IT CONSULTANT BALANCING ACT Balancing Low-Code Productivity With IT Engineering Best Practise ……. How Consultants Can Broker the Peace

Steve Gapp: President of LANSA USA and EMEA

Companies undertaking digital transformation projects are now utilising new low-code tooling and/or citizen developers to produce disruptive line-of-business apps.This new source of app development overcomes the frustrating bottlenecks and limitations faced by traditional internal IT departments that rely on time honoured engineering approaches.These traditional internal IT operations are often tied-up delivering support and maintenance for core enterprise systems.It is their inability to keep pace with an organisation’s demand for disruptive apps and the clamour of those who need them that has, in part, led to the growth of the Shadow IT, Citizen Developer market.

In short, the Low-code / Citizen Development phenomena means that it is now faster to develop this new breed of application. So it’s important to define them correctly …..

“Low-Code” tooling

  • Designed to streamline the complexity of app development - with the promise of significant improvements in programmer productivity.

Citizen development

  • A new breed of developer evolving from business units and building new line of business solutions - but often without any official approval from IT.

Major challenges arise, though, when these new low-code or citizen applications need to be integrated and subsequently work with critical IT engineered databases associated with core business systems. The different approaches and seemingly distinct cultural background of the two groups is some times diametrically opposed – not to mention that the nose of the traditional IT engineer is often a little out of joint …as it’s their existing systems and procedures that the new Citizen apps will need to integrate with.

Choosing the right tooling and planning ahead can help bring the two worlds together seamlessly. But therein lies the rub – who is the best person to drive the process, given the enmity that could arise if it’s not handled well. Well, using an experienced IT or Management consultant could provide the answer. By choosing the consultancy route, organisations have found an independent solution for smoothly integrating the two sides of the coin.

“So If Low Code Solves This Conundrum What’s Wrong With That?”

Well the quick answer reminds me of that term: “ there’s no such thing as a free lunch…”
And as far as IT is concerned, you might say there is no app without real technical debt… In reality, It can be tough to bring this new world of low-code citizen developers smoothly into the realm of working with exisiting corporate databases. These are typically managed and governed by complex application business logic,
tight security and strong change management processes to protect the integrity of the systems and data.

However, there is little doubt that Citizen developers can seriously accelerate innovation with new ideas & that they can build and prototype with minimal assistance from traditionally trained software developers. But, then comes the day when they need to write / update the data in a corporate database…. for the app to be fully integrated and offer real business benefits.

“I need an API for that…..”

And therein lies the crux of the probelm. Suddenly, one is back to needing that experienced IT engineer who understands the complexity of these databases and who can architect and build the APIs, which can be utilised by this altogether new breed of application. This brings us right back to the typical ‘operational software engineering’ world where things are more critical and the development, testing and deployment process has a lot of complexity and risk.

Ultimately, the consequences of short-circuiting this process lead to a whole range of issues many of which will resonate with IT managers and CIOs.

  • Duplicated data / master files.

  • Lack of true workflow across the business domains.

  • Bad data – no single version of the truth.

  • Growing request of new requirements which may extend beyond the boundaries of “low-code” and now we need a programmer to intervene
  • .

Everyone aspires to have a single version of the truth in our corporate data but these new apps can rapidly cause bad & siloed operational data that now requires real and distinct integration effort and also maintenance. Getting that Version #1 prototype was really fast and easily deployed to the cloud but now the support of that same app can be significant. Low-code should reduce technical debt. But, if the app has any significant lifespan and it impacts core business applications then that benefit can evaporate extremely quickly.

The opportunities for IT and Management consultants here are therefore clear, present and plentiful as they can prepare plans and processes to meld the two regimes on a smoth and planned project basis. The solution could revolve around Bimodal IT.

The Balancing Act Bimodal IT

Bimodal IT (a term defined by Gartner), is used to describe the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work. One focused on predictability (typically the domain of professional IT) and the other on exploration (typically the innovation projects performed by citizen developers using low-code tools). These new projects are far more likely to have success when we can use this approach to blend IT experience with citizen developer innovation. This is where the consultant can make a critical contribution.

The consultant recognizes both sides of the equation. They see that Low-code platforms bring immense advantages and solve a wealth of problems typically encountered with web and mobile development. But, they also realise that there is a need to balance this with the need for guidance and support from IT experts who understand engineering best practices and who can help guide the process of how these new apps work with existing systems. The role here is one of intermediation between the two cultures.

But how would consultants overcome the API conundrum when you need to write complex business logic or you need to integrate with existing legacy or custom applications. They have a number of choices…

  • Invest in these upfront, so that one has them available for key functions needed with the new apps.

  • Talk to the low-code vendor, to see how far they can enable the support of API creation or if this needs you to have typical tech programming skills.

  • See if there are ready-made connectors for ERP or how else the Citizen developers might help you with this goal.

  • Recognise that if you don’t have the programming or tech skills to do this kind of server side work, then you need different tools to make it easier.

  • There are generally two kinds of Low-code tools today. Those designed for citizen developers and those designed for professional developers. Look to equip your programmers with the latter.

With this approach in mind and an experienced independent IT or Management consultancy on hand, to smooth out the joins, the organisation can better keep pace with the demand for apps and therein enjoy the best of both worlds. Ultimately, this could become quite a lucrative source of fee income for consultants but given the benefits I suspect you wont hear many complaints from either side of the conundrum.