To meet company needs that couldn't wait for month-long coding sprints, managers turned to low-code platforms to quickly iterate solutions to pressing problems.
Apps built with low-code platforms helped onboard staff at vaccine maker Moderna, manage medical resource distribution in rural Pennsylvania for healthcare provider Geisinger and process public assistance requests for the residents of San Antonio.
The forces that drove adoption of the technology are evident. Companies needed applications they didn't have, for use cases that hadn't been thought of before, and needed them quickly, according to John Rymer, VP and principal analyst at Forrester.
"For most companies, the world changed in the matter of a day or two days," Rymer told CIO Dive. Managing COVID-19 tests, employee wellness, distribution of medical gear and other equipment became critical for sustaining essential businesses that couldn't shut down their operations.
Low-code platforms became critical to organizations grappling with seismic shifts, with their ability to integrate data from multiple sources and reduce development times from months or weeks to days.
Companies that already leveraged low-code systems were able to respond faster to the pivot, Rymer said. Half of developers had already adopted or planned to adopt a low-code platform as part of their workflow, according to a 2018 Forrester study.
Now that the moment for urgent pivots has passed, and companies prepare to operate mostly in a distributed setting for at least 12 more months, putting in place governance structures and iterating on low-code solutions will be key to the sustainability of solutions.
In response to COVID-19, and the disruption that came with it, low-code provider Quick Base saw 300 customers build more than 750 applications. Its customer, healthcare provider Geisinger built a platform to adapt to a 50% decline in outpatient visits and a surge of in-patient and ICU needs, mostly in rural parts of Pennsylvania.
The company's HR organization faced the challenge of "knowing who's qualified to go where, and how to get them there at the right time," said Jay Jamison, chief product and technology officer at Quick Base. In two days, an app helped coordinate and assign placements of 2,000 healthcare professionals in their network.
Low code's strength comes from its ability to quickly release and allow developers to iterate detailed pieces of software relevant to current needs. Though quickly spun-up apps help address urgent needs at scale, executives need to be mindful of retaining the trust, governance and controls in place that sustaining these apps require.
"In short, how do we avoid this becoming the Wild Wild West?" Jamison said.
Controls become especially relevant given low code's projected expansion. A $13.2 billion industry in 2020, it will grow to $45.5 billion by 2025 according to an estimate from research firm MarketsandMarkets. Digitalization needs and ramping up agile DevOps practices will fuel this growth, according to the firm.
In pandemic times, the public's need to avoid proximity to others makes processes more complex. Tasks that might have been taken a 10-minute visit are now introduced to new friction, including use cases that saw spikes in demand as the economy worsened.
The City of San Antonio leveraged low-code platform Mendix to streamline its public assistance program. Requests for rental, mortgage, utility, and relocation assistance were brought online, in partnership with San Antonio-based software company Kinetech.
At times of peak demand, the app processed more than 3,000 applications for public assistance in a single day.
"Not only did it work and manage the demand, it's become a crucial part of their assistance process," Jon Scolamiero, manager of architecture and governance, product marketing at Mendix, told CIO Dive.
For resource-strained government agencies and small businesses, speed of response became top priority.
Meeting true user need
Shadow IT is a lurking threat as business groups sidestep central tech organizations to seek solutions internally. But with the right capabilities in place, IT leaders can retain control while keeping low-code platforms in their stack.
At biotech company Moderna, smoothing out onboarding became top of mind as it developed its coronavirus vaccine candidate, which is set to enter a Phase 3 trial next month. A low-code platform put all onboarding resources in one place to help bring new workers up to speed quickly.
"With a low-code platform you can create an integrated experience very quickly," said Ed Macosky, SVP of products and solutions at Boomi, a Dell Technologies business, in an interview with CIO Dive.
To increase the chances of success for low-code solutions, the first step is to identify what kind of app will provide the quickest amount of value in the shortest amount of time, said Macosky. Coupled with proper governance tools, IT execs can share common pieces of functionality across lines of business.