John, in your research, you talk about how manual business processes no longer work. What do you mean by this?
Well, some processes depend on employees being in the same place or having access to paper files. Remote work broke these sorts of things. Many processes either stopped functioning outright or caused delays in decision-making. We've seen three major types of process breakdowns:
Decisions on hold when face-to-face isn't possible.
Waiting on decisions wastes time when you're in the middle of a sprint or a project. This just gets worse when you can't talk over the cubicle wall to your colleague or take the elevator to talk with your product owner and get an immediate answer.
Customers get a grace period because there's no one in the mailroom.
For example, I know of a municipality that still collects monthly parking fees using paper forms. With no one in the office to push paper, they’re just not charging fees until the crisis is over. Free parking!
Processes enter a waiting state until they are brought online.
For example, a large insurance company put a lot of time and money into process automation focused on improving the customer experience but ignored their operations. When workers were sent home, a lot of these operations slowed to a crawl —many simply broke.
Another example: With administrative staff working in their homes, doctor’s offices that use electronic health records can still schedule appointments, update patient charts, etc., but those relying on paper records can’t. Even offices that use online scheduling or other software still can’t function if all the patient data is sitting at the office in binders.
What are some of the most common challenges your clients are facing, and how are low-code tools helping? What is your take on how a completely remote workforce impacted this?
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, clients faced three major challenges.
As mentioned, remote work broke processes that depended on co-location of people or access to paper files. Clients needed to urgently fix and/or digitize critical operational processes to stay in business. Low-code helped clients do this quickly.
Urgent need for new software.
Four new application priorities went to the top of the list:
- Tracking and tracing applications for tests, health equipment and supplies, people, etc.
- Allocation planning and allocation apps for skills, experts, inventories, equipment, supplies, etc.
- Program administration for government programs, debit and default management, new and temporary facilities, new. restrictions and penalties, etc.
- Reconstituted and/or new operational processes for servicing requests, management logistics and purchasing, payments, etc. Enterprises that had low-code platforms were able to satisfy these new needs in days or at most weeks. Many low-code vendors provided either free apps or free frameworks for building the urgent new use cases.
Vanishing revenue squeezed budgets
Some businesses and institutions simply shut down. Many operated at dramatically reduced volumes or found their business models upended (e.g. hospitals stopped elective surgeries, ). Firms with low-code platforms could deliver apps at a much lower cost than packaged solutions and traditional coding. Many low-code vendors provided free apps and frameworks. Some provided free temporary licenses and/or relaxed payment terms.
How would you advise companies with existing traditional app development approaches (coding) maximize the impact of a low-code approach today?
Most enterprises using low-code platforms also develop apps by coding. Low-code platforms are just another tool in the toolbox. For the right use case, such as urgent new COVID-19 priorities, use cases with uncertain requirements, processes that change a lot, and projects that build on existing data foundations (e.g. CRM) low-code is less risky and more effective than coding.
John, in your years of research, why do you think is app adoption so important, and does remote work change the answer? What can be done to increase adoption, and how big of a role do design and experience play?
Adoption is crucial to the success of a digital strategy. Apps that employees, partners, or customers don’t use are a waste of time and money. Worse, faced with crummy applications, people usually revert to “rogue IT” to get their jobs done instead of using the apps they’re supposed to employ. The result: Spreadsheets-plus-email, desktop databases, and other software band-aids that make business processes fragile and insecure.
In some cases, employees, partners, or employees will “grin and bear it” with an app they hate, but developers shouldn’t count on that dynamic. The apps that I’ve seen getting quick adoption and intensive use are founded on careful research into the intended user’s work. That research drives a design for that user that includes the right language, visual metaphors, media, and work processes. Designs, in other words, that reflect the target user’s world view – and actually help rather than hinder them in their jobs.