Rapid innovation, citizen developers and low-code technology are buzz phrases that are making headlines internationally. But how can these trends actually contribute to the digital transformation companies crave? In this guest blog post, Roland Carandang, Managing Director in Protiviti’s Technology Consulting practice, looks at the essential building blocks to bring these ideas to life.
Citizen developers are fast coming to the fore. These curious individuals, who can be found in every department of a modern business, are an important key to unlocking the door of digital transformation. Their problem-solving skills and operational experience are often combining with low-code platforms designed to be developed outside of IT departments. And they can move fast.
The technology at their fingertips, which includes Microsoft’s Power Apps, Nintex Workflow Suite, Salesforce, Kissflow and ServiceNow, as examples, allows citizen developers to build applications in a simple way. Instead of the detailed coding required by experienced developers, new applications can be configured using a series of building blocks. They help citizen developers try things and innovate, and they are absolutely changing the game.
Great technology is being made widely available, not just to centres of excellence within businesses, but also to those working at the edges. At one end of the spectrum, Excel has been made widely available, and people have done amazing things – but they’ve also had to fix issues with their data. Whilst at the other end of the expertise spectrum, robotic process automation is now commonplace across many sectors , but is generally the preserve of specialists.
The sophistication and accessibility of low-code platforms should support both of these models, however. It is important that people understand how they can push this technology out to the edges of their business and make sure they are doing it well. Because as recent experience during the COVID-19 pandemic attests, anything these companies are going to be working on will be done within a rapidly changing ecosystem of technology, since there are new platforms coming along all the time.
The democracy of technology
The trend of making technology available to all puts more power in the hands of those who touch it. And there are clear benefits to this process. If more people can be involved with development work, collaboration can increase, making it easier to bring new, innovative ideas to life. Because citizen developers are, by their very nature, working in operations teams, marketing teams and even in audit teams, they know their business and what it needs exceptionally well.
But while rich opportunities exist, these are still emerging trends for businesses. As these industry buzzwords have been gaining traction in the media, the desire to fully embrace this way of working has been a slower burn here in UK. Many companies see the potential of low-code platforms, but they are often confused about how to make meaningful investments in them. And they question what returns they will see from allowing a few people to “have a go” at building applications.
People need to know more about the art of the possible using this technology. They hear about citizen developers, but it’s hard to be excited about them — or even be fearful of their potential— without fully knowing what this new, emerging combination of people and technology can deliver. Software vendors and partners, amongst others, definitely have work to do in order to show managers what is possible.
Some companies, for example, are beginning to lament their decisions to automate control processes because they haven’t been able to provide enough transparency to their auditors. They would rather have a few people doing the same job, but this doesn’t take advantage of the possibilities afforded by technology. As part of the “edges of excellence” concept, we need to make sure team members are working in a defensible, collaborative and tech-enabled way — across the entire business.
Towards a low-code future
As many UK-based companies continue their quest towards digital transformation, their ability to keep software development within their IT departments will become strained. The demand for technology skills will continue to grow, and so will the number of low-code providers. This will create an environment in which rapid, democratised development will flourish, because it will have to — and that’s a good thing.
Robert Half’s latest Demand for Skilled Talent Report demonstrates the quickening rate of digital transformation combined with the expansion of remote and hybrid working practices in the UK. This means the development, use and maintenance of hardware, software and cloud-based platforms are no longer the sole preserve of IT departments. Finance Managers/Controllers with ERP skills (+6%); Financial Analysts with VBA skills; Administration Managers with ERP skills (+75%); HR Managers with Prince project management skills (+37%); Executive Assistants with Microsoft Project skills (+34%); And Marketing Managers with Software as a Service (SaaS) expertise (+38%), have all been in demand (with favourable salary premiums) over the past three years.
Low-code development hence has the potential to solve multiple challenges. Yes, it can create products that are better suited to the needs of a business; it can bring people together and make results happen faster. But it can also address any fear that companies may have about losing control. It can link applications together and help create a shared understanding of what’s happening. Low-code technology – and its citizen developer proponents – have the potential to actually make organisations more efficient and accountable, both to themselves and to others.
For example, one of the challenges many companies face is that they don’t always know how secure they are in the eyes of regulators. They will commonly report on what they are doing and the number of breaches, but nothing more. Low-code technology can help organisations work towards a single number, like a shares index, that will provide an idea of how risky they are, how they are trending, and how that correlates with underlying risks to their business. It will give leaders an opportunity to intervene, because they will have a better understanding of what is happening. It will also give regulators and auditors more comfort.
Working in this way has the potential to create an empowered and engaged business. If everyone is developing on similar platforms, then it will — a bit like design thinking — flatten the organisation and help create that democracy that everyone is talking about. Of course, better decisions can be made because of the linkages created by data, but companies can also start to do more things as a result of what they learn. This means they will be ready to rapidly change and adapt, which everyone has had to learn over the past 12 months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert Half and Protiviti continue to help many clients with sourcing high-quality talent. We have access to a strong network of interim and permanent technology professionals. They are ready to help your organisation meet its rapidly changing digital transformation needs. Contact us today.