Low-code

The Latest

19 May 2021: Google has launched Vertex AI, a platform that strives to accelerate the development of machine learning models (aka, algorithms). According to Google and IBRS discussions with early adopters, the platform does indeed dramatically reduce the amount of manual coding needed to develop (aka, train) machine learning models. 

Why it’s Important

The use of machine learning (ML) will have a dramatic impact on decision making support systems and automation over the next decade. For the majority of organisations, ML capabilities will be acquired as part of regular upgrades of enterprise SaaS solutions. Software leaders such as Microsoft, Salesforce, Adobe and even smaller ERP vendors such as Zoho and TechnologyOne, are all embedding ML powered services into their products today, and this will only accelerate.

However, developing proprietary ML models to meet specific needs may very well prove critically important for a few organisations. Recent examples of this include: customise direct customer outreach with specific language tailored to lessen overdue payment, and creating decision support solutions to reduce the occurrence of heatstroke.

IBRS has written extensively on ML development operations (MLOps). However, the future of this disciplin e will likely be AI-powered recommendation engines that aid data teams in the development of ML models. In a recent example, IBRS monitored a data scientist as they first developed an ML model to predict customer behaviour using traditional techniques, and then used a publicly available tool that leveraged ML itself to build, test and recommend the same model. Excluding data preparation, the hand-coded approach took 3 days to complete, while the assisted approach took several hours. But more importantly, the assisted approach tested more models that the data scientist could test manually, and delivered a model that was 3% more accurate than the hand-coded solution.

It should be noted that leveraging ‘low-code’ AI does not negate the need for data scientists or the pressing need to improve data literacy within most organisations. However, it has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of developing and testing ML models, which lowers the financial risk for organisations experimenting with AI.

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • Marketing leads
  • Development team leads

What’s Next?

Prepare for low-code AI to become increasingly common and the hype surrounding it to grow significant in the coming two years. However, the excitement for low-code ML should be tempered with the realisation that many of the use cases for ML will be embedded ‘out of the box’ in ERP, CRM, HCM, workforce management, and asset management SaaS solutions in the near future. Organisations should balance the ‘build it’ versus ‘wait for it’ decision when it comes to ML-power services. 

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Six Critical Success Factors for Machine Learning Projects
  2. Options for Machine Learning-as-a-Service: The Big Four AIs Battle it Out
  3. How can AI reimagine your business processes?
  4. Low-Code Platform Feature Checklist
  5. VENDORiQ: BMC Adds AI to IT Operations
  6. Artificial intelligence Part 3: Preparing IT organisations for artificial intelligence deployment

The Latest

23 February 2021: Creatio has just taken US$68 million in funding, joining the current investment frenzy in low-code platform vendors. 

Why it’s Important

Creatio started life as a BPM vendor in 2011, and introduced its low-code platform in 2013, making it one of the better established of the new generation of low-code vendors. This round of investment is relatively small, compared recent activity in the low-code platform market. Even so, it is yet more evidence that the market for Cloud-based low-code is on the boil. These low-code platform vendors are spending their new-found cash on the following, in order of priority:

  • global market expansion: setting up new offices and hiring channel managers, which means more vendors will be entering the ANZ market more aggressively
  • buying additional elements of the ‘low-code everything’ stack: including business process mapping / management (BPM), robotic process automation (RPA), API management (APIM) and rules engines
  • buying market share with acquisitions: as we saw recently with Nintex procuring K2

The challenge for buyers of low-code platforms is that while the market is beginning to see a great deal of change and competition, their ICT investments need to be considered for the long-term - at least a decade. This is due to the need to invest the skills, processes, governance and change management to get the promised returns on whatever low-code is selected. 

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts

What’s Next?

When considering low-code platforms (and it is likely your organisation will have more than one, in order to meet different needs) look for the investment and development road map of the vendors. In particular, determine if the vendors have a viable strategy to develop skills and support resources locally, either directly or through channel partners. Also, explore their road map for delivering more than just eforms and workflow, but moving to acquire or develop a ‘low-code everything’ platform. 

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Cloud low-code vendor Webflow secures US$140 million
  2. How to succeed with eforms Part 1: Understand the need
  3. Workforce transformation part 4: Non-techies are taking over your developers’ jobs – Dealing with the fallout
  4. Aussie vendor radar: Nintex joins the mainstream business process automation vendor landscape

There is more innovation going on behind the scenes in Australian organisations than they are being given credit for. IBRS advisor, Dr Joseph Sweeney, who specialises in the areas of workforce transformation and the future of work stated, Australian organisations have led the world in the uptake of virtualisation which now has Australia leading in terms of Cloud adoption. 'World-leading Australian innovation was emerging in how Cloud-based services could be used to make internal operations more efficient, which was less glamorous than some of the consumer-facing apps being developed by emerging fintech companies, but equally worthwhile." said Dr Sweeney. 

“One area of innovation IBRS has identified over the last year is a rapid update of low-code platforms to allow less-technical staff to be involved in digitising business processes,” he said. Citizen developers aren't just limiting themselves to e-forms but are using a full range of low code tools and vendors are reporting sales growth of over 30%.

Full story.

The Latest

17 February 2021: Google Apigee announced the release of Apigee X, its latest edition of its API management solution.

Why it’s Important

IBRS has found that the topic of APIs has moved out of the boiler room to the boardroom. During a series of roundtables with CEOs, CFOs and Heads of HR in late 2019, IBRS noted that many of these executives were advocates for ‘API enabled enterprise solutions’. Upon further questioning, these non-technical executives were able to accurately describe the core concepts and purposes of APIs. Much of their knowledge had come from engagements with combined SalesForce / Mulesoft sales teams. During 2020, the demand for rapid digitisation of processes with low-code platforms further raised the profile of API usage.

Expectations for APIs are high. Meeting those expectations demands a structured approach to management of APIs, and the ability to report on their usage. 

Who’s impacted

  • CTO
  • Software development teams

What’s Next?

Consider how the topic of APIs - which many executives see as critical for evolving business functions, or even a building block of digital transform efforts, needs to be communicated within the organisation. Explore how the adoption of low-code platforms both within and tangential to the ICT group will further expand the use of APIs. If not already available, put in place a roadmap for the introduction of API management capabilities, factoring both governance issues and supporting technologies.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Architectures for Mobilised Enterprise Applications
  2. Running IT-as-a-Service Part 15: Traditional enterprise architecture is irrelevant to digital transformation
  3. IBRSiQ: Can IBRS advise on the pros and cons of best of breed combined EAM/ERP vs fully integrated ERP/EAM?
  4. The impact of Software-as-a-Service on enterprise solutions: Why you must run IT-as-a-Service
  5. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) Part 2: Planning the ERP strategy for modernisation
  6. How to succeed with eforms Part 4: Selection framework
  7. Making the case for enterprise architecture

The Latest

2 February 2021: Google has announced general availability of Dialogflow CX, it’s virtual agent (chatbot) technology for call centres.  The service is a platform to create and deploy virtual agents for public-facing customer services. Google has embraced low-code concepts to allow for rapid development of such virtual agents with a visual builder. The platform also allows for switching between conversational ‘contexts’, which allows for greater flexibility in how the agents can converse with people that have multiple, simultaneous customer service issues.

Why it’s Important

While virtual agents are relatively easy to develop over time, two key challenges have remained: 

  1. the ability to allow non-technical, customer service specialists to be directly involved in the creation and continual evolution of the virtual agents
  2. the capability of virtual agents to correctly react to humans’ non-linier conversational patterns.

Google’s Dialogflow CX has adopted aspects of low-code development to address the first challenge. The platform offers a visual builder and the way conversations are developed (contexts) can be described as ‘program by example’. While there are third-party virtual agent platforms that further simplify the development of agent workflows (many of which build on top of Dialogflow), the Google approach is proving sufficient for non-technical specialists to get heavily involved in the development and fine-tuning of virtual agents

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts

What’s Next?

If not already in place, organisations should establish a group of technical and non-technical staff to explore where and how virtual agents can be used. Do not attempt a big bang approach: keep expectations small, be experimental and iterative. Leverage low-code ‘chatbot builder’ tools to simplify the creation of virtual agent workflows, while leveraging available hyperscale cloud platforms for the back end of the agents. 

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Chatbots Part 1: Start creating capabilities with a super-low-cost experiment
  2. Virtual Service Desk Agent Critical Success Factors
  3. SNAPSHOT: The Chatbot Mantra: Experimental, experiential and iterative
  4. New generation IT service management tools Part 1
  5. Artificial intelligence Part 3: Preparing IT organisations for artificial intelligence deployment
  6. VENDORiQ: Tribal Sage chatbot

The Latest

11 January 2021: IBRS interviewed low-code vendor Kintone, exploring its unique capabilities. The Japanese company is looking to expand its presence in the Australian market through traditional channels and some unexpected partners.

Why it’s Important

As detailed in the ‘VENDORiQ: Cloud low-code vendor Webflow secures US$140 million’, the low-code market is growing rapidly.  Kintone Australia is a subsidiary of Cybozu, one of Japan’s largest software companies, which was founded in 1997. The firm’s platform focuses as much on collaboration around digitised processes as it does on the development of applications - with every process having ‘conversational threads’. The firm’s clients in Australia are predominantly Japanese firms with local operations.

Who’s impacted?

  • Development team leads
  • Workforce transformation leads

What’s Next?

Kintone addresses the low to mid-range of the IBRS spectrum of services for eforms and low-code environments. It is suited for less-technical staff (including business analysts) to create structured processes that include collaboration. 

Kintone’s approach is worth noting, since many of the processes digitised by low-code platforms are replacing ad-hoc, messy processes that are often managed with manual activities and collaboration. There is an active evolution from manual, collaborative processes to digitised processes.

Kintone has a stable financial base via its strength in the Japanese market. Skills, training and support for Kintone are comparatively weak in the domestic market. However, Kintone is looking to partner with IT services organisations and partners with strengths in providing printing and digitisation technologies. 

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. How to succeed with eforms Part 1: Understand the need.
  2. Workforce transformation part 4: Non-techies are taking over your developers’ jobs – Dealing with the fallout
  3. Aussie vendor radar: Nintex joins the mainstream business process automation vendor landscape
  4. VENDORiQ: Cloud low-code vendor Webflow secures US$140 million

The Latest

14 January 2021: IBRS interviewed Appian, a low-code vendor that specialises in providing business analysts and developers with a platform to deliver custom enterprise applications. The vendor has seen strong growth in the later half of 2020 due to organisations needing to quickly develop new applications to address lockdowns and new digital service delivery demands. The vendor also detailed how it is leveraging machine learning to guide users through the development of applications. The use of machine learning to recommend low-code application designs and workflows is a key differentiator for Appian.

Why it’s Important

As detailed in the 'VENDORiQ: Cloud low-code vendor Webflow secures $140 million', the low-code market is growing rapidly. Appian is a major global vendor in the low-code market. It positions itself above the non-technical / citizen-developer tools such as Forms.IO, but below the specialised development team platforms such as OutSystems. Appian’s ‘sweet spot’ is teams of business stakeholders working with business analysts and developers to jointly prototype and then put into production applications. 

Appian has been expanding the use of machine learning algorithms to application design. During application development, the algorithms will make recommendations on fields that are needed on forms, workflow steps, approval processes, etc.

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts

What’s Next?

When selecting a low-code platform, organisations should be very clear about who the stakeholders are, who will use the platform, the project management model for application development and the applications to be developed.  

In the case of Appian, there is clearly a close alignment with Agile business methodologies, which extend beyond the ICT group as outlined in the 'IBRS Snapshot: Agile Service Spectrum'.

The use of AI during the development applications is a feature more than a gimmick. This ‘guided’ approach to design not only speeds up application development, but by analysing a large body of existing applications and drawing inferences based on usage and effectiveness, it helps ensure that ‘best practices’ in workflows are not overlooked.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. How to succeed with eforms Part 1: Understand the need.
  2. Workforce transformation part 4: Non-techies are taking over your developers’ jobs – Dealing with the fallout
  3. Aussie vendor radar: Nintex joins the mainstream business process automation vendor landscape
  4. VENDORiQ: Cloud low-code vendor Webflow secures US$140 million

The Latest

12 January 2021: Webflow, a Cloud-based low-code vendor, has secured US$140 in investment. The new round of investment values the vendor at US$2.1 billion. 

Why it’s Important

The low-code market exploded over the last year. Newer entrants, such as Webflow (founded in 2012), are attracting significant venture capital. Just 17 months ago, Webflow took $72 million investments which valued the company at $400 million. The new investments thrust the vendor into unicorn status. At the same time, well-established low-code vendors such as Nintex and Microsoft are consolidating and expanding their portfolios to include robotic process automation, process modelling and integration tools.

The market for low-code is not yet at the peak of its feverish growth, but IBRS cautions that current rates of investment and hype are unsustainable. There will be turmoil as the mark begins to consolidate, likely in 2023 to 2026.

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • Development team leads
  • Workforce transformation leads

What’s Next?

Low-code development is not a new concept. However, the uptake of Cloud platforms, common data models, robot process automation and business modelling are extending the notion of low-code development from simple ‘e-forms’ tools to services that enable enterprise-grade process digitisation.  

The pandemic and working from home has supercharged the need for process digitisation, and low-code vendors are all seeing strong sales growth. 

Unfortunately, the term ‘low-code’ is starting to become meaningless, as vendors that provide very different application development tools and platforms attach the term to their products.  IBRS recommends organisations view ‘low code’ as a broad term that covers a spectrum of capabilities, as detailed in 'How to succeed with eforms Part 1: Understand the need'. It is likely that most organisations will need to acquire two low-code products to cover different parts of this spectrum: one product aimed at non-technical staff for simple e-forms, and another product to increase the agility of pro-developers in the ICT group.

Consider the financial backing and stability of a vendor when selecting low-code tools, as market consolidation is on the horizon. You do not wish to be developing business processes on a platform they will outlive.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. How to succeed with eforms Part 1: Understand the need.
  2. Workforce transformation part 4: Non-techies are taking over your developers’ jobs – Dealing with the fallout
  3. Aussie vendor radar: Nintex joins the mainstream business process automation vendor landscape
  4. IBRSiQ: Can IBRS assist in identifying a mobility platform other than Xalt?