It is becoming clear that the word of the year in and around the IT industry is 'frictionless’. The goal is clear - to remove – or at least isolate and mask with overlays – the increasing level of complexity found in applications.
Low-code applications development tool vendor Appian has applied it to its latest move into building solutions as well as just applications, and in so doing has opened up the opportunity for the company to move downmarket from its normal lofty position of being the tool for building large, complex applications for large, usually complex enterprises.
CEO Matt Calkins, speaking after his keynote presentation at the company’s annual AppianWorld conference in San Diego, California, indicated that there is a natural flow once the idea of building solutions is started upon. What follows is that users should achieve a workable result in terms of application development much more easily because much more of the development groundwork has already been done.
In then removing much of the development friction, it also opens up the possibility that mid-sized – and even small businesses can take advantage of the low-code technology as well. Indeed, the combination of low-code development, the provision of pre-built solutions and availability through cloud services make it a ready-made opportunity for small, specialist systems integrators and Value-Added Resellers to open up the market for matching up small businesses with cloud services.
The move into the solutions sector stems at least in part from Appian’s new partnership with Google, announced at the conference. This will bring Google’s AI tools and services into the Appian core low code Business Process Management suite. Calkins sees this as a key addition to the growing bundle of tools it has to offer, and he was keen to stress that it is not a replacement for the existing connectors Appian has available for the AI tools from AWS, Microsoft and others.
He sees this move as simply bundling the leader in the field with Appian, with a plan to make it as easy to integrate as possible and to make it available as a cloud service for free.
The whole notion of bundling is also part of the plan, and the company has put in a considerable amount of effort into developing and strengthening its capabilities with APIs. The goal is to be able to work with the widest range of APIs possible so that users can add in just about any application they require as an integral part of any final application being developed.
This leads on to the other main partnership the company had to announce, with Robotic Process Automation specialist Blue Prism. This adds the ability to orchestrate robotic capabilities into business process management, with the goal of allowing users to build `bot’-based business processes that are both fast and reliable. Another cloud service, the tools available with Blue Prism robot lifecycle management, case management, including for exceptions, robot scheduling, and expanded reporting.
Coupling these together has led Calkins and his team to look towards the potential of taking the next step forward from providing a low code application development environment to starting to create and sell applications of its own creation. After all, he claims that the the company now builds all the applications it needs to run the business using Appian, and can see the possibility of selling standard issue BPM applications that give new customers even more of a head start, particularly as speed of deployment – from initial requirement to application-in-production – is typically expected to be around eight weeks:
Because they are 100% built using Applian, the pre-built applications will be fully compatible with those applications a custmers builds for themselves. They can be integrated without the need for further engineering. What is more, if we can pre-build applications it means that our partners can build them also.
Calkins therefore does see this as a chance to extend and diversify Appain’s marketplace into at least the Mid-sized company space and, over time, down towards the small business community working in conjunction with small systems integrators and value-added resellers. He makes it clear, however, that this is not seen as a replacement for its established marketplace amongst the major enterprises:
The medium-sized businesses are a valid market for us now because of our move to pre-built solutions. A medium-sized business is both less able to make a major investment in their own application development, and less particular that their applications be exactly the idiosyncratic way that they want them. They're more willing to accept an application that is generic. Maybe that's because they're not so big as to have unique problems. Or maybe it's because of the medium scale, they still think that they can make a difference. They want an easier experience, so apre-built solution is actually perfect for them because they're more likely to accept it the way it is, instead of doing major customizations.
Another advantage here is that Appian already has extensive experience in delivering services in the cloud, which is now becoming the base level for a lot of smaller and medium sized companies. And does also see the cloud as being the ideal venue for the smaller developers and business people with experience and skills in niche market sectors that can become the next generation of value added resellers an nice service providers.
But Appian having its own cloud services could be seen as a downside for both small users and the reseller partners servicing their needs, for it could imply that such service had to come via the Appian cloud. Calkins is keen, however, to make it clear that this is not going to be the case:
They can decide that they would rather have it running on AWS because they think they can get a better deal that way. So of course, the epic cloud is AWS. But let me let me address your question about whether they could take Appian on to a different cloud. The answer is 'yes, OK?'.
The final part of this mix, especially for the small and medium sized business communities, is the availability of some kind of app store to complement the development work then being done by the resellers. It would be valuable for them as means to extend and develop their own businesses, and valuable to potential customers looking of r pre-built solutions. Calkins answer suggests that the pre-built applications and the move into mid-sized and smaller business sectors will likely be a key part of next year’s conference:
I think we can bet on there being such a thing.
Here is more evidence that the coming trend In applications development and delivery is going to couple both old and new ways of masking the increasingly complexity of many business processes and the applications that run them, and delivering them through cloud services. The need now is for greater speed in getting applications into production and justifying their investment costs: or getting them out of production quickly because they are no longer fit for purpose or just plain broken. And that speed, at least in part, will come from applications that are constructed from as many pre-built components as possible. Appian may not at first seem a likely candidate for such a task, but its core capability, business process management, is going to central to the needs of just about every business, from the largest to the smallest.