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Low-Code as the Catalyst for Business Process Digitalisation

Technology

Jun 15, 2021 - 9 minutes read

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Objectivity Innovative leader in technologies

Our specialty is designing, delivering, and supporting IT solutions to help our clients succeed. We have an ethical framework that underpins everything we do. Our underlying philosophy is that every client engagement should result in a Win-Win and this is supported by our four values: People, Integrity, Excellence, and Agility. Our clients are at the heart of our business and we are proud to form long-lasting working relationships, the longest of which is 29 years. Our goal is to continue to grow our business whilst remaining true to the ethical framework and values on which we are founded.

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In order for a company to be successful, it’s well known that they should have an advantage over the competition, be agile and fully responsive to customer demands. Moreover, it’s often regarded that nowadays this cannot truly be achieved without a full digital business transformation.

But what does this really mean, and how can it be accomplished? Many companies have embraced cloud technologies as well as various software solutions to replace their papers and phone calls with more efficient processes, leveraging cloud and IT tools. However, does this really mean they achieved digital transformation?

This article discusses the different terms related to business process digitalisation and presents how low-code technologies can facilitate this journey. In particular, we will discuss the Microsoft Power Platform, and how it can be used as a catalyst for the digital business transformation.

Digitisation vs. Process Digitalisation vs. Digital Transformation

Let’s start with the basic principles and explain the terms that can be confusing, sound similar and are often used in the wrong context. ‘Digitisation’ refers to a process of transforming information from a physical to digital format, for example, using emails instead of traditional mailing services or saving paper notes in the form of Excel files.

Think of digitisation as the initial building blocks or steps in the process. Data becomes digital and enables subsequent processing and automation to start the digital transformation journey.

The terms ‘process digitalisation’ and ‘digitisation’ are often used interchangeably but are, in fact, different things. Process digitalisation uses digitisation to improve business processes and, as a result, makes them more effective and therefore more profitable.

One example of that would be taking a previously created Excel file and using OneDrive or SharePoint to share it with other employees in the organisation. In some situations such an approach will be sufficient, but in most cases, at some point the Excel file will become a bottleneck, and limit the effectiveness of the process. This is when digital transformation needs to come into the picture.

‘Digital business transformation’ is, according to Gartner, “the process of exploiting digital technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new digital business model”.

Digital transformation is therefore a much broader concept. You can’t say that your business has been digitally transformed just because you’re using cloud technologies like Excel Online and OneDrive. It’s more about connecting individual areas of your business, breaking organisational silos, and leveraging the full potential of digital technologies like cloud and low-code.

The Power of Low-Code

We have seen our customers gain immense advantages thanks to choosing low-code technologies for their digital business transformations.

This can be due to many reasons, not least the fact that building with low-code speeds up development for professional developers whilst also empowering citizen developers to get involved and help build and refine their applications.

Solutions built with the low-code technologies tend to gather momentum quickly, as product owners and business decision makers can see tangible proof of investment thanks to using prototypes in the early stages. These prototypes often lead to the go-ahead decisions for minimum viable products being implemented, which in turn give excellent returns on investments, further stimulating growth and investment in the process.

Low-code solutions really help with collaboration between all stakeholders, especially due to their visual design elements. They act as an enabler for the adoption of digital technology and cultural change for people across all departments of the company. This is a crucial part of a true digital business transformation.

The leading low-code platforms such as Power Platform, Mendix or Outsystems all have their unique strengths and features, which can determine your ultimate approach. Below, we’ll introduce how using one of them, the Microsoft Power Platform, can help your business process digitalisation and, as a result, accelerate digital transformation.

Overview of the Microsoft Power Platform

It’s a common misunderstanding that the Microsoft Power Platform equals Microsoft Power Apps, but it actually is a platform that spans Microsoft O365, Azure, Dynamics 365 and standalone applications.

Source:https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powerapps/maker/common-data-service/data-platform-intro

 

Recognised as a Leader in The Forrester Wave: Low-code Development Platforms for Professional Developers, Q2 2021 the platform includes:

  • Power Apps for building applications using a graphical interface
  • Power Automate for process automation
  • Power BI for data visualisation and business analytics
  • Power Virtual Agents for creating bots
  • Dataverse, an advanced data backend to store all your data.
  • Data Connectors that glue all this together

Each of these components can be used standalone, but you can get the most benefit by using the rich connectivity of the built-in data platform and integrating it with the best tool for each case. This allows for solving problems entirely and providing complete, fully integrated solutions.

Digitalisation with Power Platform

Power Apps can be used to develop several types of applications. Model-driven apps are best suited for creating end-to-end solutions that need to step through controlled processes. They’re built in the data-first approach and can handle your core business processes. Canvas apps, on the other hand, are better suited for a specific task or for a particular role. They‘re most effective when you want to focus on visual aspects and creativity. This way you’ll be able to design pixel-perfect apps that look exactly how you want them to. The third application type is a Power Portal, which allows users from outside of your enterprise to interact with data securely through a web portal.

You can use canvas apps to create some of the building blocks for digitisation. At the same time, you can use model-driven applications in combination with Power Automate and the business process flows which they primarily support to implement some of the more sophisticated process digitalisations your organisation requires. Connectors can be used extensively to integrate the data and solutions together. There are more than 400 connectors available out of the box to both Microsoft and third-party sources.

Adding analytics, Power BI functionalities and chatbots into the solution really empowers the people within organisations. Thanks to the ease of access to rich data surfaced by such channels, they become more efficient in their work and gain confidence to make business decisions. This helps feed innovation and accelerates people’s desire for further change in their company’s digital business transformation.

Low-code solutions can be built with the knowledge that the apps will be safe on a trusted, secure and governable platform. The Microsoft Power Platform is a perfect example of that, as its security and governance capabilities are widely respected. It’s a result of utilising the Azure Active Directory for authentication, and having data secured with appropriate permissions, thanks to roles within the Dataverse.

The IT department can also easily implement governance policies based on certain criteria, like the number of active users of an application or the number of users that the app has been shared with. They can also track this with easily accessible monitoring tools. These tools provide the department with full awareness of what’s going on. This way, IT can centrally manage the processes, and alleviate shadow IT without dampening creativity.

Retail Case Study for the Microsoft Power Platform

In the retail industry, it’s very often the case that a communication team in the head office is responsible for sending the essential information and to-do lists to their stores on a daily or a weekly basis. Some tasks on these lists are business-critical and need to be solved immediately, followed by a compliance check. In most cases, this type of communication would be sent using e-mails, which can lead to several problems:

  • Compilation of messages is a manual, time-consuming, error-prone and unfocused process. Too much or too little information could be sent out, or the wrong set of stores may receive the message.

  • Stores’ responses to the emails would be inconsistent, they can overlook important tasks or not act quickly enough.

  • Unmanaged compliancy auditing. The head office has no easy overall view of the situation in each store.

Quite often problems such as these remain unresolved due to the lack of COTS products which the organisation perceives as fit for its needs. The other reason is the lack of time and resources to build a tailored solution in the traditional approach, which many businesses still see as the only alternative.

We created an elegant solution using the components of the Power Platform to easily meet the specific needs of a retailer in an extremely short time. The problems were resolved by breaking down the requirements and problems into individual tasks, using the digitalisation steps we discussed earlier.

To do this, we used Dataverse to store all messages and tasks, which enabled the data to be audited for compliance and traceability. This step provided the necessary enhanced physical digitisation of our data.

We decided on a model-driven app for ultra-quick message compilation with an approval workflow to support the controlled business process. We also created a canvas app for a pixel-perfect mobile solution that allowed all stores to receive, read, and mark progress on communications and tasks. These steps gave the process the necessary digitalisation with a further physical digitisation of data.

To wrap up the solution, we implemented a reporting and tracking dashboard to ensure effective process management, reporting and escalation. They were available to the head office users inside the model-driven app. Only when the team is on board with this solution, and the benefits of compliancy auditing are introduced, we can truly head towards digital business transformation.

Fig 1: Showing individual store compliancy for a specific message.

Fig 2: Showing simple dashboard for overall message compliancy.

With the use of low-code, this type of solution can easily be implemented into a retailer's landscape. We have already delivered a similar solution using a different low-code technology in a remarkably short amount of time for a fashion retailer. The MVP which kicked the project off was delivered in just four weekly sprints. The solution reshaped and optimised their communication and compliance procedures in a way which wouldn’t be viable using traditional bespoke programming technologies.

Conclusion

The road to a complete digital business transformation looks really similar for virtually every organisation. Those at the beginning of their journey can start small, by digitising particular aspects, just like building with Legos, and then expand further to processes and workflows until finally reaching a full business process digitalisation. Low-code technologies are specially designed so their tools are accessible on all levels to enable employees such as citizen developers and technical architects to contribute with their unique skills using a common platform.

Using Excel as an example, Microsoft claims that there are no less than 1.2 billion Office users worldwide and it’s estimated that 2/3 of them are using Excel, which amounts to an enormous number: 800 million. While it’s easy for many people to set up an Excel file to support business process and say that the process is somewhat digitalised, you should consider this going forward, and question what exactly you’re doing and what advantages you’re gaining.

Even in this simple example, we would argue that utilising the tools available in the low-code platforms wouldn’t require any extra effort and would make the process more maintainable and secure. It would also allow the data to be surfaced easier, promote a better agile working culture, and enable any future integrations to be implemented quicker and easier.

We really believe low-code platforms give us the tools to provide the ‘robust new digital business model’ Gartner describes as necessary for the ‘Digital Business Transformation’. You can exploit the components and supporting capabilities provided by these platforms to gain a tangible advantage over your competitors.

If you’d like to identify low-code use cases within your organisation, download our latest “Solving Business Problems with Low-Code: Use Cases & Benefits” eBook.

About the Authors

Sharon Smith
Business Analyst

As a long-standing employee at Objectivity, Sharon has held various roles during her 24-year tenure. She is a highly analytical team player who has gained multiple skills from working in traditional development, support teams, and business analysis. She currently works in the rapid application practice as an Advanced Mendix Developer where she can use both her technical and customer-facing skills to benefit the agile teams we have on low-code projects.

Marcin Pilarczyk
Team Leader Senior Software Developer

He has over 9 years of experience in building software based on the M365 platform. He helps organisations leverage the full power of M365 to make their businesses more effective. Privately, he tries his hand at different sports from scuba-diving to snowboarding.

Retail Efficiency Ebook Thumbnail
Objectivity Innovative leader in technologies

Our specialty is designing, delivering, and supporting IT solutions to help our clients succeed. We have an ethical framework that underpins everything we do. Our underlying philosophy is that every client engagement should result in a Win-Win and this is supported by our four values: People, Integrity, Excellence, and Agility. Our clients are at the heart of our business and we are proud to form long-lasting working relationships, the longest of which is 29 years. Our goal is to continue to grow our business whilst remaining true to the ethical framework and values on which we are founded.

See all Objectivity's posts

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