In their own words...
Read on below for the full transcript of the podcast.
Kevin Craine [0:01]
Welcome to the digital transformation podcast. Interviews with best-selling authors, innovative thought leaders, and top-shelf executives are all driving today's digital success. This is the show that will help you take advantage of digital transformation to build your business and career. I'm your host, Kevin Craine. And I'm so pleased that you're listening.
Our guest today is Gerard Newman. Gerard is the Chief Technology Officer at FlowForma. FlowForma is a company offering a no code development platform for process automation that empowers business people to digitize processes in-house, to unlock serious advantages and competitive savings with an easy-to-use no code process automation tool. And that's what we're here to discuss today how to govern no code Process Automation initiatives. So Gerard, welcome to the program. Now using a no code approach to application development upsets, the normal way of working with IT resources and traditional coding with business users and process owners leading development efforts instead. What are the key considerations we should all be aware of when using a no code approach?
Gerard Newman [1:18]
Yeah, sure. Well, listen, first of all, thanks very much. Delighted to be here. And I think that's an interesting question. And overall, business users and process owners taking the lead in developing their own applications has been a feature of the operations environment for quite a while. So I'm sure you've seen situations where business users have built out complex models or applications using things like Excel or some other tools like access. So this end-user computing approach solves a problem for business operations, but at the same time, it created a risk for the business. So these applications were built outside the usual IT controls, and therefore they may be unsupportable. And particularly if the original author of the application leaves the organization. In this situation, you end up with an application that's critical to the business that cannot be maintained and further developed. And because of this CIOs and CTOs were not keen on the whole end-user computing approach. However, that position is very different today. So CIOs and CTOs realize that they simply do not have the IT resources required to meet the massive demand from business managers for custom applications. So they realise that the tech-savvy and motivated, citizen developers were scattered throughout their business. They need to be harnessed to allow the organization to achieve its digital transformation goals. So the challenge then becomes 'how do you enable citizen developers while at the same time governing what they do so that the risks can be managed'. So governance can mean lots of different things to different organizations. But I think fundamentally, it means that you're giving citizen developers a framework that they can work within a framework that allows them to gather requirements, and iteratively build and refine their applications in a development environment. It allows them to test a way I suppose a means of testing their applications, in conjunction with the business, and a way of maintaining those applications to keep them current and address any issues found within them. And finally, a way of supporting those applications, so they can ensure that the business continue to use them and do so in an efficient way.
Kevin Craine [3:29]
Now with no code, is there any IT involvement at all?
Gerard Newman [3:33]
Yeah, we get asked this question a bit, because it really depends on the organization and their overall approach. So in general, IT departments have lots of skills and experience in particular that citizen developers can actually benefit from. So in some organizations, we see hybrid teams being set up, which consist of citizen developers, but also professional IT developers, with the IT developers potentially taking responsibility for doing things like building out standard integration mechanisms, but also for coaching the citizen developers on how you go about designing and building applications in a reliable way. And also coaching them on how those applications can be deployed, and how they can actually be maintained. So that's one type of organization. In other organizations, we see IT playing primarily a review role, where they're looking at applications that have been put together by citizen developers and reviewing them to ensure they meet security standards, data management standards, and those kinds of things. But I think the key thing is that there is a role for IT in low code development projects, and that is going to vary from organization to organization, and it is up to each organization to work out its best approach, but the most successful projects are where you have IT and citizen developers working hand in hand with IT doing some of the very heavy technical lifting and the citizen developers doing the build-out of the actual business application.
Kevin Craine [5:04]
In that way, it's the best of both worlds really.
Gerard Newman [5:08]
Yeah, absolutely it is. And you're getting the benefit of experience. And you're also getting the acceleration of the application, creation, and deployment that you get with no code.
Kevin Craine [5:19]
Let's talk about application. In what ways are you seeing no code being used and deployed today? And how should our listeners look to leverage the advantages?
Gerard Newman [5:29]
So we see more and more no code platforms coming to the market. And some of these are actually becoming quite specialized to handle very specific tasks or operations within an organization. But overall, I suppose we would see no code being deployed in lots of different sectors, there's no one particular sector that we would say is using it way more than any other. So it's something that is an initiative in most sectors. And in most types of organizations at this stage, it really depends on how they're trying to drive their digital transformation initiatives. And it particularly suits organizations that have overloaded IT departments or organizations that simply don't have or cannot get specialized IT skills. In relation to sectors, as I said, we're not seeing any particular sector being more prevalent than others. However, from our point of view, and around the Process Automation approach that we have, we would see construction as being a sector that is more active at the moment. And that's down to I think, the continued investment in technology in that sector, and also a desire to speed up the way that they run a lot of their processes, because, in many ways, it is a process-driven industry.
Kevin Craine [6:44]
Do you see adoption rates being different with smaller start-up organizations versus larger enterprise organizations?
Gerard Newman [6:53]
Yeah, I think that smaller organizations tend to jump in and start using the tools in larger organizations spend a bit more time actually evaluating various options that are available to them and the platforms that are there. But across the board, we see organizations of all sizes using no code approaches, and they do understand that it is a way of increasing the overall productivity and removing the workload to a certain extent from those overloaded IT professionals.
Kevin Craine [7:26]
We are speaking with Gerard Newman Chief Technology Officer at FlowForma. FlowForma offers a no code development platform for process automation, you can find out more at www.flowforma.com. Now, Gerard, what are some of the best practices we're here to talk about how to govern a no code Process Automation initiatives, so from your point of view, what are some of the best practices to do to govern and lead a no code Process Automation initiative. Is there a process or a model that I should follow as a project lead?
Gerard Newman [8:23]
Now I think, like traditional IT projects, I think when I suppose with any project, one of the key things is planning. So what you're trying to do is make sure that you're clear at the outset, about what goals and objectives you actually have. And then being clear with all the stakeholders, the deliverables that you're going to provide. And also then looking at the responsibilities of the team, and the risks that are associated with that. So that's just kind of a traditional project management type approach. And I don't think no code projects differ in that respect. However, where they do start to differ is that they can allow very rapid development. So I think organizations can very much follow this model, and embrace it. So that what this means is it enables an iterative approach to application development, where an application is developed in increments. And at each stage of that process, you can involve the business users in reviewing those increments. So this allows them to give their feedback, which in turn influences the direction that the application is being developed and ensures that it meets the original requirements. And it also helps with the overall change management associated with introducing an application. That's one thing I'd say and another thing just is the concept that's been there that we use around the minimum viable product. And this is important as well in a no code environment because changes can be made quickly and easily. So it's often tempting to keep changing and trying to perfect things and in this case, really, perfection is the enemy of progress. So what you really need to do is have an agreement up front as to what you're expecting or what the minimum viable product is coming out of your application development initiative. And when you reach that, start rolling it out, because once you roll it out, you're going to be getting a lot more valid feedback. And you can then incorporate that into the application. And it's a much better approach than waiting until everything is absolutely perfect. So get it out there and see what feedback you're actually getting. And just one final point on this is that when you get into a no code environment, people can sometimes skimp on the overall testing of an application. And it really is important that this is carried out to ensure the application is performing as you expect and is reliable. And the main reason here is just to make sure that there isn't a moment of disappointment for the user base when you initially roll out the application. And there are problems with it. So in summary, I'd say an approach is: to plan things out, which you would do traditionally, and embrace the whole incremental approach. And know when enough is enough by having a clearly defined minimum viable product. And finally, don't forget the testing.
Kevin Craine [11:10]
As you're talking, I'm thinking, things like objectives, planning, testing, and managing the change. These are all parts of project management that if you're in an IT environment, you may take, maybe not for granted, but as part of the normal process. But if I'm a business, a business user, or a process owner, I may not have that background or experience. So another good argument for being cooperative, having a cooperative effort between IT and business owners, even in a no code environment.
Gerard Newman [11:43]
Yeah, absolutely. And this is kind of really about the transfer the skills and the value that IT professionals can build can bring to these no code initiatives, because they have that experience on both the methods and techniques that are used in professional IT departments have built up over the years, and have, you know, been through various changes themselves. So it's great to be able to leverage that experience with these projects.
Kevin Craine [12:07]
Now, no code enables a great number of process improvement and innovation possibilities. But I still need to get support and buy-in for the change. And our listeners often tell us that getting that support and buy-in is often a more difficult hurdle to overcome than even the technology involved. What is your advice for our listeners who may be struggling to get the support and adoption they need?
Gerard Newman [12:32]
You're absolutely right. So managing change is key. But potentially with no code applications, the opportunities there to actually make changes very quickly and over a wide area. And as a result, the level of change that you have to manage might be greater. But at the same time, with a no code approach, recruiting citizen developers from key business areas can really help you manage that change. So these people understand the overall processes, the drivers, and the environment that the business is actually operating in. And they can bring that to bear on application development. And traditional IT projects often struggle with this, because you've effectively got people coming from different backgrounds with different technical experiences, trying to understand the business and get up to speed on what those environmental factors are. So having somebody who's building the application will understand that can really help overcome some of those barriers to change. And I think the iterative approach is also really key here. So if you can involve the business stakeholders in reviewing each iteration, and then making adjustments quickly to reflect their feedback, there's a much better sense of ownership within the business, they don't feel there's an application being pushed on them. Instead, they feel that they've been a key part in actually building it out. So that really helps to roll out on adoption. So the final point to make there is that when you deliver an application, that's that's not the end of the journey, you have to support it, you have to look after it, you have to maintain it, you have to make sure that it's continually fit for purpose and, and fits the business need. So you need to make sure that those kind of things are in place. So once business communities start seeing that you're investing in those things, that you have an approach that they take a sense of ownership that you are going to look after the application that they lower the barriers to change. And I suppose differentiate no code projects sometimes from traditional IT projects where the business can often feel they only have input at certain points in the overall process.
Kevin Craine [14:36]
Part of getting the support and buy-in that I need is justifying the investment and demonstrating the ROI. Are no code initiatives less expensive and if so, how do I as a business owner or project lead business process owner how do I demonstrate that ROI?
Gerard Newman [14:57]
Yeah, well I think overall because the lead time to actually implement a project and because of the iterative approach where you can quickly get something there and then improve it, you actually start benefiting from automation and transformation much quicker than with traditional IT projects. So what we do in terms of trying to assess that ROI is look at the 'as is' situation, look at the 'two be' situation, look at the difference between those, and how quickly we can actually achieve the to be situation. So I think no code can give you a much better return on your investment in a shorter period of time.
Kevin Craine [15:32]
Let's talk about application a little bit. Can you give us an example of one organization or one use case that has been particularly successful using a no code approach? What did they do? What were the results? And how can we do it too?
Gerard Newman [15:46]
Yeah, sure. So one organization that you might be interested in is the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. So they were facing similar issues, similar pains to a lot of other organizations where they really wanted to automate their processes, they need to digitize their business to a greater extent than they had done. But they had an IT department which had limited resources. And even though the IT department were working on helping them automate their processes, it wasn't making the kind of progress that they needed to make. And there were always different priorities and distractions. So they decided to try an alternative approach. And with IT's, cooperation, they selected FlowForma as a no code platform. But what they did is they kind of very much embraced it. And they trained eight people up so they had a group of citizen developers who were capable of using the product. And then what they did is they deployed those people to automate the first couple of processes. So this was actually done very quickly. And they then rolled those out to the business. But when other parts of the business started to see the impact that those had had, and how quickly the change had been achieved, there was a greater demand for more automation. So the the team of eight citizen developers, within 22 months ended up digitizing 120 processes. So that is a fundamental transformation of an organization in quite a short period of time. So they did that, with the cooperation of it, but really, without relying on it to deliver that change, they were able to do that within the business using their citizen developers. So that sort of level of change across an organization with more traditional IT projects would take a considerable amount of time longer than what it took Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. So I think that that kind of concept of collaboration between the business it and the citizen developers really affected a fundamental change in that organization.
Kevin Craine [17:46]
You're listening to the digital transformation podcast, we are speaking with Gerard Newman, Chief Technology Officer at FlowForma, about how to govern no code Process Automation initiatives, you can find him and find out more at www.flowforma.com. Now, Gerard, we have reached the action item round of the show. I'm wondering if you could please provide us with three quick action items that our listeners can do to begin to take advantage of your ideas and advice.
Gerard Newman [18:16]
Yeah, sure. So I say there are quite a few points I suppose you could make here. But maybe three things to look at areas you embrace the whole concept of citizen developers and no code projects, establishing a governance framework. However simple it is, from the beginning, and using it then to ensure that the citizen developer nations all across the organization follow the same pattern, I think it'd be really beneficial. And it allows you to establish something that people can contribute to and change and adjust over time. That's one thing. I think identifying those citizen developers that are already in your organization is a good idea and training them up. So training them not only means training them in the toolset, but also in the project techniques and best practices that we spoke about previously. So what this does is it gives you a resource in your organization that allows you to continue on your digital transformation journey. And the other thing I'd say is do involve IT from the start. IT are much more aware of no code initiatives that are going on now. And it is beneficial. If you involve them from the start, they can often point you to some of the techniques they use, or, some of the technologies that they use to do things like integration. So it really is beneficial to involve them from the start, that can really enhance productivity.
Kevin Craine [19:39]
Well, Gerard, it's been great speaking with you today. We're almost out of time. But before I let you go, one last question. What should executives and business owners, all of us really be thinking about now? And strategizing for today, in order to be prepared for the world in five years' time?
Gerard Newman [19:59]
Yep, that's obviously focusing in around the no code area. I think we're going to see more no code and low code platforms proliferating over the next five years. And I think many organizations will end up using different platforms for different purposes. So I think in preparation for that CIOs, CTOs should be thinking about how they organize and enable their citizen developers with governance frameworks or guarderings. That's one thing. I think the second thing I'd say is that citizen developer skillset will become more universally recognized over the next five years and organizations will need to ensure that they have access to the skill set internally. They can start preparing for that now by identifying their citizen developers, the ones that are ready in their organization, and making sure that they have the skills and support them in their journey and education. They can also look out for that skill when they're hiring new people so they can recruit people who already got experience working as citizen developers in other organizations and then use their experience to help kickstart their own initiatives.
Kevin Craine [21:05]
That is Gerard Newman, Chief Technology Officer at FlowForma. Check out FlowForma for an easy-to-use no code process automation tool. Gerard, thank you so much for being our guest today on the digital transformation podcast.
Gerard Newman [21:20]
Thank you very much indeed.
Kevin Craine [21:24]
That will do it for this episode of the digital transformation podcast. I'll talk to you next time on the digital transformation podcast.