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Low-Code and the Third Way of App Modernization

While the primary driver of the low-code movement was to improve enterprise developer productivity and to create a more agile and collaborative development workflow, the evolution of these platforms has also opened the door to a new hybrid approach to application modernization.

Modernizing the enterprise application stack has been a persistent challenge for enterprise leaders. With tons of risk and little short-term upside, they have understandably put their modernization efforts in the critical, but not urgent category of their to-do lists — hoping beyond hope that the situation would somehow become more manageable in the future.

While this procrastination technique is rarely a good strategy, enterprise leaders may have caught a break.

As I discussed in the first two blogs of this four-part series, enterprise leaders have had few good options as they tried to address the application modernization dilemma. Forced to choose between modernizing or meeting new demand, the choice was simple — enterprises left modernization for another day.

A new class of technology companies, however, are taking advantage of the emergence of so-called low-code development platforms to create a new, third option for enterprise leaders. This new approach may finally offer enterprise leaders a way to simultaneously keep resources free to meet new demand while modernizing their application stack quickly and without the high costs and bad outcomes that typically came with outsourcing these efforts.

Low-Code: Changing Face of Development

To understand why this third path to application modernization is now possible, you must first understand how changing enterprise demands led to the evolution of what we now call low-code development platforms.

As long as there have been programming languages, there has been a desire to make the creation of applications easier and more accessible. For the most part, this evolution has played out in the form of new generations of languages that were progressively easier to use, more human-readable, and more extensible.

With each successive generation, productivity increased, and development became easier — enabling enterprises to more readily hire or train new developers.

Eventually, however, this led to even more radical attempts to improve productivity and accessibility. Efforts such as the Rapid Application Development (RAD) movement and early visual development tools aimed to reduce the amount of hand-coding necessary to develop applications. These early efforts, however, were cumbersome and often failed to deliver the promised productivity gains.

Still, as digital transformation began to take root within enterprise organizations, the demand for applications grew exponentially — and most enterprises simply did not have the resources to keep up using traditional hand-coded approaches.

As a result of these market demands, a new generation of development platforms entered the market that used visual interfaces, declarative models, and configuration approaches to create enterprise applications. With this approach, developers could build applications with little or no hand-coding — thus, the industry called these platforms ‘low-code.’

The promise of low-code platforms is that they enable enterprise developers to create more applications, develop them more quickly, adapt and change them more easily, and to do so in closer collaboration with application sponsors and consumers. Unsurprisingly, enterprise organizations are now adopting these platforms en masse to achieve these gains.

While the primary driver of the low-code movement was to improve enterprise developer productivity and to create a more agile and collaborative development workflow, the evolution of these platforms has also opened the door to a new hybrid approach to application modernization.

A Hybrid Approach to Application Modernization

When enterprises turned to traditional outsourcers to help with modernizations efforts, the results were often poor. The reason is that the complex nature of these projects resulted in long, involved development efforts. To be successful, these projects would require substantial involvement by the enterprise’s most valuable technical resources (negating the value of outsourcing) or would leave the outsourcer flying blind until late in the project.

Neither choice led to a good outcome.

The emergence of low-code development platforms, however, made available a hybrid approach to modernization. Technology companies, like WaveMaker, realized that they could build a low-code platform that would enable them to rapidly prototype solutions and reduce development time. This capability, in turn, made it easier to engage with customers earlier and more often during the development process.

Moreover, the ability to rapidly adapt and change applications and to develop them from a business process perspective allowed both rapid iteration as well as the ability to interact with non-technical users (rather than in-demand technical resources) for direction and guidance.

Finally, the use of low-code development platforms enabled organizations to more closely partner with their technology providers to continually adapt the applications as business needs changed over time — helping to ensure that they will not need another round of modernization in the future.

The Intellyx Take

This hybrid approach to modernization is starkly different than the previous options available to enterprise leaders. In fact, it is an approach that is almost impossible to achieve without the use of low-code platforms.

The ability for a technology partner to rapidly prototype, develop, test, and iterate during the development of complex and highly integrated apps enables enterprise leaders to effectively get the best of both worlds: they free their resources to meet new demand, while reducing the costs and risks traditionally associated with outsourcing modernization efforts.

Perhaps even more importantly, the use of low-code platforms in modernization efforts provides a layer of protection for enterprise leaders. The ability to continually adapt and change these complex, mission-critical applications offers them a degree of business agility that may otherwise be difficult to attain.

None of this, however, allows IT to entirely escape its responsibility. The critical nature of these legacy applications will always require a degree of attention from IT. The difference is that with this hybrid approach, the organization’s most valuable and knowledgeable resources will only engage when their specialized expertise is truly necessary.

Leveraged effectively, this hybrid approach will allow enterprise leaders to strike the mythical balance needed to make application modernization a modern reality.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. WaveMaker is an Intellyx client. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.

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Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.