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InfoQ Homepage Articles Your Tech Stack Doesn’t Do What Everyone Needs It To. What Next?

Your Tech Stack Doesn’t Do What Everyone Needs It To. What Next?


Key Takeaways

  • Current barriers to digital transformation include the lack of skilled developers and complex technical stacks
  • Stack extensibility significantly increases a company's agility and competitiveness
  • Low-code BPA (Business Process Automation) can help address the challenges organisations face
  • Low-code increases process resiliency and conserves developer resources
  • There are some important factors to consider when exploring low-code options

No matter how fast technology evolves, for some businesses, they often feel one step behind. In department after department, from HR and purchasing to finance and marketing, situations exist where key software solutions don’t quite meet organizational needs. For workers, department managers and most assuredly IT, that’s a problem.

The insatiable appetite for business agility exerts enormous pressure on IT organizations to select, integrate and deploy appropriate and complete enterprise platforms. Oftentimes, however, there is a gap between what a tech stack can do, and what it should do.

Digital transformation, the initiative that has driven most IT activity for nearly a decade, has actually widened the gaps in departmental tech stacks. Digital transformation usually focuses on big-ticket implementations; it can leave behind the less visible, yet essential workflows and processes that stitch together major platforms. Adding to the situation in recent years has been the shortage of qualified developers, which makes well-connected solutions that much more difficult to achieve.

Consequently, business teams often labor with technologies that are not fully formed, fully explained, or appropriate for current work requirements. In frustration, they create their own workarounds using manual processes or ad hoc software.

Unsanctioned shadow IT solutions can produce arcane procedures, inconsistent workflows, and a lack of visibility - not to mention security and scalability issues.

When companies can’t keep up with the pace of change, they lose their status as market leaders. Speed to value declines, as rigid systems become too unwieldy and expensive to modify. Chaotic tech environments overtake what should be smooth and well-prescribed automation.

Extensibility Challenges

Stack extensibility - the ability to nimbly expand the capabilities of existing tech solutions - is an essential trait of well-designed IT ecosystems. Yet creating this important advantage isn’t easy.  

Vertical solutions solve specific problems, but are rigid; on the other hand, horizontal solutions, while more flexible, are expensive to modify. Moreover, customizing legacy components can be challenging when developers are busy elsewhere in the enterprise.

Other alternatives do exist. Many organizations purchase additional modules within the application ecosystem, hoping they will be sufficient to solve their unique problems. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a choice that, while effective at addressing specific needs, requires business teams themselves to connect - and still leaves tech stacks open to complexity and a lack of control.

Controlling the Outcome

Low-code BPA (Business Process Automation), on the other hand, has advantages that puts it at the forefront of approaches to stack extensibility. Low-code increases process resiliency by empowering business teams with an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand and, most of all, IT-sanctioned set of tools. Using these building blocks, end users can close gaps with solutions that complement and coordinate existing components, rather than competing with or complicating them.

Many IT benefits accrue to the low-code method. It conserves developer resources and reduces backlogs by enabling business teams to do much of the work on their own. It standardizes processes, which makes it easier to enforce security mandates. Because scalability is built into the low-code framework, supplemental coding is minimal.

End-users appreciate having IT-approved capabilities that allow them to make changes quickly. Instead of waiting for a custom-built solution, they are able to adapt as business needs evolve. Workflows become more relevant, more convenient, and more productive.

Tried and Tested

Leading enterprises have experienced the advantages of low-code enabled stack extensibility. Samsonite, the global luggage maker, was struggling with several gaps in its purchasing workflows. Requests were executed through email and file sharing, and departmental staff had to sift through old messages simply to find the information required to initiate purchase quotes from suppliers.

Low-code BPA ended those problems. After analyzing the procurement process to standardize procedures and make sure they adhered to both internal policies and external legal, finance and tax requirements, Samsonite’s purchasing team began creating workflows that included necessary approvals at each stage. The stack extensibility solution streamlined the request/fulfillment process, enabling purchasers and requesters to receive automatic notifications and alerts.  

Within the first five months, Samsonite was able to eliminate an estimated 2,370 hours of manual work and achieve an overall ROI of 177 percent.

"Our new system not only gives us the control we need to ensure everyone abides by our rules and policies, but it also creates an easily accessible trail for future audits," noted Mauricio Rizzi, Samsonite’s Customer Service and Procurement Manager.

Another example is CNH, a leading industrial vehicle manufacturer based in London. CNH was dealing with a tech stack of 15 different systems implemented during its digital transformation process. A lack of integration between those systems was holding back the efficiency of the company’s People Ops department, forcing the staff to manually input, store and communicate information through email or on paper.

After adopting low-code BPA, the People Ops team was able to build and support a number of improved processes and experiences. The system gave them more ownership and flexibility than through their former, more traditional methods.

"Now I can teach any person within our People Ops organization how to use our low-code solution, and they can use it for almost any process," said Diogo Ayres, CNH Services Designer. "It lets us provide a seamless and consistent experience for employees and candidates."

How To Make No/Low-Code Work For You

Citizen development -- when a non-technical user is able to create new applications without writing a line of code using no or low code solutions– is an impactful way to increase a team’s daily efficiency or streamline an existing business process. Citizen developers are an integral part of optimizing and scaling an organization’s operations. However, cultivating a symbiotic relationship between IT teams and citizen developers is key to ensuring success and prioritizing quality output.

IT needs to collaborate with citizen developers throughout the process to ensure maximum safety and efficiency. From the beginning, it’s important to confirm the team’s overall approach, select the right tools, establish roles, set goals, and discuss when citizen developers should ask for support from IT. Appointing a leader for the citizen developer program is a great way to help enforce these policies and hold the team accountable for meeting agreed-upon milestones.

To encourage collaboration and make citizen automation a daily practice, it’s important to work continuously to identify pain points and manual work within business processes that can be automated. IT should regularly communicate with teams across the business, finance and HR departments to find opportunities for automation, clearly mapping out what change would look like for those impacted. Gaining buy-in from other team leaders is critical, so citizen developers and IT need to become internal advocates for the benefits of automation.

Another non-negotiable ground rule is that citizen developers should only use IT-sanctioned tools platforms. This gives IT the necessary insight and ability to monitor the quality and security of new applications. IT can also set up "sandbox environments" to reduce risks and allow developers to create apps without interfering with other systems. Ultimately, IT is responsible for monitoring all citizen developer activities and application development.

To help no/low-code solutions integrate smoothly with their existing IT infrastructure, companies should:  

  • Look for software with features that support security and compliance efforts, such as SSO, MFA, and permission management.  
  • Compare software uptimes and availability, to minimize the risk of disruption.  
  • Make sure the software vendor offers appropriate support so that the IT team isn’t burdened with unnecessary maintenance. When it comes to conserving IT resources, no/low-code software that enables citizen developers and invites business users into the problem-solving process will also help cut down on the IT backlog.
  • Last but not least, consider no/low-code solutions that can handle multiple use cases across a variety of departments. Scalability and stack extensibility are cost-containment strategies that deliver the most value when solutions are easily adaptable and which integrate with a wide range of apps and systems.

Investing in the right no/low code solution is the first step, but investing in internal training and skills development is even more important. Companies need to give citizen developers the proper education, support, and resources to learn. Growth doesn’t happen overnight; IT needs to approach citizen development with patience and teamwork. Creating a collaborative learning environment also helps mitigate the risks of citizen developers pursuing shadow IT solutions or making costly mistakes.

The point of citizen development is to empower non-technical employees, not eliminate IT. While citizen development may sound like a threat to IT departments, it’s actually the opposite. Citizen development is about helping IT professionals. While it may take some time in the beginning, this investment will pay off when citizen developers are able to build and connect quality automated workflows on their own.

Foreseeing the Future

Stack extensibility, especially when enabled by low-code BPA, significantly increases the agility and competitiveness of the typical enterprise. Critical applications remain relevant and utility goes up, without custom development or the need to dive into the organization’s central (and typically most expensive) tech investments.  

Under this progressive approach, business users become partners with IT, working from the same playbook. Developer resources, always at a premium, are conserved and extended. Stakeholders are able to move quicker - and everyone’s lives are made a lot easier as a result.  

There may never be a time when technology can fully anticipate the needs of business; however, flexible, secure and easy-to-use connective solutions can make dynamic environments a lot less troublesome - and allow enterprises to move forward with confidence. With stack extensibility, IT no longer has to predict the future. Instead, it can simply plan for it.

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