Applications Unleashed #5 – No App Apps
With core applications becoming stabdard 'catalog' items, the differentiating edge of IT solutions will come from a next generation of applications that are not really applications anymore. They are quickly created by gluing reusable, IT services together, building on APIs and open datasets. They leverage visual, model-driven platforms that generate code or simply execute the models themselves. They are based on self-service BI, BPM and business rule tools that create solutions in closest proximity to the business. They build on mobility frameworks for new user interfaces without diving into the software underneath. Yes, the future app might still be an app, but not as we know it.
Let’s assume you have done all the things that transform your application landscape into a set of unleashed applications: you have adopted industry best practices (building from the catalog) and eliminated excess instances, customization and bespoke software; you rationalized and renewed your application portfolio, benefiting from new cloud platforms; you have applied some of the next-generation SaaS solutions, creating a more elastic business and you have opened op your core applications through APIs.
Now, it’s time for the cars and scooters: solutions that are created and deployed in the nearest proximity to the business and have a fast lifecycle. After all, being just as standardized and rationalized as your peers in the sector is a basic necessity, really as a hygiene factor, but it will not provide you with the differentiating qualities to stand out in the market.
For that – of course – your organization needs to establish where it’s different, where it’s special, where it wants to apply technology to be digitally relevant and intense. Then you want to deploy the right processes, activities and solutions as close as possible to where it really matters: the business. And - most important - you want to have the agility to quickly implement and improve your solutions over and over again.
At this point in time, we are already aware that detailed requirements will not bring us where we need to be: too much time needed, too much friction between demand and supply sides, too much disappointment as a result. You probably also don’t want to build all your car and scooter solutions using advanced, but complex programming languages such as C# or Java. They require highly trained software engineers who are not necessarily suitable – or interested, for that matter - to work in the middle of the business, even not when agile approaches such as Scrum and DevOps are used to bridge the gap between business and IT and get optimized results within a given timeframe.
The future of a certain category of applications is not being applications at all, at least not as we know them right now. They are built with tools and platforms that don’t require classical programming skills. It might be, at least to some extent, that business people use these tools themselves, feeling just a bit like software engineers. As a minimum, business and IT would be working much more closely together, preferably at the same place.
Platforms such as Mendix, OutSystems, Progress and Magic provide easy-to-use tools to create visual business models that are turned into attractive, executable applications without ever seeing a single line of code. Salesforce’s brand new Lightning tools provides many different ways to create cloud-based and mobile applications using visual UI builders and ‘point-and-click app logic’ through formulas, workflow rules, approval processes and visual workflow.
Business process platforms such as those from Pega, IBM and Oracle only require you to insert - natural language - business rules to create solutions that once relied on complex programming.
As application developers, more than once we have responded to an RFP from a client by building a working solution with platforms like Mendix, covering 70 to 80% of the requirered functionality. It sort of helps winning the heart of business users if you come up with an already functioning application - if only the minimum viable product - rather than exchanging elaborate requirements, specifications and planning documents.
When it comes to extreme business agility, the best app might be no app at all.