Every technology needs purists and heroes. The once dichotomous (now widely coalesced) worlds of Microsoft with its proprietary software toolset mandates once stood in comparative opposition to open source Linux, but both sides have their champions.
Similarly, between the major database behemoths, enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite vendors and mobile platforms, we have seen decades of CEOs and CIOs who have evangelised one approach over another.
Appian may not be the central purist or hero organisation that represents low-code for all its core values, but if there were a very short shortlist of usual suspects for that crown, then it would be surely be on the list.
Above Low-Code Washing
If anything, Appian has stood its ground in the face of some low-code players seeking to elevate themselves as wider platform development specialists. There have also been a plethora of ‘me too’ inordinate upstarts trying to get some low-code share-of-voice; suddenly every software company has a low-code offering, with the global pandemic providing a perfect backdrop to showcase some or other software shortcut tooling now branded with low-code regalia.
All the while, Appian has just done what it does i.e., make low-code.
That calmly assured sense of place is evident in Appian CEO Matt Calkins. With a slightly reserved demeanour twinned with a knowing smile, Calkins has always baulked at the idea of hosting his firm’s Appian World conference in Las Vegas like so many others. Opting instead for upmarket conference hotel locations in San Diego and Miami (this year’s venue), Appian wants its cloth cut according to a certain quality.
Now on a mission to, ‘empower organisations – elevate people – and democratise software development’, Calkins and team have finally managed to host their annual user event after two-years of COVID-19 driven cancellations.
Malcolm Ross, Appian’s VP of product strategy and deputy CTO, speaks volubly about the firm’s approach to automating complex processes that span people and legacy systems. This is not just automation through low-code, this is what Appian likes to call the wider path to hyperautomation.
Low-Code Scope – Hyperautomation
So is hyperautomation hyper auto-tastic or just hyperautomation hype? Michael Beckley, founder and chief technology officer at Appian, describes the core tenets of hyperautomation as all about unified automation. But surely all automation is relatively unified – after all, who talks about fragmented automation, containerised automation or even partial automation, right?
What Beckley and the Appian team are referring to are powerful automation process principles applied across distributed workforces, broken workflow processes and data resources that may be inaccessible, massively expansive, unstructured or all three. The answer from Appian lies in its patented SAIL (standing for Self-Assembling Interface Layer) technology, a low-code method designed to compose and unite all components of an enterprise application, from back-end integrations to upper level graphical user interface (GUI) layers.
The most recent version of Appian SAIL incorporates the company’s AI-enabled Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) tooling, which is now said to work with out-of-the-box simplicity.
According to Appian, IDP saves thousands of person-hours per year by eliminating manual form and business document intake, using AI to convert unstructured data into structured data without human intervention.
“The latest release also leverages Appian’s own Data Anywhere architecture to unite the entire modern workforce of bots, AI and people with enterprise data – without requiring any data migration,” said the company, in a press statement.
Hyperautomation advancements here also include rapid process and task automation with low-code RPA alongside the ability to record processes and turn them into software bots. Additionally, these can be bots that interact with websites and cloud services, all built more easily using low-code functions and tools.
A 360-degree application health dashboard for developers to centrally monitor application performance and security alerts… as well as the ability to identify application design issues and gain intelligent design improvement recommendations.
Low-Code Poke – Declarative Tools
Looking at the mechanics of low-code, Appian points to declarative tools. Its own platform is designed to provide a way to implement declarative tools through visual models and business rules. Appian says that removing the need to write custom-code in this way mitigates the difficulty of handling future changes or additions that a software toolset might require.
According to the Appian team, low-code development means we can iterate and change and develop applications and release them as soon as functionality is built in an essentially Agile fashion.
With the explosion of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, applications must have cross-platform functionality standard in their design. With true low-code development, it should all happen behind the scenes automatically, with no extra effort, coding or resources.
While initially, low-code development was focused on smaller, departmental and less critical capabilities, Appian’s view is that today’s low-code should be enterprise-grade. In working practice, this means platform-level ability to make sure all the necessary security certifications in place for small, medium and large-scale implementations alike.
As an additional specification, Appian says that low-code tools very typically operate via the cloud computing model Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which should come with security and compliance certifications. Global regulations impact all organisations and independently audited security certifications give confidence to buyers of the reliability of platforms. As such, Appian insists that IT teams should look for common certifications.
Low-Code Hope – Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance
Key to the way Appian is taking its platform to market in almost (hopefully) post-pandemic 2022 is the firm’s approach to environmental, social & corporate governance (ESG). Now positioning any ESG-related initiative as something an organisation should be doing for its own sustainable competitive advantage, Appian has highlighted its low-code competencies in relation to data gathering, aggregation and management.
As organisations come under greater pressure from governments, regulators, investors and customer/consumers to strengthen their internal ESG systems, Appian insists that low-code tools (such as software accelerators, templated shortcuts and autonomous architecture advantages) from its own platform can help organisations improve their ESG ratings. This is all about the ability to rapidly integrating ESG data sources, adapt to evolving regulations and ensuring visibility, all while remaining in control of auditability. Essentially, it comes down to embedding ESG within operational processes.
The Appian low-code cognoscenti may still not be the key purists or the avenging assembled heroes of this space, but the signs do very arguably point towards what is an ever-wider purview and world view of the software tools that exist here.