Our team is always looking to understand the differences between platforms and explore new use cases. Several years ago, we heard a lot about the benefits to low-code and no-code development platforms, and we were eager to find new opportunities. In 2016, we inherited 30,000 employees and 1,000 applications as part of our $3 billion acquisition of Dell Services. When you add that number of people and applications into your current environment, you naturally will need to perform an applications and infrastructure rationalization.
During our rationalization, we identified older applications that needed modernizing, but it didn’t make sense to rebuild these from scratch. We decided these would be great use cases to experiment with some no-code and low-code development platforms. We saw this as a great opportunity to update these apps while testing out these platforms, which Gartner predicts will be a major wave that impacts development in the next few years. In addition, we recognized that other use cases could potentially be addressed:
- A scenario in which we needed a quick win to fix something because a solution that took months or quarters to develop wouldn’t do. We wanted to use their development platform to make it quickly, fix the problem, and move on.
- Another use case is something I’m sure many IT organizations could identify with: A vendor promised a capability in six months - but we needed it faster than that. In this scenario, a team had to develop an application to act as a Band-Aid solution until the platform was fully implemented.
- The third scenario was one in which we needed to cross a strategic platform, but none would reach to the other side, so we sought a solution that crosses those platforms.
We were excited to see just how much speed and agility these platforms could offer. We reached out to three of our trusted vendors to arrange a “bake-off” to pilot the value the vendors could bring us in modernizing those applications in a very quick, agile way.
This would prepare us better for digital transformation and to empower citizen developers, a development approach we expect to see more of in the future. The reality that folks on the business side could potentially begin creating their own apps means that IT needs to make sure there’s proper governance.
How it worked
During our week-long bake-off, we brought in vendors and assigned them the same use case based on one of our business problems.
We paired each vendor in our bake-off with members of our technical team, which included a mix of senior developers and senior business analysts, allowing them all to learn the low-code/no-code process.
In one week, each team worked with the vendors to develop an application based on their cloud platform (this reduced set-up time). On demo day, we evaluated the vendors based on 21 criteria to ensure objectivity. The most important criteria we used included:
- Security: If you have employees developing their own apps, you need a way to leverage existing security models.
- Cost-effectiveness: Using existing platforms to leverage existing spend. Selecting a vendor, you already use makes it more cost-effective.
- Licensing models: Whether you develop an application for 1,000 people or 45,000 people, you need to understand licensing considerations.
- Governance: No matter how strong you think your enterprise governance process is, it may need a little tweaking.
- Integration: With uses cases that need to span multiple platforms, ease of integration will help accelerate the development.
- Infrastructure planning: Whether you’re planning to remain on-premise or not (or you’re not sure), it may sway your decision in one direction or the other. Understanding your direction two-to-three years out will help you pick the right tool.
Other benefits for our technologists
This process also got our teams excited about making a difference in corporate technology. As a COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) organization, it’s easy to fall into a routine. This bake-off provided our staff with an opportunity to learn about new technologies and application development methodologies, enabling them to grow and advance as professionals.
For example, we purposely moved around our technologists to learn the other vendors’ technologies, which improved their training. It would have been easy to pair them with the vendors they knew, but this provided them an opportunity to see the pros and cons of the other product tools. The whole process has been great for employee retention and satisfaction because they feel part of something bigger than their everyday roles – and resulted in a consensus recommendation.
Exploring no-code and low-code options for application modernization through a bake-off was an invaluable experience from beginning to end.
Had we not taken this approach, we probably wouldn’t have taken advantage of a new technology— we may have reverted to the traditional “let’s just go do this in java.net." Instead, it allowed us to leverage our valued partners and involve our employee base to get them excited about the technology. In the end, it’s helped bring our company up to the digital standards that it needs to make our 45,000 people more productive.
[ Read also: 7 ways to attract and keep Gen X and Millennials ]
I like the idea of the bake off to compare different vendors. Is there any kind of report available on the results of this bake off? It would be interesting to read how vendors compare to one another.
Pros: Accomplish more with your current skills
Web application development is constantly changing, requiring an ever-evolving skillset. The problem is, many companies are facing a skills gap. They can’t afford to bring in developers with modern skills when they’re stuck supporting outdated systems and applications.
A low-code development platform bridges the skills gap in a unique way: It brings modern skills to your existing staff.
For instance, I’ve heard from IT leaders who used a low-code tool to turn their COBOL programmers into web developers. Rather than hire new employees and teach them the business, they brought modern skills to employees (who already understand the business).
“Low-code development can result in significant cost and time savings and extend the range of users who can develop programs “Using a low code environment minimizes the need to send every development request to internal IT or development teams, or limitations faced with the availability or expense of third-party developers.”
Con: Vendor lock-in
Vendor lock-in is one of the biggest fears surrounding low-code platforms. Many assume that they’ll be tied to whichever vendor they choose.
Again, refer to the caveat above. This issue varies from vendor to vendor.
For instance, some generate applications using open code and frameworks. They generate clean, standard code that works anywhere. While simpler to maintain these applications within the platform, they can also be maintained outside of the platform.
Other vendors lock you into their platform in a couple of different ways. Some generate convoluted code that’s nearly impossible to maintain outside of the platform. Others won’t let you edit your applications once you stop using the tool.
It’s important that you understand each vendor’s policies before licensing a tool. Make sure you know whether or not you can maintain applications outside of the platform. Also, ask to see the generated code beforehand so you know how easily it can be changed.
These are just a few pros and cons of low-code platforms, but the list could be much longer. Would you add anything to this list?