Digitization Putting “Enormous Pressure” On IT Teams: Q&A With Derek Roos



Esther Shein
05/30/2018

Digital transformation has organizations scrambling to build new apps to help them improve their processes and meet customer needs faster than ever before. As they think about how to achieve time to market in a rapid and efficient way, many are turning to low-code cloud platforms whose goal is to enable a complete agile software lifecycle.

Enterprise Mobility Exchange spoke with Derek Roos, CEO and co-founder of Mendix, a low-code app development platform that lets “citizen developers,” who work outside of traditional IT, by turning code into visual interfaces. Roos spoke about why low-code development is gaining traction in enterprises.


EME: Forrester Research recently said low-code development platforms are here to stay. Why are they being eyed more frequently now?

Derek Roos: Low-code platforms are increasingly being adopted by enterprise IT teams. Analyst firms, including Forrester have found that low-code development platforms speed up application delivery and dramatically improves IT’s ability to respond to business demand. 

Digitization puts enormous pressure on IT teams who typically do not have the resources to keep up with the demands from the business for custom applications. 

Gartner predicts that through 2018, one-third of enterprise apps will fail within six months. This reality is pushing IT leaders to re-evaluate their approach to custom application development. The traditional approach of coding applications is a linear process that results in a longer development time as requirements typically change and it’s challenging for the IT team keep up the demands of the business. This challenge is the motivation for adopting low-code application development as it automates much of the process and allows for business users to more effectively collaborate during the development of an application.  

IDC analyst Stephen Elliot estimates that 30 to 35 percent of IT projects fail. Other studies put the figure higher, approaching 50 percent. Across the board, one common reason cited for why custom applications fail to deliver their intended outcomes is misalignment with user and business needs.

Another survey of IT executives about factors that stop digital transformation found that 64 percent of respondents said lack of collaboration between IT and the business is a barrier; 58 percent cited inflexible or slow processes; 41 percent listed lack of integration of new and existing technologies; and 37 percent said lack of properly skilled teams.

This reality is pushing IT leaders to re-evaluate their approach to custom application development. The traditional approach of coding applications is a linear process that results in a longer development time as requirements typically change and it’s challenging for the IT team to keep up with the demands of the business. This challenge is the motivation for adopting low-code application development as it automates much of the process and allows for business users to more effectively collaborate during the development of an application.  

More and more companies are viewing low-code options as a key enabling capability for exploring and understanding new business opportunities. These platforms enable business analysts to develop apps to test out ideas without having a dedicated commitment of resources from an IT department. As a side benefit, this can result in a lower load on IT departments as non-viable businesses are eliminated and business goals are better understood.

EME: What does a low-code platform look like?

DR: A low-code platform provides a comprehensive, integrated set of tools and services to support businesses throughout the entire application lifecycle, from ideation and development through deployment and operation.

When the user logs in, they are meet with a visual interface to drag and drop components to build applications. Apps are built utilizing our visual development tools, without writing a single line of code. This visual method of development allows for real-time collaboration between the business and IT teams.

EME: What type of enterprise applications are being built with low-code platforms?

DR: We’ve found that applications developed on Mendix typically fall into one of four use cases:

a. Applications to increase operational efficiency. For example, North Carolina State University built an application to turn the tedious and manual process of keeping track of non-credit course work to an efficient digital process. 

b. Applications to improve customer experiences. Customer engagement apps enable customers (or partners) to better interact and transact with the business, improving satisfaction, retention, and revenue. With these apps, the business has a fairly well-defined idea but must adapt to unknowns revealed during the design and development process. 

Customer-facing applications are often faced with high expectations from unforgiving users in terms of both usability and seamless, multi-channel access. These applications are a great way for organizations to differentiate themselves from their competitors, but their development is met with three main challenges.

For example, Saga, UK’s leading provider of elder-care services built an application to better respond and care for patients. The first application went live and was delivered on time and under budget. With development taking just 12 weeks, around half the time of using other technologies, the application allows nurses, care professionals and back-office staff to interact with Saga online. The next phase of the project will provide patients and their families with access to key information via an online portal. 

c. Applications that are part of migrating legacy systems. For example, The Boston Globe migrated applications in Lotus Notes to a custom application built on Mendix. 

d. Applications for innovation – such as launching new digital products. For example, Zurich Insurance launched a new product to reach new customers with their life insurance offering. Innovation apps come from ideas for new business models, products and go-to-market channels to help grow and differentiate the organization. Often, they leverage emerging technologies like IoT, AI and machine learning to unlock new sources of value for the business. Because innovative apps start as ideas, with fuzzy requirements prone to a high rate of change, they require a high degree of business involvement throughout the entire development process to ensure they deliver their intended value.

EME: Who typically uses them – traditional software developers or “citizen developers” or both?

DR: On average, the Mendix platform is adopted by members of the IT team who are then able to train and involve business users or citizen developers, in the process.

For example, we work with a large Fortune 500 insurance company, and their core IT team adopted Mendix to build applications quickly. After early success, they created a Mendix center of excellence where members of the business, for example, underwriters, can be training to build applications on Mendix and actively contribute to the process. The benefit is these users have a clear perspective on how the application will be used, which makes it easier to bring an application to market that reflects the needs of the users. 

EME: Do these platforms have an Achille’s Heel?

DR: Low-code platforms are intended primarily for developing apps for business applications. They are not intended for developing high performance computing applications, such speech processing, video editing or video games. Although, full featured low-code platforms have the capability to encapsulate such functionality and make it available to the app as an existing block out of the library or as a service. 

The Achille’s heel of any solution is to try to use it for what it was not intended for. The solution to this is to enable the platform to pull solutions developed using platforms better suited for the localized need. 

Deploying cloud-based applications can also be a challenge. Low-code platforms often offer incomplete or one-size-fits all solutions. Having a great application which is deployed with a non-optimal cloud solution can have serious business impact. 

A key item that CIOs need to be mindful about can broadly be referred to as governance:  the processes, practices and standards IT organizations have in place to ensure that applications meet quality, security, data management and other requirements for applications from the company and the market segment. Low-code platforms are enormously powerful tools. If a citizen developer is not fully fluent with the organizations practices and requirements, they may not understand what the requirements might entail or could easily conclude that the platform or library elements handle such requirements. As development outside the core IT organization increases, IT leaders need to think about their overall governance practices and update them for how the organization will operate in the new world.

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