How to Use Low-code Development to Advance Business Process Management

How low-code development platforms advance business process management and eliminate the costs associated with custom coding.

Adaptability and continuous improvement are two of the defining characteristics of any modern business. More than ever, success is determined by the ability to scale and adapt a business’s workflow potential in line with constantly changing demands. Business process management, or BPM, is a proven discipline intended to tackle these challenges.

BPM is the technical evolution of concepts that long predate it, such as task management, the division of labor, and production. Over the past decade, organizations have started using BPM to analyze processes, measure performance, and discover opportunities for improvement – all with the goal of improving efficiency.

Today, intelligence and automation are integral to BPM, hence the rise of the term intelligent business process management, or iBPM. Intelligence and automation come in various forms, such as the digitization of business rules and intelligent process mining. Repeatable tasks are automated, with little or no human intervention required.

The main value proposition of iBPM is the intelligent collaboration and orchestration of people, connected devices, and applications in pursuit of business goals. However, to make informed decisions and better serve customers, businesses need the right tools for accessing mission-critical information in the right context.

In many organizations, that information is scattered across a disparate array of off-the-shelf and custom-built applications. Applying iBPM to such a fragmented environment ranges from difficult to outright impossible. As a result, workers are less efficient, and customer experience suffers.

Low-code development platforms (LCDPs) offer a better solution by bridging the gap between the inherent limitations of off-the-shelf software and the high costs of developing custom apps from scratch. LCDPs enable the rapid delivery of custom business applications and empower those on the operations side to become citizen developers.

In this article, we will explore how low-code is a valuable asset to BPM.

How low-code works in BPMLCDP

Of the many potential use cases for low-code, BPM is arguably one of the most important. By handling things like workflow and process modelling in a visual environment, operations teams can easily set out their processes and create applications to automate them. Instead of coding, they use intuitive graphical notations in business process diagrams to create their applications. The industry standard model is the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) developed and maintained by the Object Management Group, though there are others too.

Creating workflows in a low-code environment lets users apply business logic without the need for any programming knowledge. The diagram used to develop the BPM app will specify the beginning and end of the process, the tasks and decisions involved, and the participants. For example, a purchase request model might start when a customer makes an order and finish when the order is processed. In this case, the request may need to be authorized by a human operator, which means there also needs to be a UI element to enable that interaction. LCDPs provide a drag-and-drop interface for creating these UIs, much like visual website builders do – again, with no coding required.

Once deployed, operations teams can monitor the performance of their processes through an interactive analytics dashboard. If there is a bottleneck or other problem, they will know about it immediately and be able to take corrective action. An open-source LCDP goes even further by allowing users to add or modify object classes to correct more complex issues or develop entirely new functions from scratch.

Accelerated prototyping

The ability to rapidly create and deliver business-critical applications is perhaps the most oft-cited benefit of low code software development. Compared to programming a new application from scratch, low-code can reduce development time by 50 to 90%. The main reason for this is the fact that an LCDP offers far greater ease of use, thus making application development accessible to a much broader audience. Any business user on the operations side should be able to comprehend workflow design and UI elements in an LCDP, not least because they will already be familiar with the business logic referred to in the platform.

Thanks to low code, individuals and small teams can experiment, prototype, and deliver apps in days and weeks rather than months. By contrast, traditional business software development usually begins with someone on the operations or leadership side having a vision of what they want to achieve but having no idea how to put it into practice. Thus, they communicate these ideas to a software development team, which often results in confusion and misunderstanding and, in turn, multiple iterations of the software in question before a viable solution is reached. Low-code, however, holds up to the adage that, if you want a job done properly, you should do it yourself.

Collaboration and communication between business decision makers and their IT teams have often been fraught with problems. This misalignment inevitably leads to stunted efficiency and lengthy delays. For example, the IT team might have outstanding programming skills, but they might lack an understanding of business goals and needs. Operations teams might be familiar with their business needs, but they probably do not have programming skills. Fortunately, low code empowers those with only a moderate degree of technical expertise to become citizen developers. As such, they can quickly turn their ideas into viable prototypes and continuously improve their applications by leveraging data-driven insights.

Data-driven configuration

Automating routine operations is only the first part of iBPM. Change is the only constant in the digital world, and routine business processes must be able to adapt quickly to that change. In the case of the aforementioned purchase request model, for example, there might be a bottle-neck during the authorization decision due to a greatly increased number of purchase requests coming in. If that is the case, the workflow might need to be updated so that purchase requests below a certain value are automatically authorized, while only high-value orders are authorized manually. Furthermore, different changes may need to be applied to different situations, such as depending on which department is making the purchase request or which goods or services it applies to.

The question is, how do operations teams know when they need to update the workflow and, therefore, the app built to automate and manage it? The individual responsible for authorizing the requests may not mention being overburdened until it is too late, during which time employees experience delays when requesting the purchase of goods or services that are crucial to their roles. Fortunately, once again, low-code has the answer in the form of interactive analytics dashboards that will reveal such bottlenecks from the moment they occur. Operations teams can then update the workflow based on these data-driven insights – rather than waiting for the complaints to come in.

While business process mining and data aggregation are the foundations for low-code iBPM, they are also what drive the continuous improvement of your operations. Identifying the most common process paths in your organization is merely the first step towards the automation of otherwise time-consuming and repetitive business processes. However, by using low code to unify your data sources and automate your processes, you will be able to capture operational data in a standardized and comprehensive manner. That data provides actionable business intelligence by recording every transaction in a workflow and presenting it in a user-friendly visual form.

Simplified maintenance

Knowing what needs to be changed is only the first part of the challenge. The next is applying those changes quickly in order to derive maximum value from them. With traditional software development, applying updates is typically a lengthy and complex process that is often fraught with risk. Many new software releases, for example, run into issues that were not anticipated before they entered a production environment. This comes on top of the fact that maintenance and support of enterprise software already costs around 20 to 25% of the total purchase price per year. Moreover, these costs tend to increase year-on-year, especially in the case of legacy software.

BPM might be based on a set of time-tested and fairly future-proof standards, but the fact is that many business processes need to be continuously reviewed and optimized. This applies to the software designed to automate these operations too. Fortunately, an LCDP makes it easy to implement changes and stay in sync with constantly evolving business environments. Adding a new function, for example, is typically a matter of dragging and dropping a new object class or UI element into the designer and recompiling the application. This also means it is easy to onboard new citizen developers in maintenance tasks since it is, after all, much quicker and easier to make a small change than redeveloping and redeploying the app from scratch – even in a low-code environment.

While professional software developers still need to model logic and data to the LCDP, – which they can also do internally in the case of open-source platforms – citizen developers can apply the majority of updates by using predefined business logic and object classes. This translates into a reduced burden on DevOps or, in the case of outsourced software development, lower costs. Furthermore, and contrary to popular belief, this does not have to mean a rise of shadow IT. Many LCDPs allow administrators to set role-based permissions and thresholds for what can be changed and through which quality control processes such changes must go through before the app is put into production.

Organizational ownership

Every enterprise is unique in terms of its operational infrastructure, which is why off-the-shelf solutions are often unable to satisfy demand. The creation and delivery of software, both from an internal and an end-user perspective, varies depending on myriad characteristics, hence the value of having complete organizational ownership of your workflows, designs, and user interfaces. Businesses can design and optimize their processes according to their needs, and without having to concern themselves with the limitations of off-the-shelf software or again proprietary systems. An open-source LCDP goes even further by giving enterprises complete digital sovereignty of their data assets as well.

Almost every organization relies on dozens or even hundreds of third-party apps and services. All too often these disparate systems result in data silos and all the inefficiencies that come with them. Using an LCDP to enhance BPM makes it possible to take back control over your operational infrastructure, since it is easier to integrate and manage third-party apps from a centralized location. Even if the apps and services themselves might be hosted elsewhere and provided by different vendors, the ability to manage everything in one place gives you a 360° view of your operations. That way, you can apply BPM and automation around data you trust, rather than being restricted by what any one vendor allows you to do.

Having ownership of and control over user experience and design is also highly beneficial. For example, the efficiency of manual processes depends heavily on these factors. With an LCDP, you can optimize the end user experience based on the feedback from your stakeholders. As such, their experience no longer need be restricted by the limitations of off-the-shelf software. In other words, any feedback can typically be implemented quickly, rather than waiting for a third-party vendor to act upon an update request.

Final words

The low-code ecosystem is constantly evolving, and for good reason. By greatly reducing the barriers to entry, operations teams now have the tools at their disposal to develop their own apps for managing and automating routine business processes. From back-office solutions to industry-specific applications, low code makes it possible to consolidate and automate a raft of business workflows. Moreover, these workflows can be adapted and optimized over time by identifying recurring patterns in data and new opportunities for improvement.

Planet Crust is the creator and driving force behind Corteza, a 100% open-source low-code software development platform that lets you import data from any source and use intuitive drag-and-drop tools to create custom applications for your unique business needs. Get started for free today.

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