“CEOs are in a mood to work on changing the deeper engine of the business, rather than driving it harder for incremental growth.”

So says Gartner in their 2018 CEO Survey published in April.

Once we’ve picked the meaning from Gartner’s mechanical analogy, it becomes apparent that CEOs are not in a mood for nor are they putting on their overalls and attempting an engine transplant for their business. What Gartner is actually talking about is digital transformation.

Gartner’s survey report is based on responses from 460 CEOs and C-level business executives who ranked business growth as a top priority. However, looking ahead, the way CEOs aim to achieve such growth is less likely to come from simply driving the existing business “engine” harder. Instead, CEOs are prioritizing innovation and digital transformation in particular.

The worry for many CIOs will be that driving more innovation from their already overstretched IT departments will prove hard to achieve. And, the reasons for this difficulty are easy to see.

Four Challenges That Are Holding Back Digital Transformation

The obstacles to digital transformation fall into four categories:

  • Massive backlogs: Many organizations have more work than their IT teams can deliver. According to our recent survey of over 3,500 IT professionals. 65 percent of respondents complained of application backlogs, and only 32% said their backlog had improved since last year.
  • Legacy debt: Keeping-the-lights-on activities make up a massive 70 to 80 percent of IT budgets according to Forrester’s 2018 US Tech Budget Outlook. Inflexible back-office systems that are hard to integrate and time-consuming to adapt are a big part of this problem. Our State of Application Development survey report confirmed this, with legacy systems, integration, and deficient APIs blamed as the main factor that complicated or delayed delivery of new web or mobile apps
  • Scarce resources: 80% of IT professionals say web and mobile skills are hard to hire, according to the State of Application Development survey report. Whether you retrain or recruit, the remedies for this skills drought are time-consuming and expensive.
  • Uncertainty: Digital transformation is hard because genuine innovation is a million miles from the comparative safety of incremental and linear business improvement. Embracing uncertainty and the need for experimentation is hard for organizations. Our State of Application Development survey report confirmed this, with 59% of respondents saying fuzzy or changing requirements was a top challenge that slowed down app delivery.

It’s no wonder that so many companies worry that they’re falling behind digital disruptors and startups. According to McKinsey, many long-established firms are losing “as much as half their revenue growth and one-third of earnings growth” to more digitally-savvy competitors.

IT in an Increasingly Complex World

If those internal pressures weren’t enough, two universal truths certainly don’t make digital transformation any easier:

  • Everything is becoming more complicated. There are far more apps, platforms, data, and technology to take into consideration.
  • The world is changing at breakneck speed. This applies across the board: faster product innovation, faster technology churn, and the rapid rise of new market opportunities and threats.

Let’s take a closer look at how these factors add to the workload of IT organizations and make digital transformation even more challenging.

More Apps

There’s an explosion in demand for new web, mobile, and enterprise apps. Forty-two percent of IT teams already anticipate delivering ten or more applications in 2018. Most IT teams simply can’t keep up.

More Platforms

In addition to the demand for more apps, these days the expectation is that applications will run consistently on any device. Providing a brilliant digital user experience consistently across multiple platforms adds significantly to IT’s workload.

More Tech Churn

Technology is a moving target. Building modern applications typically involves multiple coding languages and development frameworks. Just look at the sheer number of JavaScript frameworks that are available—there are well over 80—each of which is evolving independently, resulting in potential compatibility issues. The bottom line? Building future-proof applications is no small feat.

More Change

Speed-to-market and speed of change are key competitive differentiators in a digital economy. Whereas application updates used to happen about once a year, many organizations now want continuous delivery. However, achieving continuous delivery is hard work and requires significant investments in technology and personnel. This complexity risks becoming a further drain on IT resources that should be more focused on delivering customer value.

More Differentiation

In the past, process standardization and cost reduction priorities were well served by packaged applications like ERP and CRM. But, today’s “age of the customer” priorities are not a good fit for the majority of “off the shelf” applications. Systems of engagement and systems of differentiation demand more customization and personalization.

More Programming

The need for differentiation has led to a burgeoning demand for programmers, especially those who understand the ever-changing array of technology required for digital and mobile development. As aptly put by Forrester, “Today, every company is a software company.”

This accounts for the well-publicized global shortage of modern digital development skills and the difficulty many CIOs are having to either re-skill or recruit resources, and then retain talent that is in hot demand.

So, what can CIOs do about all these pressures? How can they respond?

Mounting evidence suggests that part of the answer is to use modern development approaches, including low-code development platforms, which can help combat the four barriers mentioned above.

In this series of four articles, I’ll set out the arguments and evidence that shows low-code can help. But first, just in case it’s needed, let’s define low-code.

Defining Low-code

Forrester Research defines low-code platforms as those that “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.

Although Gartner analysts also use the term “low-code” in unguarded moments of simplicity, Gartner more formally refers to such platforms as High Productivity Application Platforms as a Service or “hpaPaaS” for short. Take it from me—they mean the same thing. They track mostly the same vendors, and whether you look at a Forrester Low-Code Wave or a Gartner hpaPaaS Magic Quadrant, the same leaders emerge.

How Low-Code Can Help Your Digital Transformation Objectives

According to a wide variety of case studies and industry reports, it’s reasonable to expect low-code to be at least four times faster than hand-coding. That speed advantage can give IT teams significant help in combating the many challenges outlined above.

However, rather than “banging-on” about speed (because, frankly, you’ve probably heard that before), in this article series, I want to explore how low-code supports four digital transformation priorities that every CIO is already focused on. Those priorities are:

  • Enable more innovation and cope better with uncertainty
  • More fully and successfully adopt agile
  • Use DevOps practices to achieve continuous delivery
  • Re-skill, recruit and retain development resources

There being too much to cover in one article, let’s look at how low-code helps enable more innovation. Shorter articles on agile, DevOps, and the “digital skills-drought” will follow.

Enabling Innovation With Low-Code

Whether or not you buy into Gartner’s vision of bi-modal IT, for innovation to thrive there’s an undeniable need for greater speed, experimentation, and even the permission to fail. For these reasons, many firms are investing in new skills like design thinking, lean startup, and customer journey mapping.

However, much of that investment can go to waste if these organizations’ appetites for risk don’t change. When developer resources are scarce and hand-coding is slow, getting permission to experiment (let alone occasionally fail) can be hard. As a consequence, experiments may get strangled at birth behind bureaucratic requirements gathering and risk-averse prioritization practices.

Here’s how low-code can help you get more experiments off the ground.

  • Speed: With development up to 10 times faster than hand-coding, not only can IT get on top of its development queue, but also the risk-to-reward ratio for custom development fundamentally changes.
  • Design thinking: Design thinking works best with visual prototyping and close cooperation between target users and developers. Low-code is fast enough to create visual mockups that elicit high-quality requirements and feedback.
  • Lean startup: Creating a minimum viable product with low-code is fast enough to engage in “test and learn” without fear of vast quantities of development being thrown away if you “pivot.”
  • User experience design: The right low-code platform supports the fast, visual modeling of responsive web user interfaces and mobile apps, putting user experience at the heart of the development process. Built-in user feedback ensures that rapid, collaborative design iteration doesn’t depend on developers and users sitting side-by-side.
  • Scale: The right low-code platform enables you to scale prototypes and user interface mockups into fully integrated enterprise applications. That makes visual prototyping part of mainstream development instead of a disposable luxury.

Fire Up Your Own Experiment Today

As a final thought, it’s worth remembering that experimentation is part and parcel of what defines low-code. As Forrester put it:

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

So, if you want to put that to the test, you can fire up your own personal instance of OutSystems on the cloud, today, for free. Then use our extensive 40+ hour online training curriculum to master the platform. Oh, by the way, that training is free as well.

Continue Reading

If this article has piqued your interest, you can continue reading three related articles:

Why IT Struggles with Digital Transformation (and What to Do About It?)

Part 2: Improve Agile Adoption With Low-Code.

Part 3: Achieve DevOps Advantage With low-Code. (Coming soon.)

Part 4: Re-Skill, Recruit and Retain Digital Developers With Low-Code. (Coming soon.)