One of the many effects of the “work-from-home” approach that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon us, is how stagnant many organisations technology positions truly are. According to the 2020 research study into workplace communications by Spiceworks Ziff Davis, collaborative applications such as email and chat tools, made the work from home transition relatively smoothly. Custom built digital process applications faired less favourably. This has resulted on considerable pressure being placed on CIOs to undertake substantial digital transformation projects to ensure a reduction to their technical debt.
Having worked in the Information Technology industry for many years, I have seen many new concepts, tools and frameworks evolve that have changed the way we create software. We have moved from basic graphical user interactions to web services allowing us to interface multiple disparate applications and landed on smart phone technology enabling us to walk around with a literal personal computer in our pockets. Each change has forced us software developers to adapt the way we create our applications to incorporate these new technologies. Nothing has had as much of an impact on my personal application development journey than the latest to join the ranks of the new frameworks, low-code application development in the form of Outsystems. The Outsystems platform can assist CIOs address this new digital transformation requirement.
Obstacles to Legacy Application Modernisation
Making changes to critical custom-built applications is an enormous risk for any organisation. These applications are key to the way the organisation operates. Unavailability of these applications can affect the profitability, competitiveness or even daily operations of an organisation and as such, are staunchly defended by the users or departments that rely on them. In my experience, users and even internal IT departments, will resist any potential changes out of fear, more than the need for a technology, security or user experience upgrade.
Generally, these custom-built applications have been long time investments by the organisation, often over decades. Knowledge of their complex business rules, interfaces, structure and source code are held by a small number of IT professionals or have been lost to the business completely. It is not uncommon for the technology that these applications are based on, to be no longer widely used. This makes the availability of technical resources for modernisation projects extremely limited. Changes to traditional long code development platforms are costly, slow and rely on many IT resources and their cumulative knowledge.
Faced with these considerations, a CIO must navigate potential transformation projects to ensure their organisation can maintain their market position or even better, improve it. So how can Outsystems help?
The Benefits of a Low-Code Approach
Executive approval of digital transformation projects is usually dependent upon a phased approach that aligns technology paths with strategic business direction. Outsystems has embraced this forced evolutionary change and created an alternative for CIOs that bring many benefits over the traditional long code paths.
- Rapidly Modernised User or Customer Experience – The Outsystems development suite utilises visual design tools to implement application functionality. The main advantage of visual design tools is a business can quickly modernise the user and customer experience of legacy systems without the dreaded rip-and-replace disruptions that accompany bespoke software platforms and require an experienced development team. The Outsystems development interface requires lower levels of technical knowledge. This allows an organisation to utilise “citizen developers” to assist in their modernisation projects. Whilst citizen developers do need significant guidance for the application architectural design, they will reduce the reliance on specialist IT developers, share the business knowledge among a wider audience, and reduce the risk of intellectual property loss associated with any custom-built application.
- Reduced capital or operation expenditure – The purchase of new software is traditionally considered faster than developing an internal custom-built application. Outsystems development tools allow an organisation to quickly implement new digital processes in a far shorter time. This results in a reduction in both capital and operational expenditure.
- Increased business agility – The ability to integrate with major software vendors such as SAP ERP, SalesForce CRM, etc., to create reusable functional blocks, is a significant benefit to Outsystems development. The reusability of these integrations can accelerate development time and assist in helping an organisation react to, and stay ahead of, market forces.
- Reduce shadow IT spend – The perception that “IT takes too long” to react to changes or deliver on requested modifications results in business areas implementing and managing software without IT consent. The speed of development using the Outsystems platforms has the benefit of reducing the need for business areas to undertake development without IT control.
- Greater productivity – A simplification of the process life cycle is a productivity gain that can be achieved by utilising the Outsystems development platforms. Outsystems uses an open source community for tools and features. It encourages developers to share and publish tools to its forge. There is a reduced need to “reinvent the wheel” allowing developers to focus on building the applications the business requires. Tools for monitoring and alerting personnel of potential failures are readily available. IT can spend less time reacting to application downtimes.
Reduced cost, risk, and delivery time that accompany Outsystems development aid the need for organisations to make modifications to legacy applications. It is now possible for an organisation to implement software solutions that can quickly react to market factors. The Outsystems platform is an enabling framework that will kick start any application modernisation project. It is not a silver bullet, but the rich integration capabilities empower CIOs to approach application modernisation through a phased lens, while also reducing risk. By adopting a Low-Code approach to application modernisation, CIOs can address many of the concerns facing them during the digital transformation process and ultimately reduce their overall technical debt.
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