low code platform features

It's vital for CIOs, CTOs and CDOs (referred here collectively as CXOs) to recognize the rapidly changing technology and competitive landscape, and the fundamental ways in which their very role within the organization has changed. Handling constant software development requests, accounting for ever-changing business processes, increasing transparency for customers and regulations, improving enterprise data security, and scaling infrastructure at short notice—CXOs have a lot on their plate. However, these all pale in comparison to their central role of charting organizational strategy, building company culture, and strengthening competitive advantage.

To tackle this volume and diversity of change, CXOs need to choose a robust and versatile development platform that allows them to meet the challenges they face every day. This blog goes over some of the top business challenges faced by present-day CXOs, and then details how their choice of development platform can help them effectively overcome these challenges.

Challenge 1 - Accelerating functional needs

Many organizations today are trying to rapidly digitize their operations to keep up with the times. The danger of unexpected attacks from new companies, or old competitors discovering new ways of offering services using innovative web and mobile technologies, also looms large.

This process of digital transformation is creating projects at a rate far beyond what business IT were previously capable of handling. Retaining control over all these projects requires a robust, unified platform that facilitates intelligent automation, smooth system integrations, and personalized digitization of customer-facing activities, without compromising on data security and turnaround times. In order to reduce lead times, companies are often tempted to bypass their IT departments and use third-party apps that meet their immediate requirements. These result in digital silos that pose many challenges to business-wide digitization, including:

  • Costly integrations

  • Breaks and gaps in enterprise data

  • Information asymmetry between functions

  • Time-intensive process standardization

  • Mounting expenses owing to redundancies

  • Complex enterprise architecture

  • Need for multi-skilled labor

  • Low interoperability across applications

  • Heightened data security risks

What are CXOs looking for?

CXOs need a software development platform that gets line-of-business / functional users to actively participate in an iterative agile software development process. This ensures fast development and turnaround times, without sacrificing performance quality, data security, and system integration needs. As opposed to running the entire process of software development, testing, and delivery, IT teams need to get user departments more involved in this process.

CXOs often find many advantages to this collaborative process of digitization. Software & process automations developed this way are far more robust, as the end users are involved in every stage of development. Besides, they're also able to handle a far higher number of digital transformation projects in parallel, and reap benefits such as faster turnaround times, lower development effort and costs, better integration with legacy systems, and tighter control on data security.

A low-code application development platform (LCAP) offers exactly this, plus the potential for dramatic change in the organization's culture, where more line of business functions can lead new process innovations. 

Challenge 2 – Increasing development infrastructure throughput

The ability to scale skilled labor in proportion to requests, and training them on diverse (and often disparate) technologies, can be a herculean, costly task. This problem cannot be fixed by throwing more developers at it. There's a need to usher in a paradigm shift in the approach to software development.

CXOs can considerably reduce the time and effort required in developing applications where code is written from scratch for each functionality. A solution that helps IT teams further the creation and reusability of code and functions not only helps boost throughput but also massively cuts down on redundancies in developer time and effort. An environment that allows for developers to seamlessly collaborate with citizen developers, assist them when required, and hand over reusable components is vital to increasing operational efficiencies and cohesiveness.

What are CXOs looking for?

CXOs, therefore, are on the lookout for platforms that substantially increase the efficiency and throughput of their software coders—preferably ones with prebuilt functionalities that developers can drop in easily. This helps avoid a reliance on developers to build different functionalities from scratch. With platforms offering an intuitive amalgamation of visual programming and traditional coding, developers have the option to modify these prebuilt functionalities to suit their requirements before handing them over.

Present day LCAPs help software programmers across the entire gamut of the software development lifecycle, from architecture, data management, and development, to testing, in an agile and collaborative way.

Challenge 3 – Modernizing and coexisting with legacy systems

CXOs are also responsible for ensuring that new software works in tight synchronization with older enterprise systems. It may not be feasible or advisable to completely rip out old systems and replace them with new technologies in a single go. When bringing in new web and mobile technologies that pave the way for new business opportunities and call for revised business processes, CXOs need to keep upgrading the modules in their older system, which is by no means a small feat!

CXOs typically divide investments between new initiatives and the modernization of older systems within their overall budgets, so as to ensure that there are no great technology gaps or dissonance between functions. And a key ingredient to successful integration of legacy systems with new initiatives is the platform (and discrete apps) on which new initiatives are built.

What are CXOs looking for?

CXOs are on the lookout for technologies or platforms that offer: 

  • Ready-to-use modules for processes across various functions—sales order entry, invoicing, payments, accounting, payroll—such that these digital transformation projects come integrated within the platform.

  • Ready APIs with a host of other popular enterprise software and apps (ERP, Salesforce automation, CRM, etc.) that the enterprise is currently using, or the ability to quickly create custom APIs for current and future technologies.

  • Seamless, encrypted data migration options with provisions to carry out data operations to source, organize, and transform legacy data.

Software apps developed using low-code development platforms can easily be integrated with most enterprise legacy systems through connectors, thus nullifying the need for a complex mediation system.

Challenge 4 – Achieving scale in a sustainable, centralized fashion

Rampant, uncontrolled digitization can be counterproductive to one’s business. Because of this, CXOs try to scale their business technology and operations’ architecture at a pace that's reflective of their overall business performance and market circumstances. CXOs want to ensure that the effort and resources allocated to ramping up is equitably distributed across different pockets of the organization. When adopting an automation-first approach to digital transformation, organization-wide information and process flows need to be mapped, along with the stakeholders involved, resources utilized, timelines, inputs, and outputs at each step.

Information or data that's received, processed, or generated in each process, project, or department, also needs to be centrally organized, meaningfully structured, and judiciously circulated to relevant centers across the organization, to facilitate adequate learning and knowledge sharing, and tight feedback control loops.

What are CXOs looking for?

CXOs seek a unified platform that can help:

  • Seamlessly interface with other applications or sensors that collect data, and centrally store it in a structured manner, with minimal manual intervention.

  • Map information/data with business-wide applications and processes, to aid streamlining enterprise architecture and operations.

  • Configure and deploy quick automation workflows, with real-time dashboards that report on key performance indicators and process metrics.

Low-code platforms are conceived and developed to act as one-stop-shops for enterprises to manage their data centrally, while helping both technical and non-technical users quickly create APIs and smart workflows.

Challenge 5 - Data protection & security

In the rapidly evolving space of enterprise software and digital transformation, data security is of paramount importance. An enterprise needs to identify all critical data and implement policies and tools that include a clear identification of where their data is located, who has access to it, and how it will be monitored to detect unauthorized intrusion attempts.

CXOs need to maintain a balancing act between imposing multiple levels of access security vis-à-vis easy access for business efficiency. And IT teams need to protect against attacks not only from external sources but from internal data security threats, as well. Compliance with regulations in relation to data security and customer privacy also needs to be taken care of.

What are CXOs looking for?

Because the platform they choose for digital transformation acts as a single consolidated repository for centralizing and storing critical business data, it's imperative that the platform is equipped with necessary encryption, and adheres to data regulations and standards. CXOs also look for platforms that offer them flexible hosting options (cloud, on-premise, or hybrid options) that are reflective of internal privacy standards and best practices.

In addition to flexible hosting options, it's expedient to have a digital innovation platform that interfaces with other legacy applications, allowing for secure data migrations and synchronizations.

As such, LCAPs are increasingly the go-to option for CXOs looking to usher in digital transformation, enhance throughput of IT, and to maintain and develop a well-integrated and secure enterprise application landscape.

A CXO’s checklist for identifying the right low-code platform

Democratizing development efforts

End users who request business applications have in-depth knowledge of the business rules and workflows they need developed. Traditionally, this knowledge had to be passed on to the software developer, and discrepancies that crept up during the transfer were common and lead to longer times and costs for development. Low-code application platforms (LCAPs) provide a visual drag-and-drop interface that business users, with no knowledge of software development, can use to translate their process flows and business rules into a visual design. Such development results in more robust and intuitive software interfaces and is usually developed much more quickly.

It also frees software engineers from transactional, repetitive development tasks/projects, and reduces user departments’ reliance on IT for all its development needs, enabling them to take more digitization processes on to their plates. Business IT can also save substantial amounts on software development, user departments can save substantial costs, and employees are more motivated, as they not only gain new skills but also see their initiatives getting implemented faster. 

Capabilities and features for digital transformation:

CXOs, while evaluating low-code app development platforms, should look at the range of process and transaction automation abilities on offer: 

  1. Highly functional, drag-and-drop UI: It's vital to check the LCAP's range of preconfigured elements that aid in development and automation. This makes it easier to conduct multiple trials to check its user friendliness, as this largely determines how well user departments will take to digital transformation.

  2. Ease of digitizing data received: Check whether the platform enables collection of different types of data inputs as well as inputs in the form of digital forms, QR/barcodes, and locations. The ability to use dynamic fields/forms, enable/restrict access, utilize multichannel support and accessibility, selectively route data to stakeholders, and deploy mechanisms to prevent data entry errors, are also key considerations. These call for low-code platforms to offer robust IT guardrails, for business users to operate within. 

  3. Ease of automation: Enterprises must evaluate the platform’s ability to digitize workflows by incorporating various business rules. The ability to trigger multiple tasks when an event happens, accept payments in different currencies, account for business at different locations, set off notification/approval chains—all through a visual workflow editor—forms a key requirement for an advanced LCAP. As your organization grows, RPA, hyper-automation, intelligent automation, BPM capabilities become critical too. 

  4. Analytics and dashboards: The LCAP should also be evaluated for how easily it generates reports and dashboards, and furnishes AI-enabled insights on the go, to aid and foster informed, data-backed decision-making. Besides a horde of prebuilt visualization and dashboarding tiles, LCAPs like Zoho Creator also offer tight integrations with their advanced analytics and visualization tools.

Greater efficiency & utilization of development resources

The onus for managing the utilization of expensive software development infrastructure rests on the CXO. It's their responsibility to prioritize development projects that maximize ROI and competitive strengths, in both the medium and long-term. Objectively, they'll be off to a great start if they deploy a software development environment that gets widespread adoption from user departments, and that facilitates rapid development and deployment of new apps across various functions—thus expediting the organization's digital transformation.

Capabilities and features facilitating enhanced efficiency:
  1. Launch of multi-device applications: It's a huge wasted effort to write code for web apps and then have to do it all again for the Android and iOS versions. Low-code platforms (like Zoho Creator) allow developers to build the app once and have it automatically deployable as native Android and iOS apps.
  2. Native mobile app development: The mobile app development functionality offered by a low-code platform needs to be studied in terms of ease of development, ability to modify and add functionality to an enterprise’s existing mobile app, ability for offline data synchronization, and more. CXOs must also check on how their web applications perform when accessed from a mobile browser.

  3. Coding flexibility: To evaluate the efficacy of the low-code platform, one must gauge whether a developer can write functions in other coding languages, and invoke them across applications. It's also a useful feature if the platform allows developers to build reusable code snippets to utilize for other applications.

  4. Flexible hosting: Based on the enterprise needs, a low-code platform should offer flexibility of hosting, be it on-premise, on the platform’s cloud, in 3rd party cloud infrastructure, or on a hybrid model encompassing aspects of all three. CXOs must evaluate the platform’s cloud infrastructure in terms of architecture, network monitoring, availability, data security, and scalability. 

  5. Access control: Low-code platforms need to also be evaluated on its ability to perform audit trails, configuration of roles and permissions, and single sign-on. These are the bare essentials when CXOs look for centrally governing the use of the platform, and user departments’ contributions at each stage.

Tighter integrations and seamless data flows

A key evaluation criteria for software development efforts is whether the new products can be integrated with broader enterprise systems. Thankfully, modern LCAPs are designed to work with legacy systems. Another aspect of integration is that a few LCAPs, like Zoho Creator, offer function-specific apps that can be easily adapted to suit an organization’s requirements. Organizations can leverage such prebuilt applications to aid, accelerate, or act as a basal framework for their digital transformation mission.

Capabilities and features facilitating ease of integration & migration:
  1. Model applications/frameworks: To facilitate rapid digitization, a low-code platform needs to be evaluated in terms of the range of business applications it offers for each function of the enterprise, their functionality, and their ability to be customized. Zoho Creator, for instance, offers 65+ highly versatile prebuilt business applications for you jump-start with and customize upon.

  2. Out-of-the-box integrations: It's essential to evaluate low-code platforms on the availability of out-of-the-box integrations with popular platforms and apps, as this can go a long way in accelerating the creation of an integrated enterprise. Zoho Creator, for example, offers ready integration with 300+ apps and platforms.

  3. Custom APIs and integrations: Each enterprise has its own set of custom and legacy applications that require meaningful interaction with one another. LCAPs, besides offering preconfigured APIs with key applications, also allow for technical and nontechnical users to create custom APIs with any system with an end point.

  4. Migration from databases: LCAPs like Zoho Creator offer prebuilt data migration gateways from popular databases. Zoho Creator, in fact, takes this a step further. Besides single-click data imports from popular databases, it also supports advanced migrations that read and import data relationships, data types, and more, from the original source.

Heightened data security and compliance

The LCAPs of today are usually cloud-based, allowing you to store all your business data in secure, encrypted data centers. The entire network is normally shielded by strong intrusion prevention systems and well-established firewalls—not to mention that geographically isolated data centers with best-in-class backups and well-defined disaster recovery processes ensure high availability and performance.

Capabilities and features relating to data security:
  1. Private, encrypted data centers: With the architecture and process of how services are offered by low-code app development platforms, enterprises end up with an extremely secure, high-availability, efficient software environment. Zoho Creator, for instance, offers a geographically distributed network of secure data centers for quick access to data and fully secure data transactions.

  2. Low maintenance, time, and cost: Cloud-based LCAPs with private data centers mean businesses and CXOs are no longer faced with maintaining expensive infrastructure. Zoho Creator’s data centers ensure 99.9% uptime with almost no possibility of business disruptions owing to downtime.

  3. Compliance with regulatory standards: CXOs must also take into account the data compliance standards the LCAP organization abides by. Zoho is compliant with SOC II, ISO/IEC 27001/02, ISO/IEC 27017/18, and more. This ensures that all internal processes which could potentially impact your data or business continuity is managed with the utmost care, while adhering to the highest regulatory standards.

 

Parting thoughts

Every business investment needs to be made with careful consideration, adequate due diligence, and extensive evaluation of alternatives. Choosing the right LCAP is no exception. Being integral to digitization, the LCAP you zero in on, can impact your overall enterprise architecture and operational strategy for better or worse. While there's no wrong time to make the right decision, going with the wrong LCAP can derail your digital transformation journey and set you back by several years. So why not make the right decision now?

Keen to know more about LCAPs, their business relevance, and their utility? Get in touch with a digital practitioner today for a free consultation!

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