We’ve heard a lot of chatter about citizen developers and low-code app development recently, and the buzz is compelling any number of vendors to try to position themselves as the low-code app development platform of choice. I have to doubt that there’s a more eager entrant into that fray than Appian.
Appian is a low-code application development platform provider in Reston, Va., whose co-founder and CTO, Michael Beckley, recently spoke with me about his view of the space. Beckley started off the conversation with a statement that I couldn’t help but think of as kind of Trump-esque: “There’s no one who loves citizen developers more than I do.” He went on to explain why they’re so near and dear to him:
If you were to see my office, you’d see it’s full of Apple computers. Our generation was raised on this promise from Jobs and Wozniak that we’d all be creators, that the personal computer would unleash the creative potential in all of us. And yet it turns out that when it comes down to building real, powerful business applications, there are some real problems — there are some real risks that maybe Jobs and Wozniak didn’t have to think about in 1983, like security, data governance, and how to integrate with all these legacy systems and enterprise systems, so that you could actually tie it all back to business operations.
Beckley noted that a lot of providers are coming to the low-code space from different directions, and he explained where Appian is coming from:
Appian comes from the world of business process management, so data governance and integration and security are integral components of our platform. When anyone builds a new app, whether it’s shadow IT, citizen developer, or core IT, they’re all governed by the same rules, they all share the same integrations, they are all secured by the same policies, and they are all auditable and transparent to IT in the same way. So there’s no way for citizen developers to hide their app from IT. It’s IT who delegates the power to access any information, and it’s IT who can run a simple audit and see not only the apps, but the data they use, who they collaborate with, and who is sharing information. And so a platform like Appian for low-code, which is built on a heritage of BPM, enables IT to govern and control all of the very considerable risks with citizen developers.
As we all know, a lot of business units go out and source products independent of IT. So what, I asked Beckley, is to prevent a business unit from working with Appian directly, and adopting that platform independent of IT? He indicated that IT needs to beat the business to the punch:
The way to prevent business from running off and creating more shadow IT is for IT to enable business with an agile platform like Appian. So when IT gives this tool to the business, they’re able to extend what was previously a world where they were solely responsible for developing applications, into a world where they’re putting IT and business on the same page, where it’s easy enough for the business to quickly prototype and even build applications that are simple enough. They’re using the components that IT has given them, and yet IT has visibility and control, and can always prevent application sprawl because everything that’s built on this Appian platform is in that shared environment — it’s actually limiting the ability of the business to go off on its own.
It all comes down to removing the incentive of the business to create new silos, Beckley explained:
There are business units who are going and buying point solutions to address all of their challenges, and they’re creating more silos, ironically, even though they’re going to the cloud to find answers. A platform like Appian allows IT to short-circuit that by giving business what they need in terms of a tool that can engage the business, but doesn’t create new silos. It’s really important that IT recognize that this is happening already, that business is moving on without them. They have to take a leadership role in preventing application sprawl, and address the considerable risks of business going off on its own, by putting them under one governed, low-code platform. And the one platform part of it isn’t even the most important element of this, I would say. The bigger and more complicated businesses may very well have multiple platforms. But the issue is, does IT [proactively] provide the means to extend the capability of the business, or does it wait for the business to inflict the [application sprawl] damage first?
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.