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Time-strapped IT teams can use low-code software to drive quick growth

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Tim Heger

Contributor

Tim Heger is the CTO/CISO of HealthBridge and an experienced IT veteran, having guided companies like Harley-Davidson, Kohl’s and ASICS on digital and e-commerce transformations.

Many emerging and mature organizations survive or die based on their ability to scale. Scale quicker. Scale cheaper. Scale right.

Typically the IT team bears that burden — on top of countless other demands. IT teams move mountains for their organizations while scaling the tech platform as fast as possible, putting out the latest infrastructure fire and responding to countless day-to-day requests.

The most helpful gift any chief information officer or chief technology officer can give their IT teams is more time. Many people think that means adding another team member. Maybe it does in some cases (if you can find a developer in this tough job market), but giving my team Boomi’s low-code integration platform was one of the best strategic moves for HealthBridge.

As the least skilled coder on the team, low-code let me develop and deliver four customer-centric self-service portals a year ahead of schedule while my team focused on building and scaling our revenue-driving, custom platform by hand-writing code.

Low-code is quickly becoming commonplace and a popular topic among IT decision-makers. Over the last few years, the market has exploded. Gartner expects it to total $13.8 billion in 2021. That means low-code technology, which we’ve been hearing about for years, is ready for widespread adoption. Today, low-code enables you to streamline (and scale) everything from integration to artificial intelligence.

It’s a secret only some organizations are clued in on, but it’s a great way to scale fast, save on resources and give your team more time. Here’s how.

When to use low-code and when to write code

The best time to use low-code is when you need to add something to your organization that isn’t unique or doesn’t drive significant business value.

For instance, a customer portal is not unique; don’t waste time hand-coding it.

While it’s certainly an extremely helpful feature for our customers, it’s unlikely to drive significant shareholder or investor value. However, it’s key for scaling. Using low-code for a must-have but undifferentiated feature will allow your team to work on more important projects while scaling.

When we started working on the timeline for a customer portal project at HealthBridge, we estimated it would take several sprints per portal to develop, but more pressing development work kept pushing it down the list in our backlog. Waiting a year for a basic feature didn’t seem reasonable to me, so we looked for a workaround.

We had been using Boomi, a low-code integration platform as a service (iPaaS), to speed up data and application integrations, and we found its low-code platform could also take out the heavy lifting of building our portals, especially because the portals needed to be HIPAA-compliant. Boomi Flow’s new multicloud approach also fits nicely into our security and scalability architecture.

I delivered four self-help portals for customers a full year ahead of schedule with low-code. The portals are expected to reduce our call center volume by 50%, avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs as membership grows in 2021. It wouldn’t have been a big value-add to HealthBridge or our investors if we built the portal from scratch, so we didn’t. Instead, we spent as few developer resources as possible on it, and our developers focused on improving our proprietary platform — where the real value for our stakeholders and for our business lies.

Low-code can make development go so quickly that it can be easy to overuse. However, you need to always evaluate the value of the project. If it’s key to your unique platform, to your special offering, you should commit the extra time and resources to build it out. Otherwise, look to low-code as a strategic tool in your IT arsenal.

The one time to break this rule is if you need something tomorrow. Or within the hour. You might have heard about the countless ways organizations used low-code during the pandemic. They could create new applications within days, if not hours, to meet new demands.

Low-code can sometimes serve as a stopgap on an urgent project like this. For instance, you could use it to generate unique quality assurance data, create APIs to enable your partners to get timely and accurate information, or stub out integrations while your teams are developing downstream dependencies. But once that fire is out, it’s important to devote resources to the original code to see what caused the problem and fix it, rather than leaving the low-code in place.

Low-code is not going to be a panacea for everything. It’s not going to make a bad idea interesting or hide poor execution. What it is going to do is save you time and money.

Low-code helps me fulfill one of my favorite mantras: Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward! Low-code allows you to quickly prototype ideas, ascertain business value and decide the right architectural approach for the permanent solution if you decide to move forward.

How to create your low-code development plan

Start small with your low-code plans, but start with something impactful. I’d recommend you identify one of your biggest pain points first — one that would make everyone’s life easier if it was solved, but your stakeholders aren’t as concerned about.

As an example, I come from an e-commerce background. Traditionally, we would put our best developers on integration, because the integrations handle all of our money, orders and more. If the integrations don’t hold up, neither does your business.

So it was an easy and obvious place for me to start using low-code at HealthBridge. Stakeholders probably don’t care about integrations as long as they work, and integrations need to be done quickly to add new revenue streams, link together new applications and more.

The trick here was figuring out what kind of low-code I wanted to help with integrations. If you start shopping around, you’ll see varying degrees of low-code. For instance, when I looked at vendors, many still required significant development skills. Boomi gave me the flexibility to put the least skilled developer at the company on a project that would immediately add value.

So while my incredibly skilled developers were working on improving our money-making, custom platform, I leveraged Boomi to handle all the integrations.

In an ideal low-code development model, you take something that’s a huge time suck for your best developers and push it down to the least skilled developer. Even graduates a year out of college can add business value using the right low-code platform and facing the right problem.

How to win over your developers with low-code

Every developer’s natural instinct is to turn up their nose at low-code. That can halt any low-code adoption in its tracks. Admittedly, it took some time for my team to embrace low-code as much as I have.

What you need to do is show proof of performance and speed to market. Once I did that with the integrations and the customer portals, the team started to come around. Now they’re identifying situations that would be perfect for low-code, understanding when it makes sense to rent a solution or write it. We all want to spend the time on what matters most: building out the HealthBridge platform.

The other challenge with low-code is it’s not instantaneous. Each platform has its quirks to get used to. However, the time to get up to speed is typically inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

For instance, with Boomi, it took me a week to start creating integrations; however, a month into it, I was dangerously semi-proficient. Within a few months, I was tweaking those initial low-code integrations and doing so without having to regress. Once I understood the platform, I could create live integrations in days or weeks that would’ve taken months of custom development otherwise.

CTOs and CIOs face a lot of pressure to accelerate growth. However, if the answer to every problem you face is to write a lot of code, you need to take a step back as an IT leader.

Instead, find the right tool to achieve the business value. As the saying goes, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Help your team understand that their job is not at risk by finding the right place in your development ecosystem for low-code solutions.

Low-code and its applications have grown extraordinarily in the last few years. We have more access to mature low-code applications than ever before. Take advantage of it to achieve the best business outcomes you can. Use low-code to solve easy and common problems and save hand-writing code for creating a solution to the tough problem your organization is solving. Your developers and stakeholders will thank you.

As low-code startups continue to attract VC interest, what’s driving customer demand?

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