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Visually Done

Leveraging the power of a Low-Code Platform and Design Thinking.


Ian H Smith

The idea of visual software development has been around for over ten years, but it is only now that enterprises and government agencies are starting to embrace the potential of the high performance application Platform-as-a-Service (hpaPaaS) at scale — as industry analysts Gartner and Forrester label this category of software.

A Low-Code Platform combined with Design Thinking transforms digital innovation. It is a grey line between what might be defined as No-Code versus Low-Code, but the general guiding principle here is: minimise Code, maximise No-Code - then add Low-Code and then, when absolutely needed (e.g. for integrations or special UIs) add Code - in this order.

Defining a Low-Code Platform

IT needs to go faster, cheaper: you can’t warehouse time, and less is more. Yet enterprise IT organisations today, are still bogged-down in expensive, time-consuming projects: CRM, ERP, et al. The continuous proliferation of silo’d IT applications creates the need for yet more application integrations. We might be moving from on-premise to the cloud, but enterprise IT remains way too complex, way too slow — and way too expensive.

Time to change: and that change is visual development in the cloud — underpinned by Design Thinking —resulting in the creation of end-to-end apps that transcend the boundaries of individual organisations and departments. The technology facilitator for this is a high performance application Platform-as-a-Service (hpaPaaS) or Low-Code Platform. This means creating end-to-end cloud apps, mostly without coding — just 'drag-and-drop' visual development — and an end to the excessive fragmentation of enterprise IT.

Visual development is sometimes referred to as ‘declarative development’: effectively, a method of creating software without writing syntax code and via ‘configuration’ of pre-built modules (‘objects’ or ‘entities’) and use of ‘drag-and-drop’ interactions, using a desktop PC and mouse pointer device.

Anyone who can edit a spreadsheet is able to create apps with drag-and-drop tools and related ‘wizards’ or forms. Also described as ‘clicks, not code’ a developer without deep programming skills can use the Low-Code Platform technology to build the business logic and automate workflows. This is where User Interface (UI) components and page layouts are automatically generated with prebuilt Grids and Responsive stylesheets — all supporting desktop, tablet and smartphone user devices, running popular Web browsers, such as Google Chrome or Apple Safari.

Enabling Faster Innovation

Low-Code Platform technology is a great facilitator, but digital innovation is greatly enhanced when Design Thinking is embedded into the process. This means setting-up a series of Mutual Value Discovery Workshops with all stakeholders engaged in the process in question: always beyond the narrow confines of one department, and often, wider than a single organisation.

Mutual Discovery is the foundation for Service Design: effectively, Design Thinking applied to solving compelling enterprise process challenges — and focusing hard on customer and employee experience in rapidly designing and testing new cloud apps created with the Low-Code Platform technology.

The different here is the distance between discovery and delivery: Low-Code software development radically reduces the time from ideation to execution in digital innovation. In many situations, this can become a closed-loop in a single meeting at a time — idea-to-code in just hours and minutes.

Applying Design Principles

The move to Low-Code Platform technology is more than a shift in technology: it’s a fundamental collapse in the time between ideation and execution of Service Design in business. In practice, this means that IT no longer becomes an abstract operation, apart from business, but something that everyone is more deeply engaged in. By removing complex coding from app design and publishing, all of the classic inertias of IT are removed.

Low-Code Platform technology enables Design Thinking — not abstract software engineering — to drive real world Service Designs. This translates into apps and workflows that conform to three Design Principles: (1.) Meaningful Journey; (2.) Fierce Reduction; and, (3.) Progressive Disclosure.

Meaningful Journey means apps used on desktop, tablet and smartphone devices that work the way users intuitively think and work.

Fierce Reduction means eliminating everything you can from a process, task or set of tasks: applying lean thinking to Service Design.

Progressive Disclosure means limiting what users sees on a device screen only what they need to see and act upon: avoid cognitive overload.

This also relates to the broader aspects of Design Thinking as a method: executing digital innovation with 5 clear steps: Empathize; Define: Ideate; Prototype; and, Test. 

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