Low-code platforms accelerate and simplify the work of application developers, leading to increased speed of app development and deployment as well as better support for customer needs, reduced costs and lowered risk. Low-code platforms can also be an essential enabler of digital transformation – the strategic business and IT shift that reworks how enterprises leverage technology to address ever-changing customer demands.

The journey to achieving such transformation may take time. Yet even the longest journey begins with a single step. In the case of low-code deployment, the journey typically begins with one or two apps, with increasing numbers of applications soon following behind.

Before long, low-code platforms like OutSystems drive transformative change well beyond the applications themselves, as they facilitate the journey to enterprise-wide digital transformation.

Entry Points for the Low-Code Journey

The last 20 years have seen enormous change in the way large enterprises create software. Agile and lean practices have shaken up the stodgy, slow and ill-fitting approaches of the last century.

And yet, many large organizations still find their app development efforts mired in a Dilbertian nightmare, as even the most agile of shops struggle to keep up with rapidly shifting customer demands. In spite of the progress we’ve made, the perennial “business/IT alignment” impedance mismatch continues unabated, now with more colorful labels like “shadow” or “bimodal” IT.

Regardless of your perspective on this dichotomy – fast vs. slow, business vs. IT, customer engagement vs. systems of record – we all agree it exists in most large organizations, limiting their ability to innovate, to compete and, fundamentally, to survive.

This combination of challenges – faster, more customer-focused applications on the one hand and better alignment of business and IT on the other – have given rise to an emerging market for low-code and no-code platforms.

While these two market categories overlap, they fundamentally serve different audiences. Low-code platforms accelerate and simplify the work of application developers, while no-code platforms empower non-technical business users to build a range of simple business applications.

Both platform types have their place in modern enterprises, as both can help improve the alignment between business needs and IT capabilities. Whenever the application complexity exceeds the limitations of no-code, however, low-code platforms fill the void.

As enterprises struggle with broad, strategic digital transformation initiatives, therefore, low-code platforms can play an essential role.  This role goes beyond simply improving application development to facilitating the broader, more complex challenges of meeting increasingly dynamic and disruptive customer demands on the journey to digital transformation.

Different Entry Points for Different People

Because of these diverse roles that low-code platforms can play in an organization’s transformation efforts, there are a number of possible starting points for your low-code journey. At its most elementary, the journey begins with a single step – one application – but in reality, the starting point depends upon your role in the organization.

For solution architects and application leads, the low-code starting point will typically be building apps, either for mobile or web, as well as modernizing existing systems. Their key requirement: a tool for developing apps fast, as well as changing them quickly and cheaply, while supporting both new and existing apps over the long term.

Managers in IT, as well as those in the growing role of digital management, are most concerned with building end-to-end capabilities that “digitalize” customer experiences.  These people also have an operational focus on real-time digital performance, and they are concerned with modernizing legacy assets to support digital initiatives.

For the C-suite, the considerations are more strategic. At this level, there is an urgent need for business transformation centered on shifting customer preferences and behavior – while managing risks and costs. CIOs and Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) must also address the needs of line-of-business management across the organization.

Regardless of the role, one requirement is ubiquitous: speed. The speed of software development and delivery directly impacts how quickly an enterprise can bring products to market and meet ever-changing customer demands. It is this need for speed that drives most people to start their low-code journeys.

From One App to Multiple Apps

Many organizations begin their low-code journey with a single application. Sometimes it starts with a proof-of-concept intended to try out the platform and get the development team up to speed. In other cases, a line-of-business (LoB) executive is the low-code champion, and as a result, the first app addresses a departmental need.

Given the speed, cost and quality benefits of low-code application development, however, it doesn’t take long before organizations move beyond the single-app phase and begin to roll out multiple applications. Early quick wins lead to broader acceptance. Ongoing successes typically lead to a clamor of demand, as individuals across the enterprise hear of the newly deployed apps.

Soon, such applications form an ecosystem. Instead of a disparate set of disconnected apps, low-code platforms encourage consistency, interaction and integration of applications, even across LoBs. The result is improved support for strategic, customer-driven digital efforts, as users increasingly expect and demand coherent, well thought-out sets of applications from the companies they do business with.

One organization on this part of the low-code journey is Kent State University, who adopted the OutSystems low-code platform. The university’s vision was to leverage technology to become a “community of change agents.” The platform enabled it to quickly build its first two apps.

These early apps allowed students, faculty and administrators to use their smart devices to access and process information securely, as well as to request services from the university. Now that it is past this early phase, the university is able to devote its time to greater innovation, rapidly building prototypes of new apps and involving students in the creation process.

As organizations reach this multiple-application phase, the change management capabilities of the low-code platform become increasingly important. Organizations like Kent State must establish a solution delivery governance framework that allows – and encourages – rapid development of applications across LoBs.

Without such a platform, these frameworks are difficult to implement in practice. The end result is a measure of chaos, as different LoBs find that centralized IT isn’t able to keep up with their needs. However, with a low-code platform like OutSystems, IT organizations are able to establish and enforce an application delivery cadence – a coordinated, iterative pattern of application releases that maintain consistency across the user experience, application capabilities and the underlying deployment infrastructure.

The result is a modern update to traditional portfolio management, where a governance team can manage a large number of applications across many parts of the business, efficiently allocating resources while managing risk. However, these traditional approaches are prone to slowing everything down with paperwork-laden bureaucratic processes. The modern approach is lean, lightweight, iterative, and customer-focused.

Low-code platforms are essential to achieving these goals of such modern software-driven environments.

In part 2, Intellyx's take on how to solve the bi-modal IT conundrum and how low-code, and OutSystems in particular, can act as enablers of the perpetual change needed to enact true transformation.

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.