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A New Program for New Programmers

Appian, a low-code vendor, recently launched a LowCode4All, a scholarship program that will cater to developing the low-code skills of marginalised individuals. The program will be launched in stages, with an initial focus on people with a background in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) or that have outdated coding skills.

Initially, eligible participants will include current undergraduate and graduate students, students who have paused their education, unemployed individuals, career-changers, and military veterans. As the program progresses, additional target groups will be added, such as single mothers, women returning to the workforce and disenfranchised groups. Low-code platforms represent a particularly powerful option for bringing people into the technology industry, and providing education and certification to disenfranchised citizens is both a socially sound policy and a way to directly address the skill shortage in software development.

This round of the program includes distributing 1,000 scholarships to provide training and certification to marginalised communities, teaching them low-code development practices. This not only benefits the individuals receiving the training, but also addresses the critical scarcity of skilled software professionals. Obviously, it also benefits Appian by ensuring a ready supply of Appian-skilled staff.

In short, the program aims at helping people that have historically seen employment opportunities limited to the lowest paying jobs, or who have experienced generational poverty, which may have hindered them from entering the technology workforce.

The fully-funded program includes a training program, trial examinations, mentoring and employment opportunities through the Appian network. Applicants will need to pass a final examination before becoming an Appian Certified Associate Developer.

Importantly, the program also includes post-certification mentorship with the vendor’s engineering and professional services teams to ensure they are ready for employment.

In an interview with IBRS and Appian’s executive, Appian described the plan as a way of ‘democratising access to a low-code career by reducing financial barriers’. Aside from supporting the scholarship recipients’ low-code platform certification, it will also assist them with job placement. IBRS notes that starting rates for low-code specialists average around US$70,000, which is significant, even life-changing for some candidates targeted by the program, but still very cost-effective application development (which is one reason why low-code is gaining such traction). Given that the people being targeted for the program may have been at poverty level wages, such employment opportunities are genuinely life-changing.

Other tech companies have also launched similar corporate initiatives for low-income learners to earn their certifications. For instance, Microsoft offers the Women at Microsoft Scholarship for high-school women and non-binary applicants, while Salesforce has established the Salesforce Foundation that supports global educational initiatives.

IBRS believes that these programs can help improve diversity by nurturing qualified developers. Women returning to work and young women are both targets for these types of programs. In addition, the programs can help address underemployment within the ageing population and low-income communities. They have real economic and social benefits.

Observations and Lessons from Appian’s Proposed Model

During IBRS’s discussion with Appian’s executives, several contentious issues were raised about the structure of the program. While the intentions of the Appian scholarship program are to support vulnerable members of society, especially those whose income opportunities are limited, IBRS raised the following:

 1. Educational Mentorship is Different from Career Mentorship

Appian’s mentorship program commences once the applicant gets certified after the final exam. However, a true educational mentorship program fosters prioritising first the development of the individual over his or her identity as a certified skilled worker. This means that the mentorship has to be set right during the practice exams instead of leaving them to figure out coding exercises on their own until they experience burnout prior to the final certification test. 

Appian has taken this advice on board and will be expanding mentorship within the program over time.

 2. Mental Health Concerns Among Learners

The target scholarship recipients are individuals with stressful backgrounds compared to typical university scholarship applicants. For instance, U.S. army veterans or service members who were recently discharged and intend to go back to the civilian workforce may still have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or simply be facing severe financial stress. Many academic and clinical literature has shown that such stressors manifest in dysfunctions when transitioning to student life. 

In addition, the pandemic has affected the mental health of employees who initially took their retrenchment in their stride but have become more distressed by the situation. Anxiety is high among this group of individuals.

IBRS recommends that a combination of tutoring and mentorship, with a special consideration on mental health issues, be instituted to ensure that the trainees can remain committed to fulfilling the requirements of the program. Most educational networks (TAFEs, universities, K12 schools) have mental health professionals that support students in need. Vendor-driven programs - especially those targeting marginalised individuals - will need similar support.

3. Time Flexible

Many of the marginalised individuals targeted by these types of programs will be time poor, or have commitments well outside of their control. For example, low-income, single parents may not be able to fully commit to the training in a given time period. Many of them have inflexible schedules and would have to balance their jobs and training while making time for their children because they cannot afford daycare facilities. 

Any programs that aim to support the marginalised will need to accommodate a great deal of flexibility in how and when training is conducted, timing and approach to trial exams, and even the certification exam. This means any mentors involved in the program will also need sufficient training and freedom to work with students at sometimes inconsistent times. A balance must be struck - but exactly what that balance looks like will depend upon the type of training and subject matter.

 4. One-Time Examination

In relation to the points raised above, the drawback to an all-or-nothing certification exam is highly concerning given that these students have to deal with non-academic issues and mental health problems. A pass-or-fail mentality can be demotivating since not everyone can be at the same pace in terms of building their low-code skills.

In these situations, the exam may likely have a poor predictive quality if the performance of all examinees are considered on their first attempt, due to anxiety and lack of focus initially, even if students had engaged with practice exams prior to the final test.

IBRS recommends that vendors implementing such programs establish a ‘safety net’ for their students. In its simplest form, students can be assured that they can retake the final examination a number of times to prevent further anxiety around whether they can pass or not. This can be done by requiring them to do some or all of the curriculum again before being allowed to retake the test.

5. Forward-Looking Approach

Such programs need to be evaluated at least annually to assess the quality and success of the program over time. Without formal evaluation, such programs can be dangerous - actually harming marginalised individuals - and the vendors cannot identify areas for improvement.

Conclusion

Appian is engaged in what should be a powerful win-win-win program:

  • a win for society by creating new employment pathways for marginalised people, in a way that government programs rarely provides
  • a win for the ICT industry that is critically short of developers
  • a win for Appian, as it expands the availability of workforce ready talent

The Latest

10 May 2022: Microsoft has integrated the Z-code Mixture of Experts (MoE) models to Translator and other Azure AI services to improve the quality and accuracy of its translation capabilities. Through the Z-code MoE, the models can speed up language translations on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and PDF files. 107 languages are currently supported. 

Why it’s Important

Pretrained ML models now produce faster translations with consistency and help human translators reduce their workload, especially for repetitive writing and translation tasks. IBRS has observed that hyperscale machine translation has already progressed in terms of computational efficiency. Capabilities such as Z-code save runtime costs by using parameters that are only relevant for specific translation tasks.

However, to match (or sometimes surpass) the quality of human translators, genre-specific translation engines trained specifically on different types of content must be employed. The generic models offered by the hyperscale Cloud vendors are often insufficient. 

Genre-specific machine translation engines involve training highly nuanced models. Solutions such as those from Omniscien Technologies, for instance, provide far more accurate models that can be curated. In addition, these specialised models also allow for the translations to run on an organisation's own infrastructure, which is a consideration for organisations that need to translate sensitive or private content without digressing from the context of the original text.

Who’s impacted

  • CEO
  • Corporate communications teams

What’s Next?

Machine translation services will eventually make their way into the daily life of most people, much like how global positioning systems (GPS) have been integrated into mobile devices. 

Currently, free machine translation tools such as Google Translate and Bing Translator are not nuanced and far less accurate when compared to the output of human translators. Translation apps such as SayHi, allow speech-to-text translation in real-time while Papago and Waygo feature image recognition that automatically translates text on pages, signs and screen. However, these still cannot produce highly accurate translations based on context and language registers.

As such, translation at a basic level (word-for-word, literal) is not good enough for all use cases. For example, translating medical information, patents, user manuals or outputs for e-discovery requests requires a much higher fidelity of translation that must include referential, cohesive and natural-sounding output. For these cases, consider specialised machine translation solutions alongside (and possibly complementing) the more general offerings from the hyperscale Cloud vendors.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Can IBRS provide information on the establishment and maintenance of multi-lingual Web sites?
  2. Software Agents Maturity Model
  3. Managing cultural diversity

The Latest

12 April 2022: IT consulting firm, Atos, has partnered with low-code enterprise software developer Mendix to expand the former’s low-code application service offerings. According to the press release, the collaboration will also enable Atos to promote its commitment to lowering enterprises' carbon footprints through digital modernisation tools.

Why it’s Important

Atos’s partnership with Mendix is one of the many collaborations between tech consulting firms and vendors that were forged to respond to the surge in demand for low-code solutions. IBRS has observed that major service partners are increasingly using low-code tools to deliver results more quickly, while simultaneously opening up new opportunities for other more sophisticated and profitable IT projects. 

This is a result of the growing market for low-code being a fundamental component of Fourth Wave ICT (or the low-code everything era), and the benefits of adopting such a culture for many organisations as discussed in our Special Report

In addition, many vendors are touting their sustainability credentials: all the hyperscale Cloud vendors and many of the major SaaS vendors all now report their progress towards zero or negative carbon footprints.

However, IBRS has previously pointed out that technology vendors with no credible approach to transparency are highly likely to leverage energy and carbon efficiencies to promote themselves, but diverge towards greenwashing – claiming benefits for the climate but without actually changing anything. 

Unfortunately, the agreement between Atos and Mendix appears to be no exception. By claiming that organisations can build applications to assist with decarbonisation, it does not necessarily translate for Mendix or Atos (or for any low-code for that matter) to produce viable carbon emissions reductions. This is because emission reductions are attributed solely to organisations that are actively involved in energy consumption or those that have a carbon footprint. For a software developer to overstate such claims, it is at best double-counting, and at worst blatantly committing cynical greenwashing.

Vendors will stretch their claims regarding sustainability, especially how products can impact carbon footprints. Without clear accountability and metrics, this is often little more than posturing. 

As more consumers are becoming aware of corporate disinformation, enterprise compliance on emission reduction claims in procurement policies for technologies needs to conform to proper sustainability reporting such as the Global Reporting Initiative Standards while incorporating the Oxford Offsetting Principles. Greenwashing will backfire. Proper reporting must include demonstrating a real and measurable commitment to contributing to environmental campaigns.

Who’s impacted

  • CEO
  • Procurement teams
  • IT teams

What’s Next?

  • Familiarise the concepts of allocating and reporting on carbon emissions within your industry. Include what standards exist, and which are likely to be mandated by regulatory institutions in the coming four to five years. 
  • Apply reporting standards to hold vendors accountable when claiming decarbonisation and emissions reductions. 
  • Prevent greenwashing from detracting from the very real business benefits of reducing carbon emissions, such as reduced costs, adoption of elastic ICT provisioning where needed, and meeting staff and public expectations. 
  • Ensure there is transparency in every claim by demonstrating how such green declarations were achieved through reliable accounting methods that gauge emission reductions more accurately.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Considerations for Selecting Modern Low-Code Platforms

  2. Think green IT: Think saving money

  3. Greening your ICT purchases

Conclusion:

As organisations strive to digitise more of their processes and services, several new roles are emerging alongside the traditional CIO role. A number of organisations are now considering implementing new CXO roles such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Technology Officer in order to accelerate the move to digital. Implementation of a CXO role alongside a CIO role presents multiple challenges, including role clarity and scope as the roles require strong collaboration, and can often overlap in a number of areas of responsibility. The CXO roles depend in many ways on the size and type of organisation as well as the strategic intent of the organisation with respect to digital. Careful consideration and design of the CXO roles are required to avoid confusion and conflict and to ensure that organisations deliver on their digital programs. This presentation will focus on the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). It is intended to prepare CIOs to lead the discussion which may take place in their organisation.

It is a mistake to view Office 365 as simply a move to subscription licensing and Cloud-based services. Organisations that simply view Office 365 in this way fail to obtain value from the technology, and continue with business as usual, albeit with an increase in cost and licensing.

Conclusion:

The Demand for Skilled Talent Report highlights that many Australian businesses have fast-tracked digital transformation efforts over the past two years, and that the skills that employees need are not only evolving, but are also resulting in new look job descriptions.1

There are three tactics that organisations employ to increase the quality and success of their ICT and digital recruitment efforts: increasing the use of remote workforces, expanding technical into generalist skills, and broadening the industries in which candidates can have developed their skills.

The Latest

12 April 2022: Research by risk consulting firm Kroll revealed a 356 per cent surge in common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) or zero-day vulnerabilities (also known as freshly announced threats) in the last three months of 2021 compared to the previous quarter. By December, an increase in new ransomware variants was detected in ManageEngine, ProxyShell, VMWare, and SonicWal pushed CVE logs to an all-time high.

Kroll’s industry survey revealed that while phishing remained the most popular initial access infection vector, at 39 per cent in the fourth quarter, CVE increased from 6 per cent to 27 per cent in the same period.

 

Source: Q4 2021 Threat Landscape: Software Exploits Abound

 

Why it’s Important

Many incidents of ransomware continue to impact Australian organisations who are considered prime targets due to (a) their capacity to pay and (b) their relatively immature (from a global perspective) cyber-defence and cyber-response capabilities of a larger number of mid-sized enterprises. Many of these organisations struggle to close common vulnerabilities, let alone zero-day exploits, quickly enough to avoid intrusions due to their weak defence postures.

Organisations need to address their ability to defend against such attacks and respond appropriately to limit any impact caused by breaches. More effort is required across industries to contain the likelihood of attacks impacting productivity, reputation and financial resources, rather than just within individual businesses. This will support sharing of intelligence and the growth of cyber-defence nationally.

Who’s impacted

  • CMO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts

What’s Next?

  • Cyber-defence can no longer be left to a 'best effort' basis by ICT groups. Organisations that lack a dedicated cyber security specialist, must seek out specialist services, peer groups and forums, and actively leverage better practices from these groups.
  • Evaluate the status of your enterprise’s ransomware defence and look into the strengths and weaknesses of your current security posture.
  • Create a dedicated team that will develop a roadmap to improve the organisation’s stance against ransomware.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. The Security Impact of Remote Working: Find the Gaps in (Zero) Trust
  2. Use Security Principles to Guide Security Strategy
  3. Reducing the Risk of a Successful Ransomware Attack

The Latest

12 April 2022: Low-code enterprise software developer OutSystems announced Integration Builder’s (IB) support for Generic PostgreSQL version 13, Aurora PostgreSQL version 12, as well as non-relational database MongoDB. Prior to the announcement, OutSystems only supported a limited number of platforms including MySQL, Oracle, Azure SQL and SQL Server. With more connection options for infrastructure servers, users can now better develop applications where data resides in Cloud-based, high-capacity, elastic databases.

Why it’s Important
As low-code plays an increasing role in application delivery, the adoption of open-source databases will become increasingly common for several reasons. First, it opens up low-code applications to existing solutions as well as allowing existing applications built upon these databases to be extended by low-code developers. Second, it has the potential to reduce the overall cost of low-code architecture. Finally, the inclusion of elastic databases allows low-code to be used for massive scale data applications.

Therefore, for organisations that are considering purchasing a new low-code platform with connected services from different sources, look into how the vendor caters to the evolving hyperscale Cloud computing market to support the scalability and high-performance needs of clients. As previously noted by IBRS, the most successful ones will require minimal changes in enterprises' existing SQL Server application code, speed of migration, and ease of switching to other tools post-migration.

Who’s impacted

  • CTO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts
  • Low-code centre of excellence

What’s Next?

Review the low-code spectrum to determine which types of low-code capabilities your organisation needs in the near and midterm, and which are most likely to be needed in the longer-term.
In addition, it is imperative to assess risks associated with adopting a new operating model and platform before investing in any low-code platform.

 

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Considerations for Selecting Modern Low-Code Platforms
  2. VENDORiQ: AWS Babelfish Brings PostgreSQL to its Hyperscale Database

For many organisations, Cloud adoption has become an imperative to deliver on the ever-increasing business appetite for digital solutions. Yet despite the fact that Cloud services are now mainstream, some organisations are still stuck on the mantra of Cloud first as a strategy.