Until recently, the economics of bespoke enterprise application development has been a story of scarcity. Because such apps are difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to produce, companies treat them as rare, precious resources.

These economics have impacted how enterprises plan and budget for bespoke development, as well as how they make build vs. buy decisions. Clearly, if build is expensive and difficult, the pendulum will swing to buy, even though the history of commercial enterprise apps is also fraught with expensive, time-consuming options.

Now, however, those economics have changed. Today, because of low-code platforms, bespoke development follows an economics of abundance.

Applications are not simply faster and easier to build with a low-code platform like OutSystems when compared to traditional, hand-coded bespoke development.

Because the economics have changed, enterprises must now reevaluate the role app development plays in their organizations—not just tactically, but also strategically, as they seek to use software for the sustainable competitive advantage that is the long-term goal of digital transformation.

Time for a Mind Shift

With low-code platforms, a typical enterprise app dev shop can build many hundreds of apps per year. The question then is: why? Why would an enterprise want to build so many apps?
The answer depends on the nature of the apps an organization is likely to build. In fact, low-code impacts the balance between tactical and strategic applications.

When apps are expensive and time-consuming to build, then the focus should be on building the most strategic ones. As the app dev team gets up to speed with low-code, in contrast, it’s now cost-effective to build a wide range of different types of apps, from the more strategic, mission-critical ones to the important but more tactical ones.

A tactical application focuses on delivering short-term value in the context of the day-to-day operations of the business. Many financial, human resources, and general-purpose data processing apps qualify as tactical. Internal, ‘business-to-employee’ (B2E) apps are generally tactical.

Tactical apps have rarely been the focus of bespoke development, as it has never made sense for enterprises to invest the time and money required. As a result, companies have long settled for COTS alternatives, even though they may not always be a good fit.

In contrast, strategic apps deliver on the competitive priorities of the organization. Apps that increase market share, for example, are likely to be strategic. If an application drives revenue and also provides a competitive differentiator to the business, it’s likely to be strategic to the organization. It’s no surprise, therefore, that customer-facing apps are likely to be more strategic than B2E ones.

As enterprises get up to speed with low-code development, they typically find that it’s now cost-effective to build more tactical apps in-house than before. However, the big win—for low-code app development as well as bespoke development generally—are the strategic apps.

Historically, strategic apps have always been a challenge for IT generally, as so much of the IT dollar has gone toward “keeping the lights on” and other tactical expenditures.

Today, with the rise of low-code (as well as DevOps), app dev can finally become a strategic enabler for the organization at large. Just one problem: if you can build such apps, so can your competition.

Understanding the Digital Application Battlefield

As long as all the competitors in a particular market segment build their apps the old-fashioned way, then everyone is saddled with slow, expensive bespoke development, leading to an even playing field.

In the past, simply building a better app was the ticket to long-term strategic advantage. The classic example of this type of app is SABRE: American Airlines’ mainframe-based reservation system that dominated its industry for decades.

SABRE, however, represents the economics of scarcity. Today, the battle isn’t about who can build a better strategic application. Instead, the battle is over who can build better strategic apps faster.

Once one participant figures out how to accelerate their strategic app development, they will quickly gain a competitive advantage. That is, until the competition catches up. To remain the leader, then, the company will need to continually update its apps or roll out new ones to stay ahead.

Furthermore, the time frame of this competitive cycle is growing ever shorter. No longer can an enterprise roll out a SABRE-like app and hope to maintain its advantage for decades, or even years. Instead, competitive advantage is measured in months or even weeks in some industries.

The Intellyx Take: Low-Code vs. DevOps?

In the absence of an established low-code app dev approach, even DevOps will fall short. True, DevOps promises faster application deployment, but coders can only code so fast, even with DevOps in place.

As enterprises ramp up their low-code teams, in contrast, moving to a DevOps culture becomes more straightforward, as the cross-functional collaboration central to DevOps is a low-code best practice.

The key to maintaining long-term strategic advantage in the digital world is a combination of low-code app dev and an increasingly DevOps culture—a culture of cross-functional collaboration, self-organization, and flattened hierarchies.

This culture alone is necessary for digital transformation success, but it isn’t sufficient. Enterprises must move to this culture while leveraging a technology foundation that includes a low-code platform that empowers app dev teams to build more tactical and strategic apps faster—faster than they have done before, and faster than the competition.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. OutSystems is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, none of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.