Low-code app development: a surprising boon for professional services
By JASON BLOOMBERG
Low-code platforms simplify and streamline the work of professional developers, enabling them to deliver enterprise apps in a fraction of the time of hand-coding, often with higher quality. What’s not to love?
If you make your money billing development hours for enterprise clients, however, low-code may very well look like a wolf in agile sheep’s clothing. Sure, delivering better-quality apps will keep customers happy, but losing all those billable hours has got to be tough on the bottom line, right?
Not so fast. From the large system integrators or SIs to hotshot boutique consulting firms, low-code platforms are a godsend, for a variety of reasons. The conventional wisdom that any tool that lowers billable hours is bad for business simply doesn’t apply in the digital era.
The Big Four SIs: end-to-end value
The large, traditional SIs’ value propositions to customers has always been about more than billable software development hours. For these companies, low-code only strengthens their strategic value proposition.
In many cases, the big win for customers centers on digital transformation. “KPMG recognizes the increasing popularity and power of low-code platforms and the role they play in digitalization and digital transformation,” said Atilla Özüm, director at KPMG digital enablement and Swatantra Kumar, manager at KPMG Nederland. “The success stories range from real-time inventory management systems to online volunteer platforms and tank terminal monitoring platforms.”
For its part, PwC sees low-code as part of its overall consulting around enterprise automation. “Every company needs to take a serious look at how they’re approaching [automation], especially as new tools put the power to solve problems and streamline tasks into the hands of business users,” according to a PwC report on unlocking automation value. “‘Low-code,’ or self-service, data management and RPA tools enable finance, human resources or other teams to address data challenges in their function and eliminate repetitive tasks.”
In fact, it’s no coincidence that KPMG’s and PwC’s low-code solutions center on process automation, as these stories are part of a broader trend impacting business process management or BPM platforms, all of which are becoming digital process automation or DPA tools, largely by adding low-code capabilities.
The essential difference between DPA and BPM, in fact, is how fast developers can deliver value. “BPM for building workflows is faster than hand-coding them,” explained Marc Wilson, co-founder and senior vice president at Appian Corp. “There’s virtually no tolerance for three- to five-year projects, especially in the public sector.”
When billable hours still count
For those SIs with large teams of developers they have to keep busy, the low-code value proposition is less strategic – but still essential to their business.
The Indian SIs, for example, are putting some of their people on creating low-code platforms internally. “Wipro Digital Modernization Platform ADT is a unique solution that accelerates full stack application development by automatically generating the code,” according to a Wipro brochure. “Based on the ‘Low Code No Code’ principle, ADT creates the full stack, cloud native and microservices architecture from scratch.”
Such consultants’ tools leverage low-code to provide better quality and streamlined projects for the SI’s customers, while still generating plenty of billable hours. And Wipro isn’t alone. TCS has rolled out its low-code Connected Intelligence Platform, while Infosys offers its DevOps Platform that also follows low-code principles. Such offerings have the added benefit of adding a software license or software-as-a-service-based revenue stream to make up for any losses the SI experiences from a decrease in billable hours.
And then there’s Accenture, traditionally both a strategic professional services partner and a plentiful source of development resources. This company is struggling with the dearth of affordable development resources on the market as well as shifting customer demands.
Over the years, customization of commercial off the shelf enterprise applications has been a huge cash cow for Accenture (as well as the other large SIs) – but today, enterprises have little appetite for such money pit projects.
To fill this void, Accenture has been touting a low-code-based “renaissance of custom.” “We aim to discuss advancements, demand trends and updates in software engineering areas such as no-code and low-code systems, new techniques for modernization and cloud migration, approaches for development of intelligent systems, revolutionary architecture patterns, reliability engineering, innovation in testing and emerging technologies, including blockchain and AR, as well as new methodologies for constructing the systems of tomorrow,” explained Adam Burden, chief software engineer and global lead of Accenture’s Intelligent Software Engineering Services practice.
In other words, Accenture expects the software customization cash cow to continue to moo, only now low-code gives it something new to moo about. “We are in a renaissance of custom applications,” added Mike Biltz, managing director of Accenture Technology Vision. “If you can buy [an application] off the shelf, you have already missed the boat.”
Boutique firms: growth in the face of constrained resources
In contrast to the large SIs, the business context for small, boutique professional services firms centers on growth. “The challenge with boutique firms has always been scaling to the global level,” said Appian’s Wilson. “With low-code, it doesn’t take 200 people on the other side of the world anymore.”
The shortage of qualified developers isn’t simply about headcount. It’s also about the particular skills necessary to build applications and web sites the traditional, high-code way versus the low-code approach. “True full stack developers — ones that master the software development stack from end to end — are rare and very hard to find,” bemoaned Mathieu Drouin, solution architect and owner of Division 61, a boutique consultancy specializing in intelligent automation. “A low-code platform can be a very powerful tool for reducing technological complexity and allowing your organization to concentrate on building applications that provide real business value.”
It’s no wonder, then, that so many low-code platform vendors have no trouble signing up boutique consulting partners. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how big or small the low-code vendor is. They all have partners champing at the bit.
Crowd Machine Inc., for example, is a smaller, younger low-code platform vendor. “We already see a strong demand for Crowd Machine apps given the significant reduction in costs and lead times associated with building and running SaaS products,” said Tom Hall, boutique firm Appsolutely Inc.’s founder and CEO and Crowd Machine partner.
At the other extreme, OutSystems is one of the well-established low-code market leaders. “It’s easy to build a business case,” explained Rui P. Vaz, Partner with Deloitte Consultores in Portugal. “What normally takes months to implement, with OutSystems it takes weeks.”
No going back
Will there continue to be a need for hand-coding in enterprise IT shops? Certainly – but that need has been diminishing, and will continue to wane as low-code platforms mature.
If you’ve made your career with your coding skills, take heart. There is more to building quality software than cranking out lines of code, and enterprises will always need the value-add that qualified architects and engineers can bring to the process.
Furthermore, there will continue to be a desperate need for hand-coding among the vendors and SaaS providers themselves. It only makes sense to leave hand-coding to the software providers, not the banks or the car companies or any other enterprise. Banks should be experts at banking and auto manufacturers should focus on making the best cars they can – but leave software to the experts.
Digitally transformed enterprises are software-driven nevertheless, and low-code is a fundamental enabler of this digital vision. Enterprises are well-advised to take this lesson to heart, and leave the hand-coding to the companies that do so for a living.