To freshen up their research and conference programs, Gartner is fond of inventing nouns. Their latest, “ContinuousNEXT,” confirms one thing at least: it’s time for analysts, vendors, and businesses to stop talking about the need for digital transformation.

It is time move on from WHY? to HOW?

So, although I think the English language needed this miscreant non-noun like it needs a hole in the head, it served pretty well as a unifying theme at Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo, which I attended in Barcelona last week.

So, what is ContinuousNEXT?

Defining ContinuousNEXT seems to be a work in progress. Gartner’s press release on the subject is not as enlightening as one might hope. But, hey, press releases are there to be quoted, so here goes:

“ContinuousNEXT is the future evolution of concepts Gartner has introduced in recent years that will build momentum through digital transformation and beyond.”

If that has left you somewhat puzzled, perhaps the headline makes better sense:

ContinuousNEXT is the Formula for Success Through Digital Transformation and Beyond.”

And that formula, according to Gartner’s Symposium agenda includes:

  • Dynamism
  • Privacy/Trust
  • Augmented Intelligence
  • Culture
  • Digital Product Management
  • Digital Twins

These topics range from the blindingly obvious to the truly interesting. In evidence:

“In an environment that thrives on continuous changes, Gartner’s data scientists have found that the single biggest predictor of success is organizational dynamism… the ability to embrace change.”

I guess when Gartner embarked on this research, either their data scientists didn’t have their “augmented intelligence” gizmo switched on or hadn’t heard that Darwin worked this out back in 1859. That said, the presentations about digital product management were thought-provoking and actionable.

From Project Management to Digital Product Management

Andy Kyte, Distinguished VP Analyst and Gartner Fellow, presented at OutSystems NextStep conference in Amsterdam back in October. His straightforward advice went down well with our audience. Choice lines included:

  • Buying applications and customizing was a terrible strategy.
  • Complexity is inversely proportional to agility.
  • When you put more dung on a dung heap, you get a bigger dung heap.
  • Please, please, please stop buying and customizing COTS!

These bullet-points don’t do his presentation justice. I suppose it’s a case of you had to be there, but genuinely, it was good.

A significant part of Andy’s NextStep presentation was the view that IT is no longer in the business of delivering large projects. We’ve moved:

  • From buildings >> to bricks
  • From a trickle of large projects >> to a torrent of small, fast products
  • From deliverables >> to outcomes

So, at the symposium, I was looking forward to hearing Andy go into more detail on the topic of digital product management.

Andy Kyte

It was another barnstorming performance, from which I gleaned the following key takeaways:

  • IT needs a significant cultural overhaul to move from old-school project management to digital product management. Why? Organizations need a digital capability that continuously evolves and adapts as the world changes. This cannot be achieved by clinging to monolithic systems and lengthy projects.
  • Digital product management can start small and grow quickly.
  • Gartner’s recent research says top-performing companies are twice as likely to be using product-centric delivery (compared to low-performers).
  • Gartner predicts that by 2020, three-quarters of digital business leaders will pivot from project management to product portfolio management.
  • Product Managers apply design thinking and agile methodology to shape user experiences.
  • Data and analytics will shape the constant evolution of products.
  • DevOps will deliver daily or perhaps even hourly product updates. 

Andy explained that great products often come from humble beginnings. Early versions may even be considered failures. But, with determination and a continuing focus on rapid iterative improvements, market leaders can succeed at revolutionizing their industry with innovative products.

Products Need Platforms

So, what does all of this have to do with low-code, and why do I, and my colleagues at OutSystems, look forward to more IT organizations adopting a product management mindset?

The answer to that is encapsulated in this quote from Andy Kyte’s presentation at NextStep:

“You won’t master products unless you master platforms.”

And, in our opinion, organizations need to master one kind of platform in particular— low-code.

If you’re not already familiar with low-code application development platforms, or what Gartner calls “high productivity application platforms as a service,” here’s a concise definition, courtesy of Forrester:

“Low-code platforms enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment.”

Practically speaking, developing with low-code means that you can create applications using visual modeling and design instead of writing code. This kind of approach puts low-code right in the sweet spot for the style of rapid iterative development that is needed to make Digital Product Management a success. Here’s how:

  • Low-code development is typically up to 10 times faster than traditional coding.
  • Visual, more comprehensible design enables developers and users to work side-by-side, making collaborative development much more successful.
  • The easier, visual approach to development counteracts the shortage of web and mobile developers, as business analysts, process professionals, and even business super-users can quickly be trained to configure applications without having to code.
  • Automation, pre-configured widgets, templates, and API connectors mean low-code developers are full-stack developers, less dependent on specialists like UI designers, integration specialists, and so forth.

Moreover, looking specifically at the capability of OutSystems, a single IDE enables the same developers to create native mobile, web, and backend service apps that use a modern, agile architecture based on containers and microservices. One-click deployment with automated dependency checking means that you can achieve a continuous delivery pipeline that puts weekly, daily, or even hourly delivery of updates within reach of even small IT organizations.

Because less time and resources are consumed by complex DevOps toolchains, you can rebalance the IT organization to focus more on innovation and less on engineering.

What Does This Mean for Financial Services Firms?

You already knew digital transformation is important. After all, that’s what is fueling unprecedented levels of technology investment across the financial services sector. According to Ovum, the world’s top 1,000 retail banks will spend $124 billion on ICT in 2018 alone.

However, just the top 100 of those retail banks consume 75 percent of that figure. One has to wonder if all this technology investment is money well spent?

A crucial measure to assess is whether it results in the organizational dynamism that Gartner says is essential for success. So, whether you’re a large incumbent financial services business, a small challenger, or a FinTech disruptor, the question is:

How fast can you innovate and then continually adapt?

For the reasons I’ve just set out, if agility is your top concern, low-code should be part of your approach. If more evidence were needed, look no further than the 2018 State of Application Development survey. Over 3,500 IT professionals took part, and 34 percent of respondents said their organization was using a low-code platform. These organizations exhibited greater agile adoption, higher DevOps maturity, faster development, and shorter development queues. Advantages that will surely boost the chances of digital product management becoming a success.

Keeping IT in Control Despite Decentralization

Several of the presentations at Gartner’s symposium explored the challenges of increasingly decentralized IT. According to Gartner’s research, over the next five years, “budgets will continue to shift from IT to business units, so application leaders have less control over how technology is selected.”

In financial services, this decentralization manifests itself either as customer-centric or product-centric devolution of IT.

There’s a paradox:

  • Decentralized IT is closer to the customer but seldom scalable.
  • Centralized IT is better for scale, but risks being less responsive and can lack customer focus.

I believe there’s a third way, which gives IT the oversight and governance that can safeguard critical aspects of scale and security while enabling devolved teams to focus on rapid innovation for customers or products.

The establishment of “low-code digital factories,” using a platform such as OutSystems, allows both the centralized governance of IT and the devolution of responsibility to those that own the outcome.

Establish a Low-Code Digital Factory

If we’re to start delivering products rather than managing projects, how apt that we call this a factory. If you’d like to explore how to successfully adopt and scale the use of low-code in your business, here’s some recommended reading.

Our “Accelerate Digital Transformation With a Low-Code Digital Factory” playbook outlines the structure, talent, ecosystem, and processes needed to scale low-code from the first app to enterprise-wide adoption. It’s based on the experience of thousands of OutSystems customers that have trod this path before.

Put another way: it’s an actionable roadmap to make digital product management and low-code a success in your business.

The Digital Transformation Playbook
Read the eBook