user, and adoption support and monitoring.

This iterative process allows for continual feedback, permitting revisions and direction changes as the project requires it.  This is a long way from the resource-intensive development process of former times, which created a risk-averse environment where fear of using finite resources on experimentation stifled innovation. Operating a low-code digital factory helps businesses engage in a test-and-learn strategy without fear of wasting effort and resources if priorities change.

The precise makeup of the team will vary depending on the project focus. If it’s a digital experience aimed at engaging end users, then marketing and UX specialists might get involved.  Digital operations projects (replacing manual business processes with digital counterparts) tend to require fewer specialists because of the focus on development. And, digital core (transforming large legacy systems) might require input from legacy software specialists or process engineers. The beauty of the low-code digital factory is its flexibility to call in expertise as needed.

Creative App Writing

Speaking of expertise, another advantage of running a low-code digital factory is the way it unleashes creativity in developers, reducing the burden of hand-coding and allowing extra time to innovate. It also overcomes the common challenge of varying skills in a team; whether developers are front-end, back-end, or integration specialists, they can all become full-stack developers by mastering the single visual IDE. This also helps relax hiring requirements, making junior developers productive more quickly and widening the pool of developer talent among which organizations can search.

Working effectively, a low-code digital factory can successfully deliver robust apps at a rate that’s impossible with traditional development processes. As low-code usage increases throughout an organization, the digital factory becomes a centre of excellence, delivering greater user satisfaction and causing demand to grow. Ultimately, the organization transforms to a fully digital enterprise equipped to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and competitive pressures.

At OutSystems, we have put together a playbook that guides organizations through the processes of setting up a low-code digital factory. It draws on our customers’ experiences and provides a roadmap of structure, talent, ecosystem, and process requirements for a digital factory. It helps embed that change of mindset that moves companies from analogue to truly “digital first”.

Sounds simple, right? With the speed and innovation that low-code digital factories are already achieving, I believe that they are the silver bullet that businesses need to realize their digital transformation ambitions.