Digital transformation, we’ve all heard these two words uttered before. What do they mean? When defining digital transformation, some will summarize it as adopting digital technology to redefine a business and its services, others will mention “going paperless”. Whatever the definition, the objective is quite clear, better business outcomes at ever‑increasing efficiencies. Digital technology should make our lives easier, right?
A Look Back Into a Pre‑Digital World
It’s useful to remind ourselves of what the pre‑digital transformation or analog world looked like. We don’t have to stretch memories too far back as many public sector agencies and private organizations still operate in the analog world. While it feels like most have moved past pen and paper, the digital solutions used by the majority today fall short of true "digital transformation".
Think about the ubiquity of tools like Microsoft Excel, estimated by some to be used by more than 750 million people around the world. It’s a powerful tool but it also brings a lot of frustration to its power users. Collaboration can be a challenge, restricting or managing to create, view, edit, delete access to specific segments of the data requires a lot of manual work and puts data at risk. Running complex workflows or chains of actions on it is reserved for Visual Basic Applications (VBA) wizards. One mistake and the whole thing can fall apart.
Some might think we’re past this stage but the truth is many organizations continue to rely on Excel to manage critical data. After all, it’s relatively easy to use. With little IT knowledge, you can get a skeleton of a working system, whether it’s for HR management, a risk register, a security assessment, or anything data‑related. The recent Public Health England COVID19 response IT disaster is a prime example that even the most developed countries still struggle to move past Excel. This can clearly backfire.
Sooner or later, these problems will be recognized and the cost of no action will become too great. Enter digital transformation.
The Beginning of Digital Transformation
Historically the fallback was custom development. Everyone’s needs are different so we might as well build something that works for us, right? If your organization is big enough, you might turn to the IT department to put something together. That said, resources are scarce, demand usually outperforms supply and simple projects can drag on for longer than they should. One alternative is to outsource to external software developers. Here you get dedicated attention but at a fee.
The incentive structure is often set so that your product designers have every reason in the world to bloat up your requirements and cook up the most complex system ever imagined. They bill by the hour after all! But new software does not equal working software. It will be buggy at first which is normal. Those bugs will be addressed over time... if you play ball and extend contracts to resolve them.
You can see how this can be a nightmarish scenario. Luckily other people have seen this before and built modular software that’s faster to deploy. Think IBM, Palantir, and others. They’re not recreating the wheel each time which can help their margins and avoid years of development and buggy software at the start.
That said, the way the software is customized, rolled out, and iterated over time is for their engineers to handle, in response to the instructions they will get from their customer-facing colleagues. There’s this black curtain that can’t be pierced, whether by design (incentivize structure) or by skill (too complex to operate). You might be willing to accept it at the start (it’s their software, licensed to you, after all, they’re the experts) but when the tiniest of change requests to the data architecture, the workflows, or the data governance system, start generating expensive service bills two, three, five, ten years down the line, you might reconsider. Not only does it increase the total cost of ownership downstream, but it can also generate important delays between new needs being observed and those same new needs being served and addressed.
Lastly, unlike in the analog world, where any Excel user could set up simple data management solutions themselves, in this new digital world, the driving seat is very much reserved to the engineer, creating challenging “lost in translation” problems between business users on one side with a clear idea of what’s required and developers on the side often lacking contextual knowledge, despite their best efforts at empathy.
Faced with two bad options, what do you do? Well, it turns out there’s a third option coming.
The No‑Code Revolution
With products like AirTable or Notion, the no‑code revolution puts the business user back in the driving seat, allowing them to build applications and automate processes without coding. This opens up innovation to a broader range of employees and accelerates digital transformation across the enterprise.
Currently, no‑code software approaches cover these three areas:
- Drag‑and‑drop capabilities to build apps or develop business processes
- Instant customization through easy‑to‑create "filters" and data queries
- Use of APIs for simple integration with other applications
By providing these capabilities to business users, no‑code software is not only fueling digital transformation but also becoming essential for the shift to even occur. The reasons for this, according to Jennifer Cadence, a product marketing manager at Google, can be summarized in three key aspects:
- Speed & agility: The ability to quickly develop an application that addresses business requirements has been key during a time where the operational context for different types of companies worldwide has changed faster than ever before.
- Productivity & collaboration: No‑code platforms enable organization‑wide collaboration. Cadence divides this collaboration into two main categories: creator‑to‑creator collaboration and end user‑to‑creator interaction, where both see benefits in enhancing manageability and iteration cycles on the one hand and shortening feedback loops on the other.
- Governance & Security: Even though there are some fears that citizen development could bring chaos to operations, no‑code platforms can be governed. No‑code platforms have the capacity to respect IT governance and security frameworks while allowing for controls like role management and monitoring. In her article Cadence mentions that "when an IT team can set policies and provide oversight for non‑technical teams within the organization, employees on the ground can problem‑solve quickly without creating management and governance liabilities."
What’s Ahead of Us
We have no doubt that digital transformation driven by no‑code is the future and have been dedicating the last 6 years to advancing this trend. While there are many new challengers, the majority of no‑code data system providers have thus far been limited in functionality. They serve consumers and small businesses very well but are generally poorly suited for the enterprise with lax data controls, limited relational data management capabilities, and over‑simplistic workflows.
At AKTEK we take great pride in bringing no‑code benefits to the next generation of digital enterprises, without sacrificing data controls and advanced workflows. Click here to learn more about how we can help you succeed in high‑risk contexts with the power of an information system you can configure, deploy and manage, all with no code.