Avoiding the traps of low-code apps
Interest in low code apps is booming. This is generally good news as there’s a lot of value to tap into. However, with the popularity of these new tools is a hidden cost, the likes of which we have seen before. Rhys Glidden, Client Director at Enlighten Designs, takes us through the potential risks of low/no code apps and how to sidestep the traps that businesses often fall into.
The term citizen developer has quickly become a fully-fledged member of the digital buzzword dictionary. There is no doubt the use case for low and no code app development is strong.
The low/no code environment
There are clear advantages – reduced cost, faster delivery, self-reliance, and business enablement – and uptake has certainly been assisted by the acceleration of digital transformation over the last couple of years, thanks to the pandemic.
Digital leaders considering implementing these platforms can find the benefits attractive, especially shifting development to the business for self-reliance. Reducing demand on IT while having the business deliver their own apps does seem like a “two birds with one stone” situation.
A risky situation
With the fast adoption of low and no-code application platforms, there is inherent risk due to culture change and new dynamics required between your business and your IT department. There’s also a bit of a trap with the hype currently pushed around these platforms when it comes to limitations that need to be both understood and managed.
It can also lead to similar impacts businesses have faced with cloud adoption and shadow IT SaaS solutions, resulting in ballooning cost through propagation and uncontrolled use. For example, are you prepared to manage the continual Opex increases as apps propagate throughout the organisation?
The same caution needs to be applied to low-code platforms as we have now for cloud, to avoid a repeat of these lessons and avoid conflict between IT and the business. Let’s go through some of the risks you need to be aware of.
Underestimating the skills required to get the desired results
Yes, low-code platforms require less skill for simple functionality. However, there are many cases where a higher level of skillset is required to be able to meet requirements. This can increase an uncontrolled demand on IT or require external partner support.
Uncontrolled propagation of applications
Suddenly, you’re contenting with an explosion of apps throughout the organisation that, over time, become critical to the functioning of the business. This can lead to a large complex landscape, which the business becomes heavily reliant on and that IT will inherit by default.
Avoidance of core system functions/processes
Built-in shortcuts seem convenient but could increase business risk or drive duplication of functionality, eroding confidence in IT and core systems.
The other issue of exploding propagation, leading to ever-increasing costs due to licensing models or exposure to non-compliance in licensing. In some cases, there is a bait and switch model where you get simple functionality for low cost, but as demand grows for the higher value functionality, the licensing costs increase significantly.
Exposure to change risk
The only constant in life is change, so the business could find itself in the situation where apps are ceasing to function due to dependencies within the core infrastructure. Not only does this lead to disruption to the business – the IT team cops a negative slap.
Data exposure risks
Suddenly, it becomes easy for internal data to be pushed into public spaces – a situation you never want to deal with.
How to manage these risks
To avoid these traps, it’s important that IT leaders start with a clear strategy for their low-code platform and how it will fit within the business. It’s also important this includes how IT and the business will work together once the platform is implemented, and the governance tooling available for your chosen platform.
Be clear on the outcome
I recently read on Computerworld:
“You can’t just launch an app; once it’s built, the business side should always consult with the IT side to ensure it fits within corporate guidelines.”
In my view, this is too late. IT should have been there at the start to discuss the need. Otherwise, you are put in the position of saying no after the fact. It doesn’t matter if it’s due to security concerns, misalignment, duplication, or any other factor. It only means that the business wasted time developing an app they wanted to implement, then had the experience of IT being a blocker rather than an enabler – a reputation IT has been trying to shake for a long time.
Choose the right platform
Once there’s a clear strategy and an understanding of how the platform will be used, this information can be used to select the platform that best suits the business. Many of these platforms have limitations, so it’s essential to understand how they will fit into the overall environment to avoid disappointment later.
Understand the costs involved
If you can, quantify the number of potential users and how the apps will be used so the cost implications are clear. For example, if licensing is per user and the HR department creates several apps that all employees are expected to use, this can equal very high costs that will only continue to rise as employee headcount increases. The financial aspect must be part of the strategy, business case, and purchasing decision.
Manage the adoption
Most low code software is separate from your day-to-day environment – separate license, separate service, separate vendor. It may even be a separate login, which means adoption tends to be more managed.
In this case, Microsoft is the exception. By default, Microsoft allows anyone with an O365/M365/D365 license to build Power Apps/Automate. As a result, the apps get a lot of exposure in SharePoint and the Office navigation waffle as the staff use/see every day. This has made the Microsoft Power Apps platform a popular choice as it’s simple to implement and integrate. In other words, adoption can become more organic, without IT’s involvement.
Once the platform choice has been made, consider a governance approach. To limit uncontrolled growth of apps, it is recommended that IT own the platform and put in place a simple approval process for any app being considered for development to avoid breach of policy, process or security.
This gives opportunity for any ongoing cost impact to be understood and allows agreement on where funding will come from. IT becomes the enabler in the process, either giving the go ahead for the business to build or providing alternative approaches to address the need without wasted effort. This also ensures IT has a clear view of what apps are in the environment, any potential reliance on core systems and the impact of changes to those systems.
It’s also recommended that owners are established for each app created and there is a clear understanding of what ownership entails. If democratisation of app creation happens without IT, businesses risk apps becoming orphaned over time – and ending up in the lap of IT by default. Clear ownership of apps within the business and agreement on roles and responsibilities between IT and business owners sets expectations and reduces conflict down the track.
If supporting the platform is a stretch for the in-house IT team, consider a partner that is an expert in this area. The business benefits from support externally from a trusted partner, ensuring the speed to value promised by your platform is realised. If you’re forever waiting on IT when they hit a capability barrier, then nothing changes, and IT will again be seen as a blocker.
Lastly, a process that drives a review of apps in the low code environment will ensure app lifecycles are well managed and any cost considerations are addressed. As we learned with moving to the cloud, you need to have a plan, otherwise things get “turned on” and then never turned off, driving up cost and complexity. By ensuring you poll each application regularly to ensure it’s still relevant and in use – and turning it off if it’s not – will help keep costs down and avoid tech debt.
Empowering organisations with low/no code apps
I very much believe low/no-code platforms have a bright future and will make a significant impact over the coming years. I also believe a few organisations will face significant challenges due to implementations that were not well considered. My best advice? Lean on your digital partners who have experienced previous implementations and leverage the lessons they have learned.
As a key Microsoft partner, Enlighten Designs’ Modern Workplace team has the knowledge, expertise, and resources to empower your organisation to adopt the right low/no code framework from the beginning. If you’re ready to implement low/no code apps without the risks, click below to talk to one of their experts.
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