Many finance businesses are disillusioned with their BPM investment. A BPM expert explains why…

BPM Suites promise a more visual approach to developing business applications, an approach that should enable closer collaboration between business stakeholders and IT professionals. But, in reality, they suck.

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the recruitment pages of BPM companies, such as: “Junior Application Developer – required experience 2-3 years in Java centric application development, experience of J2EE, Oracle, DB2 and SQL”.

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These requirements reveal that many BPM Suites are still highly technical products, meaning business stakeholders and IT specialists still struggle to collaborate throughout the process improvement lifecycle.  Business departments and even IT Departments end up out-sourcing development on BPM Suites to system integrators.  The learning curve is simply too long and too steep to achieve the required expertise in-house.

When development gets deeply technical like this, you inevitably re-open that divide between business stakeholders and developers, and the risk of communication breakdown, late discovery of requirements and scope creep become far more likely.

But worst of all, it’s this reliance on consultants that is a real barrier to agility.  There has to be a specification, a budget and a project plan.  You end up with change request log-jams.  However much these heavyweight BPM Suites claim to be built for change, the reality for businesses at a commercial level is that it doesn’t quite work out that way.

So what’s the answer?

Low-code Development Platforms are now regularly mentioned in analysts’ reports[1], that predict dated and IT centric BPM Suites are going to suffer dwindling demand, particularly for fast paced process improvement projects in areas such as customer service and digital innovation. The idea behind Low-Code Development is that you make it easier to achieve ‘software-powered’ business improvement without needing to code i.e. program.

Moreover – thanks to Cloud or private Cloud deployment – a business is not dependent on its IT department to install servers and software before a project can start.

So you now have a choice for how automation gets built.   You can talk to your central IT department and see how they can help you.  Or you can turn to a low-code development platform and build it yourself.  That may sound daunting – but as there’s little or no programming involved, it’s not so difficult. You can learn how to use a low-code platform very quickly.

Nigel Warren
Nigel Warren

The need for speed!

Process improvement champions are chiefly attracted to low-code development methods in order to“jump the IT queue”.

With 80% of CIOs complaining that they’re unable to hire and retain sufficient developers with the latest technology skills, lengthening IT queues have become the norm.  When process improvement specialists and business leaders are told they’ll have to wait for six months or more for development support from central IT, a more D.I.Y. approach starts to have real appeal!

The other reason people are attracted to low-code is lowering the risk of software development.

Youdon’t associate DIY with lower risk?

This may seem counter-intuitive; how on earth can a DIY approach to software development be less risky than relying on the technical skills of programmers?  Chances are, you or colleagues close to you are already doing this.  For example, if you’ve ever set up a blog or a website, then you used an off-the-shelf Cloud solution such as WordPress- because it comes complete with templates, navigation, styles, publishing and revisions all built in. With lots of ready-made wizards to take the strain, you can rapidly create a beautiful and customised blog or website – without learning to write HTML!

A Low-code platform (like MATS®, for example) offers all the same kinds of advantage.  It’s got a lot of wizards and templates built in that help you create workflows, databases, user interfaces, reports, service level alerts and communications without having to program.

You configure a business solution by filling in forms and selecting options -a kind of ‘drag & drop’ alternative to programming.In itself, that’s not a guarantee of lower risk, but the business practice changesthis approach enables can lower risk!

Lean startup – if you’re going to fail, fail faster. 

By now the average IT reader is probably ‘throwing a fit’. They’ll be thoroughly unimpressed with the suggestion that line of business managers should start a DIY approach to building business applications.  Clearly such people cannot program.  And to cap it all I’ve proposed that they should fail quickly.They may think I’man idiot who should be locked up for my own protection?

But in truth, more and more business solutions are being built this way.  Gartner predict around 20 per cent year on year growth of technology spend initiated outside of central IT.  And the results are often remarkably fast and successful.  Here’s why…

Test and Learn

This is where you create a minimum viable product and then test it with customers. See what they think – what they like; what they want different.  The brilliant thing about this is you can build something basic really quickly – perhaps 20 per cent of what you need.  Then, based on user or customer feedback, you get a very much better understanding of what the next 80% looks like.

When you show people something working – what it looks like, how it behaves -you suddenly unlock their ideas and excitement.  “Can it do this?” “Can this bit work differently?” “We need this extra field.”“We need this kind of report.”

When you get this kind of feedback early on in a project, it’s not ‘scope creep’, it’s just a more accurate statement of requirements.  And this is what reduces the main risk factor in software development – late discovery of requirements because business people and developers have such difficulty eliciting and communicating requirements.

Should all software projects work this way?

No – I’m advocating Gartner’s so-called ‘Bi-modal’ approach[2] where Mode 1 is a traditional and more cautious approach, and Mode 2, which is more agile and experimental.

With Mode 1 the emphasis is on scalability, stability and accuracy.  Clearly that’s the right approach for back office, systems of record, where reliability and accuracy are paramount; and changes are seldom required or can be planned with plenty of notice.

Mode 2 is better suited to “systems of engagement” – the systems and processes required to win, serve and retain customers.  Here businesses value agility and speed to deployment over stability and accuracy, because clearly if you have a burning customer experience problem, you need to address the issue fast.  Equally if you’re launching new marketing and sales initiatives, the window of opportunity may be short, even temporary.  Clearly in these situations, Mode 2 is the required approach.

Faster “ramp-up” a key benefit for IT

Low-code development platforms clearly help make Mode 2 possible – by reducing the ramp up time that is normally associated with traditional development technologies and heavy weight BPM Suites.

Naturally you don’t have to subscribe entirely to the kind of DIY, business-led approach outlined above.  Many IT organizations are now adding a Low-Code platform such as MATS® to their software portfolio simply because they can offer faster and more agile projects, with faster ramp-up of developer skills.  Lowering the learning curve and training investment that’s required to master more traditional and technical development tools is a huge benefit to IT departments that are struggling to retain increasingly valuable programming staff.

Designing for engagement and emotion

Forrester’s Low-code platform expert Clay Richardson provides the following perspective on how test and learn and Low-code development techniques apply in the Age of the Customer.

“The age of the customer means putting the customer at the center of everything you do. That changes the way we think about designing solutions. Instead of focusing on internal systems we need to think about the emotional impact on a customer. It’s a different way of approaching building systems and solutions, having empathy with the customer and what they’re trying to get done, and designing the system to be as convenient as possible and to deliver delightful experiences.”

So why try to predict how a customer will feel when you can ask them? Just as an optometrist tests their eyeglasses solution with ‘is this better or worse? And how about this?’, Low-code’s test and learn approach lets us experiment to discover how an application makes the customer feel, rather than making our own assumptions of what they will want.

As Emma Chase, author of the New York Times best seller ‘Tangled’, says: Assume nothing. Even if you think you know everything. Even if you’re sure that you’re right. Get confirmation.”

Where to discover more about low-code

There’s an excellent Forrester report on the topic – Google“MatsSoft low code” for a free copy.

Author Nigel Warren is Head of Marketing at global Low-code platform developer MatsSoft.com Nigel has worked in the business process improvement sector for over twenty years with companies including SAP, Nimbus, TIBCO and MatsSoft.

[1]Forrester Report http://www.matssoft.com/low-code  and also see link to key market trends here http://www.matssoft.com/blog/emerging-technology-themes-pex-week-2015