10 Unfounded Objections to Using Visual App Development Platforms - Part 1

In our white paper on low-code app development platforms in the enterprise, we look at 10 objections we commonly hear from our clients before they become converts – and why their arguments are old-hat.

The Paradox of Growing Enterprise App Backlogs

Gartner's mobile enterprise prediction for 2017Large companies around the world are working hard to digitalize their businesses, and enabling employee mobility is a big part of it: making critical data always accessible, optimizing workflows, collecting business information from the field, and so on. Business-to-Employee (B2E) mobile apps are in the epicenter of this disruption.

According to Gartner, over 5 million Business-to-Employee (B2E) apps will be built in the next 5 years1. Just the development costs of these apps with traditional methods will be $500B+2. In addition, the demand for development resources will be 5x the current supply of enterprise developers3. And this is not counting the numerous B2B apps that need to be built for customers, partners and other members of companies’ business networks.

According to Gartner, over 5 million Business-to-Employee (B2E) apps will be built in the next 5 years

AppGyver works with companies globally, helping them digitally transform their operations with enterprise mobile and web apps. The further companies progress down this path, the more abundantly clear it becomes that faster methods to build secure enterprise apps are needed. On one hand, we see increasingly mobile savvy workers identifying app scenarios that could to deliver transformative digital process – akin to the first time we summoned a ride, or a meal with the press of a button.

On the other, we hear mounting complaints that the majority of business-to-employee (B2E) and B2B mobile app requests sit in backlogs, and that the real potential of mobile in the enterprise remains largely untapped. The truth is that perception is still that mobile enterprise app development is hard, requiring expensive native development expertise to deliver high-quality results. Companies have done a lot to simplify the effort: RESTful API layers have been built, strategies for managing workforce devices and adopting platforms that automate some of the development lifecycle. While these steps have delivered great returns, B2E and B2B app backlogs continue to linger and grow.

The promises of speed gains with low-code platforms have been gargantuan, and there have been many disappointments over the last decade.

The promise of low-code app development however, changes all of this. Critical components are configured, essential elements are built once and reused in a visual environment. Apps can be designed to function with precision; fitting the unique needs of each enterprise app. Custom components and extensions are sandboxed, letting the user plug-and-test elements, logic and extensions. Risk of breakages are minimized while iteration speed is maximized ensuring an increasing number an apps that can be developed visually as an organization’s libraries increase in size.

The promises of speed gains with low-code platforms have been gargantuan, and there have been many disappointments over the last decade. The latest-generation of low-code development platforms (like our own Composer) have been around for some time and are delivering on the missed promises of the first-generation. The paradox lies in why there there’s still such a resistance.

We’ve asked our customers why they waited so long to adopt these game-changing tools. We’ve heard many of the same reasons.

Over the next few posts, we'll look at the top 10 objections, and what customers who’ve made the leap have come to realize.

“Our needs our unique and complex. We can’t afford to be constrained.”

Almost every discussion we enter into starts with this bias. History tells us it can be well founded. When needs are unique and complex, developers like to have full flexibility to solve the problems, and that means turning to traditional coding – and that’s slow and costly.

Business-driven apps are ultimately the collectors, curators and distributors of business critical information. When we dig into these scenarios, we invariably find these ‘unique’ needs can be dissected and represented by a few common denominators:

  • Access to native capabilities like GPS, camera, biometrics and other sensor data, local / push notifications, address books etc.
  • Integration of diverse databases and systems
  • Custom UI flows and frontend logic
  • Automation of workflows with complex, custom rules
  • The app needs to run across OS’s, devices and desktops

What makes each use case and app unique is the way these elements are combined in the context of a customer’s business. Here is where complications have historically arisen. The best of a new generation of platforms have been designed to offer fully visual app development, yet are also fully extendable with HTML5/JavaScript. This approach maximizes acceleration across the app stack while mitigating the risk hitting the proverbial brick wall. The best tools offer innovative ways of letting the user reuse code time again. Data integrations, backend cloud code, UI components and other customizations/extensions can be packaged into organized libraries, which can then be used across applications.

AppGyver Composer Component Editor

AppGyver Composer Component Editor lets users build and reuse components with dynamic properties.

We often have the opportunity to analyze customer backlogs as we help answer their questions. Having dissected thousands of business-driven app requirements, we’ve observed that it’s exceedingly rare that a requirement falls outside of something that can’t be handled simply with the visual tool and just a little custom HTML or JS. At a minimum, there is usually a great opportunity to reduce the backlog strain by enabling technically savvy business analysts and web developers with a visual development platform. A world class low-code visual app development platform will enable “citizen developers” to build apps that tick all the boxes. They

  • Include native capabilities
  • Access and update legacy systems data
  • Consume multiple APIs
  • Execute business logic and rules
  • Provision users and roles, and manage permissions
  • Can be distributed through private channels or app stores

All of this can be set up with varying levels of governance.

A certain amount of constraint-by-design (or better put – governance) is a good thing when democratizing or opening mobile development like this. We often hear customers that have attempted to build app projects falling out of the regular UI paradigms fall flat on their faces with low or no user acceptance. These folks are often best enabled with tooling that allows them to assemble their apps from bigger building blocks. For example: auto-configured CRUD views for managing data; chat module for team collaboration that follows standard UI conventions; or map modules for visualizing locations.

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Whatever the skill set of your developers, a good low-code platform allows administrators to expose the right capabilities, at the right level of granularity, offering just the right level of flexibility to different developers. Business analysts, for example, may have a catalogue of feature rich modules to choose from. Web developers work with UI components and build up libraries of their own components, attaching data and logic for each unique mobile app. Top-tier developers can spend their time on complex libraries to be used and reused company-wide.

Bottom line: no matter how unique a business and its needs may be, the strategy of building every app from the ground up doesn’t scale. The good news is the majority of mobile app backlogs are filled with small, task-specific apps often with just one or two primary functions that serve very specific needs. This allows a lower common denominator of skill set able to contribute to a company’s repertoire of apps.

“We’re already accelerating mobile development using open source frameworks like Ionic and Angular Material and hybrid IDEs like Appcelerator and Xamarin.”

All of these tools offer some great benefits and speed gains, when used for the right kinds of apps, with the right team. The real issue is that for all the rapidness they offer, they are still highly technical – even if there are some visual tools available, they remain very much coding frameworks at heart. Thus, your app development, testing and distribution still relies on IT resources. There will be no “citizen developer” revolution. The result is back to square one. A good portion of highly-valuable task-specific and line-of-business apps stay stuck in low priority backlogs.

  1. Gartner: The Enterprise App Explosion, 16 June 2015

  2. Based on discussions with hundreds of enterprise customers, we estimate the average cost to build B2E and B2B apps today equals at least $100,000 per app

  3. Gartner: The Enterprise App Explosion, 16 June 2015

Jeff N Alonzo

Jeff Alonzo has been instrumental in bringing technology enterprise for over 20 years. Notably, his roles at AnyPresence and Apigee have added to his insight into mobile trends in the enterprise.