Low-Code, No-Code — Are they Right for You?

Chris Weston (Principal, European Client Advisory)
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

Have you ever heard people say that the computers used to get people to the moon are way less powerful than what is in your smartphone? It’s true. In fact, they are less powerful than what’s in your washing machine, assuming you bought it in the past few years. We’ve all seen how technology has increased in capability and complexity as much as it has decreased in physical size. The code for the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer was even released onto GitHub recently so that we can marvel at the engineering that went into that stupendous project. But, if you take a look at that code, it’s not at all easy to read. When you have 64k of memory to play with (an amount that is so inconceivably small to most people now it is not even worth trying to describe it) your code must be “close to the machine”. This means it does not need much translation to turn it into true computer language.

As time went by, computers became more powerful, more capable of that translation, and more human-readable programming languages were designed. Back in the early 1980s, someone came up with the idea of Fourth Generation Languages (4GL). This concept is a computer language that is so far from “the machine” as to be highly understandable by humans. The tools often generate secondary code in a more common programming language (such as C++) that is in turn translated into the machine’s own language. In this way, so the idea goes, we can develop software faster, at higher quality, without needing all those tricky skills that the early programmers required.

The Opportunity

Today, those 4GLs have reappeared as “low-code and “no-code” tools such as OutSystems, Mendix, and Microsoft PowerApps to mention a few of the many tools available. They have gained more traction in the past few years, leading to the rise of something called the “citizen developer”. This is an employee who creates applications for use by themselves or others but whose job is not as a full-time developer in the IT team. At IDC, we have forecast that the number of low- or no-code developers will rise significantly in the next few years, and a good proportion of those will be “citizen developers”.

Source: IDC

For some, this is to be encouraged. We have a genuine skills gap in many organisations. Hiring full-time developers is expensive if you can find them, and we lose a lot of “know-how” if they leave us, regardless of how well we manage our knowledge bases and source code. In addition, software is often developed based on dubiously interpreted requirements, which leads to costly reworking to align it with the real requirements, even in an agile world. So, getting the real end users involved in the actual production of software can be a definite bonus in many ways.

It is Not all Plain Sailing

However, for others there are many concerns. Software development is a discipline that has grown over decades, and quite apart from the technical skills needed there are a lot of important governance customs and practice that “part time” developers may not understand or implement. Things like structured testing, version control, security, and a long-term support strategy should be part of every development programme, no matter what tools you use to create the software.

The use and abuse of data is also a key consideration. You must ensure that the data that is used by these new applications is up to date, relevant, and is not a potential security or privacy risk if exposed through one of these tools. Another factor to consider is that applications that consume company data but are poorly written can mislead the user and potentially cause decisions to be made based on flawed information with significant cost. Other issues, such as accessibility, compliance with company policies, and regulation, also need to be managed. You can see why some regard the idea of an army of “amateur” developers with horror.

To achieve the many benefits of low- and no-code tools while mitigating these risks, the governance issues must be tackled, and the team to deal with this is, of course, IT. Governance, including tools, resources, and support for these activities converts part-time developers into genuine “citizen developers”. If the CIO doesn’t provide this support, in my experience the part-time developers will do their work anyway, and the IT team will end up mopping up the mess.

Conclusion

Before embarking on any implementation of low- or no-code tools in your business, make sure you have ticked these boxes through the IT team and understood the support requirement in future.

  • Security
  • Application supportability
  • Training
  • Data appreciation and management

We will be discussing the use of low- and no-code and how best to go about incorporating this into your environment in our IDC Digital Leadership Community session on July 16 at 4pm BST / 5pm CEST. Join us and hear from your peers about how they are approaching this growing opportunity by emailing me at cweston@idc.com, or connect with me on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisjweston/.


How Clean Is Your Debt? The Power of Sustainable Finance in Making or Breaking IT Contracts

Marcelo Lecocq (Research Director, European Enterprise Networks)
Galina Spasova (Senior Research Analyst)
Jack Vernon (Senior Research Analyst, European AI Systems)

Sustainable finance was one of the hot topics of 2020 (besides you-know-what), generating so much interest that regulation has been quick to follow, at least in the UK and the EU.

Judging the Book by its Cover: The Banks You Are Doing Business With

There is a Spanish proverb, “Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres,” that is often quoted to assess someone’s qualities or credentials by simply observing the friends they are surrounded by. At school, my friends were often regarded as nerds… yep, no offence taken.

In English, a similar proverb would be “Birds of a feather flock together” or “You can tell everything about a person by who their friends are”.

When it comes to sourcing our debt or choosing our banking friends, we pay little attention to how the lender obtained the funds we’re using to mortgage our houses or to the credit given for that long-promised holiday. So, people that don’t know us can’t really tell if we’re good or bad by the friends we chose to do business with.

The same goes for business: little thought is given to what is behind the veil of regulatory compliance and corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting. It’s often brushed off with a shrug and a comment along the lines of “money is money”. But really, where do these funds come from? As long they’re widely available, the vast majority of companies turn a blind eye to how the funds are sourced.

This Is About to Change: Banks Unite in the Race to Net Zero

On April 21, 2021, a new industry-led and UN-Convened Net-Zero Banking Alliance was launched.

Labelled The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) and chaired by Mark Carney, the UK Prime Minister’s Finance Advisor for COP26 and UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, it unites over 160 firms across the financial system to accelerate the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Banks have the dual task of at least doubling their investment in financing current and new green technologies while reducing or transitioning their exposure to existing climate change contributing investments.

Banks are an essential ingredient from which organisations can source funding to:

1. Scale new green proven technologies

2. Invest in new research on better and cleaner technology

GFANZ members must be accredited by the UN Race to Zero campaign. They must use science-based guidelines to reach net-zero emissions, cover all emission scopes, include 2030 interim target setting, and commit to transparent reporting and accounting in line with the UN Race to Zero criteria.

Room for Improvement: Percentage of Country Banking Assets Covered by GFANZ Members

The organisation has recruited just over 50% of European banks when measured on asset contribution, but the story differs by country (see the figure below). Nearly every major bank headquartered in the UK has become a member, but at the other extreme, not a single Italian or Dutch bank has committed to it.

Source: Percentage of Country Banking Assets Covered by Members of the GFANZ, IDC

GFANZ has the difficult task of persuading prospects, onboarding new members and working with them to deviate or transition their funding portfolios from the current path. The way it stands now, there is an increased risk and exposure for organisations that are not committed to their own countries’ net-zero strategies.

What Does This Mean for Technology Providers?

For technology providers the move is extremely important as it outlines banks’ role in the circular economy as sources of funding, debt and investment. It also places an emphasis on their role within the entire supply chain.

IT providers need to consider sourcing debt and investing profits from net-zero-committed and accredited financial institutions, as our research shows that over 62% of European enterprises incorporate sustainability objectives (see IDC EMEA Services Survey, 2020), including green financing, in their RFPs when choosing IT partners. Vendors should also assess the reputational risk that further business with non-net-zero-committed institutions could present.

Allowing for transparency of how IT providers finance their debt but also how green their own financial offerings are may prove to be a significant differentiator when bidding for new IT contracts or renewing existing ones.

IT providers are also well positioned to facilitate technology solutions for the finance sector, through ESG data management capabilities, green portfolio data comparison software or by tracking their own emissions.

For IT buyers, financing projects from transparent, accredited vendors will become increasingly important to reach their own sustainability objectives and signal their transparency to their own customers, so they can be better judged on who they do business with.

 

To learn more about our upcoming research, please contact Marcelo Lecocq, or head over to https://www.idc.com/eu and drop your details in the form on the top right.


IDC Digital Leadership Community Roundup – The Future of ERP

Chris Weston (Principal, European Client Advisory)
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

It’s fair to say that many companies have struggled in rolling out ERP software since the introduction of this technology in the 1980s.  CIOs have had to deal with increasingly complex applications and many project fail to realise expectations. One survey suggests that half of all ERP deployments fail at the first time of asking and 30% take longer than expected.

So, the latest IDC DLC gathering talked about the tricky question of how to get the best out of an ERP deployment and what the future of ERP looks like, inspired by this recent blog by Leadership Advisor Marc Dowd on CIO considerations regarding these tools.

Tom Seal, IDC research director, kicked off the debate by looking at the current trend towards ‘business transformation’. He said that there were two types of transformation: the transformation of business models and technological transformation supporting existing models.  In parallel with this, there were those companies who were looking to make changes at the edges as opposed to those who were looking for a complete overhaul of the underlying technology.

Upgrades vs “Best of Breed”

It has some relevance for ERP implementation said Seal, because of the pressure put on organisations by the likes of Oracle who will ask “why aren’t you upgrading?” Are companies going to rip out existing software and implement new ERP systems?  It’s a question of whether there’s going to be a root and branch upgrade or a more measured approach. As Seal pointed out, the number of ERP customers actually taking the upgrades they are being pressured to deploy are still remarkably low.

One speaker pointed out that there was an indication of how times had changed. In the past, the process was all-important, he said, and the technology was there to get things done – now the technology and the process are more bound together.

The problem with this was that companies had to fully commit to making a change. As one speaker pointed out, many CIOs want to take something off the shelf and customise it – something that’s not so easy to do with ERP software. It is possible, however. “We have to customise a lot to make the ERP solution useful for us. We couldn’t find it off-the-shelf. We need to customise too much to make it work.”

This “best-of-breed” approach was definitely one that has been seen in the future plans of IDC clients and those that responded to surveys, according to the IDC team present, and this was acknowledged by those present.  The value of having ERP to manage core data and processes with more flexibility at the edges of the system was valued.  However there are technical and commercial challenges to this.

The Licensing Question

Licensing models were also on the agenda for those present. One speaker said that the price that many organisations paid for upgrading was a hefty hike in these charges, although another speaker said that although companies would be paying for additional licences, there would be an immediate uplift in other benefits.  However, the cost is a useful weapon as IDC’s Martin Canning said. “ERP vendors have generally assumed that the cost/risk of multiple licences, integration, training data management etc. would be a enough of a deterrent to a best of breed approach.”

​There was another more fundamental problem, as one participant explained, when services and processes are so wrapped up in ERP and delivered as commodities, how can users distinguish themselves when they are using the same services.

One other speaker said that there were ways forward. “ I use the same type of brush as Leonardo da Vinci but I don’t get the same results, the difference is that he knows what to do with it. It’s the same with ERP, it isn’t necessarily an advantage but some of us know how to use it. It’s this that sets organisations apart.”

Division

Some CIOs pointed out that the way to make ERP work was by splitting the software from the processes, it may not be what the ERP vendors wanted, but they can have some success that way. One participant said that for its supply chain infrastructure, the managing of processes, it works very well but his company tried to manage all of its business data on a common data platform rather than with ERP.

One other participant said that there was another path forward. “We are moving to see departments starting to act like small companies within a big organisation, giving them more autonomy, with the digital leader acting like a mini CEO.”

There were certainly calls for the tinkering to stop and let CIOs take stock. “I wonder if we are getting to the stage where further attempts by core ERP vendors to “innovate” will not be helpful,” said one participant. CIOs certainly have enough on their plate right now with their existing set-ups, any more changes will not necessarily be welcomed.

 

The IDC Digital Leadership Community brings people together from across Europe to discuss the burning issues in corporate technology and its implementation, culminating in our annual summit which will next be held on 5th October 2021.  You can join in the conversation by emailing Chris Weston (cweston@idc.com) or Marc Dowd (mdowd@idc.com), or alternatively why not join our LinkedIn Group?


What Do You Mean by Digital Skills?

Soheyla Mirshahi (Senior Research Analyst, Customer Insights & Analysis, Europe)
Ivana Slaharova (Research Manager, Customer Insights & Analysis, Europe)

Coffee Brewing: Make the Right Cup of Skills to Stay Awake in the Future

 

IT skills and digital proficiency are both referred to as digital skills — but they are very different. Some confusion may arise from the fact that both require the ability to work with computers. Both are also essential in companies undergoing digital transformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has embedded digital technologies even deeper into our daily lives. Activities like banking, filing our taxes, obtaining legal certifications, even reserving a hairdresser have been pushed online to an unprecedented extent in response to the lockdowns. This has required most of us to improve our digital proficiency.

Classroom instruction and after-school activities conducted online during the pandemic boosted kids’ digital proficiency. One result is that youngers are well fertilized for future IT skills acquisition.

Seeking to capitalize on this opportunity, Lego and Universal Music Group recently partnered to create the Lego Vidiyo product line. The platform enables children to traverse the physical and digital worlds using augmented reality technology. Users can choose a song and produce a music video featuring digital effects.

Digital Proficiency vs. IT Skills

A rising number of institutions and job recruitment teams are assessing the digital skills of applicants. But what are these?

IT skills are used in the administration, deployment, and delivery of information technologies, including applications, information access tools, application development platforms, security, IT system management, network management, and cloud infrastructure.

Digital proficiency is complementary skills. It involves the use of business, commercial, or consumer applications and tools like word processing, spreadsheets, business and desktop graphics, email, and collaboration tools. Digital proficiency is like adding sugar to coffee or tea. In this case, it adds valuable skills to a specific job.

Source: Gabriela Medvecova, IDC

Whether you are an accountant, a lawyer, or even a psychologist, you need some degree of digital proficiency to function in this era of digital transformation.

IT skills and digital proficiency have different learning time frames. They have different practice requirements.

IT skills can be verified by certification. They are not generic. They usually mandate logical and algorithmic thinking and some math or physics. The need for ones varies in importance depending on the job or they can even do not exist.

Why Should We Distinguish Digital Skills?

The new working models emerging in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis demand an arsenal of new skill sets.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, it was common to describe job role requirements by hard technical skills and soft skills in general, but acceleration in digital transformation has changed this view. In the new working model, many jobs require digital proficiency in addition to them.

Managing online collaboration and communication technologies — administering online events, working on shared documents, or troubleshooting computers with an online IT help desk — are examples of digital proficiency.

As companies accelerate their digital transformation, they will require a higher degree of digital proficiency. Thus, they need to assess their digital proficiency requirements and build such skills as are crucial for their digital transformation journey.

Training employees with the relevant digital proficiency might appear straightforward, but it should not be overlooked, as it could be a stumbling block to digital transformation. IT skills, on the other hand, are very specific and may pose even greater challenges.

In Future of Work paradigms, in particular, IT skills are critical for specific jobs. For example, an employee who is not an IT specialist may be called upon to write code in one of the low-code/no-code programming languages. 

Demand for IT Skills Rising

Our recently updated Technology Employment Impact Guide reports that organizations in Europe will demand more than 11.4 million IT professionals in 2021. The highest growth in demand will be seen for professionals with machine learning, design, or data analyst knowledge.

Our European Industry Acceleration survey, released in May 2020, found that just 6% of companies have reduced skilled IT staff in the last 12 months. On average, 24% of companies hired new skilled IT staff, mainly in the professional services, finance, and telco/media verticals.

Most of the new hires were specialists in cybersecurity, IT infrastructure and operations, or software development.  Note, however, the difference between Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. In Western Europe, 27% of companies hired new IT skilled staff; in Central and Eastern Europe, only 14% did.

As digital transformation moves forward, companies realize they need a new skill sets and competencies. Companies shouldn’t underestimate investments in people skills and capacities.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, 36% of Western European companies and 22% of Central and Eastern European companies have invested in reskilling or upskilling staff. Unsurprisingly, cybersecurity, IT infrastructure and operations, and software development are the top areas for staff upgrades.

Organizations in professional services, government, education, and finance are investing the most in reskilling/upskilling as they seek to maximize the benefits of new technologies.

Source: Ivana Slaharova, IDC

Be Ready for the Skills’ Gap

Digital proficiency, in combination with soft skills (e.g., the ability to organize, lead a team, or write persuasively) have indispensable role for an organization. Employers should work to boost the number of employees with such skill sets.

They must also plan for the future carefully as current workforce demographics indicate a gap in the IT skills market: The number of employees retiring is much higher than the number of candidates applying for jobs.

It is not clear when educational systems will start producing enough IT experts to satisfy market demand. Organizations should consider collaborating with educational institutions to recruit graduates who have the skills that will help drive company growth in uncertain times.

 

To learn more about our upcoming research, please contact Soheyla Mirshahi or Ivana Slaharova, or head over to https://www.idc.com/eu and drop your details in the form on the top right.