The COVID-19 crisis that we are experiencing highlights the importance of collaborative platforms to ensuring service continuity in many domains where digital technology is king. This type of platform represents powerful opportunities, but the platforms can be efficiently and simply realised using low code.
Indispensable collaborative platforms
Driven by digital transformation initiatives over the past ten years, some companies have rolled out collaborative work tools to adapt to new use cases in communication, sharing, information storage and data analysis. These new use cases are the result of the need to communicate and have access to resources at any time, on any device (with ‘mobile first’ at the top of the trends). This can help improve processes and working methods and make them more agile, generate value quickly while minimising risks, and promote the work that is done.
But often, these tools can do so much more! This is where one of the aspects of the ‘low-code’ approach comes into play. With this approach, we can just use the tools available to support new uses and develop appropriate solutions quickly and affordably.
The low-code approach in a few words
The ‘low-code’ concept relies on a visual approach to application development. It allows anyone to create applications for the web and mobile, using predefined components through a graphical user interface (drag-and-drop configuration) and a logic driven by use case models. By working together, the professionals (‘citizen developers’, people who can develop without programming language knowledge) and IT create, iterate, and deploy applications in a fraction of the time needed using traditional methods and while keeping costs under control.
However, it is a state of mind, above all. The purpose is to rethink how the solution is designed with the tools on hand to avoid reinventing the wheel, saving a great deal of time. Today, we have reached a certain level of maturity in the use cases covered thanks to the digital transformation that has impacted all fields. The market has become very rich; it is up to us to take advantage of it.
How to go about it
Faced with fast-changing business issues, it is essential to be agile in imagining solutions. The first challenge is to identify all the functional components available within the company and all the applications available on the shelf that target users can access directly without needing to make any significant effort to deploy (purchasing, infrastructure, etc.). The objective is to be fast and efficient to test the first idea and iterate until the solution is approved or rejected. It is important to progress step by step, focusing from the start on what is the riskiest and what brings in the most value to resolve the problem from the start.
Developing an application boils down to defining a data structure, processes and a human/machine interface. So, you must find a solution to manage and maintain data, for example by relying on a CMS (Microsoft SharePoint), an online storage solution (Google Drive) or a business application (Salesforce).
Then, you use a solution to process and analyse this data. On this point, all companies now have ‘business intelligence’ solutions (DigDash, Qlik, Tableau, etc.) available and, as a last resort, you can always use Excel. The last essential component is a digital communication channel to share information that is available to everyone at any time. This last point is very important where collaboration is king. And, by the way, it is often a starting point: what information should we publish, and for whom? Who is the owner, and how will it be kept up to date? Once the objective is clear and the governance defined, we can progress to designing the first prototype with the tools we have available.
A concrete case of a collaborative platform developed in low code
I recently set up a business project portfolio management platform to define and track the company’s strategy. After an inventory of the tools available, I relied on the enterprise version of Google Suite. The projects were naturally put in Google Sheet connected to Google Form to keep them up to date and, above all, assess their contribution to the strategic orientations. The few lines of code found their way into Google Apps Script to handle and process this data (evaluation by strategic orientation) to then be analysed with Google Data Studio. The reports and dashboards thus created make up the dynamic body of the site built with Google Site.
Everything was developed in a few weeks in just a few iterations in close collaboration with the end users to fit their needs as closely as possible. The strength of this kind of solution is that we can change the data structure, change a business rule or update the site on the day, or even within the hour, at any time with the user right by our side so we can see the impact immediately with them. The real key to success for this type of approach is the proximity and reactivity that is created with users.
Low code is a real alternative to market solutions and other, specific developments to support needs that are always changing. It is also an excellent approach to testing hypotheses and minimise risks with little effort (financial or human), which is very welcome in a time of crisis. Of course, low code cannot solve all problems, particularly the most complex. This approach is intended as a priority for problems related to transformation, communication, change or process management.
innovation consultant SQLI