How Ford has embraced citizen development with Pega’s low code platform

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 31, 2022 Audio mode
Car manufacturing giant Ford is on a citizen development journey, one that is being enabled by a Pega Center of Excellence.

Image of a Ford Galaxy car driving
(Image sourced via Ford website)

One of the world’s largest car manufacturers, Ford, is embracing the citizen development movement through the use of Pegasystems’ low code/no code platform. Citizen development aims to provide business users with tools that allow them to build out applications themselves, using a light touch framework that doesn’t require hard coding, with the aim of allowing a business to move at speed and with more agility. 

The idea is that instead of business teams being stuck in a holding zone whilst IT teams assess requirements and spec out an application for development, team members themselves are given the tools to quickly build out what’s required using no code/low code solutions. This obviously won’t be the case for every application an enterprise needs, but there is a general consensus that some applications and processes could quickly be designed and deployed, tapping into common data models, without too much risk involved. 

However, it’s not just a case of throwing the tooling over the fence and letting the business get on with it, as Ford has learned. Governance is required to make this work effectively, to ensure certain standards are being met and that low code/no code is being deployed in the right scenarios. 

Sivasankaran Natarajan, Manager of IT and Enterprise at Ford, and Viswa Chaitanya, Delivery Manager of Pega Center of Excellence (CoE) at Ford, were both speaking at Pega’s recent Inspire event, where the pair explained how the car manufacturer has navigated its citizen developer movement, using Pega App Factory. 

Natarajan explains:

In Ford, Pega Center of Excellence consists of a pool of Pega SMEs, who are supporting multiple capability areas of Pega, such as robotic process automation, digital process automation, chatbots and low code/no code. This is being done across the enterprise. 

The CoE helps the assessment of the use cases, development and adoption of best practices, architectural standards, development outfit and developing reusable components. Also, it provides operational support to upkeep the Pega instances and solving any defects for the product development teams. 

We provide training and adoption of the technology by doing proof of concepts and also executing them before it is embraced. Like many organizations, in the recent past the backlog [of applications] continued to grow and there was a need for a very dynamic, in nature, business team. Hence, we saw an opportunity in the form of citizen development and low code/no code environments, where they can provide some relief for the continuing backlog. 

Providing a structure for low code/no code

Ford’s approach was to create an environment for citizen developers, where there was a streamlined on-boarding and off-boarding process for them to develop and deploy applications, but also where the citizen developer was empowered to create with minimal administration, process or overheads. It was hoped that this would promote citizen developers across the enterprise and drive adoption, whilst ensuring the appropriate use cases are identified. 

The CoE that was created to enable this wanted to develop templates and reusable components to accelerate the overall development process. Ford initially explored the tools and platforms it had already, which included Pega’s App Factory, which uses a modular approach to application development. Chaitanya explained:

Once we made the decision to embrace the low code/no code concept, we initially wanted to do a few pilot projects before expanding this to the whole enterprise. 

We were able to successfully complete four pilot projects across multiple departments and showcase these learnings to a larger audience in various forums. And in fact, this is a game changer for us. It has triggered interest among many business teams and they have come forward with several ideas that they want to implement using the low code/no code. 

Additionally, the Pega team also helped us by conducting various low code/no code workshops for our citizen developers, to create awareness of the low code/no code capabilities, and how they can leverage these in developing the solutions. Also our CoE provided constant coaching and support for our citizen developers while developing these proof of concepts. 

Ford also enlisted other organizations that had undertaken similar projects to come and speak to employees about best practice, in order to hear outside experiences and further advance understanding of the potential of citizen development. 

Overcoming challenges

With the pilots and the initial research into how this would work, Ford was very aware that there would be hurdles to overcome. Chaitanya said: 

At the outset, we saw challenges in the areas of application ownership, the citizen developers understanding the scope and capabilities of low code/no code - and primarily from the CoE perspective, we foresee the creation of too many siloed applications, which often leads to performance issues and ineffective utilization of enterprise resources. Another concern for the CoE was that to manage a huge number of applications is going to create a big overhead, and also the security and control related risks associated with these low code/no code applications. 

However, with the establishment of our lightweight governance process we were able to mitigate most of these challenges. The key elements of this include clearly defining the scope and boundaries of no code/low code and pro-code, and consideration of the risk and complexity of the application for the low code/now fit is another key element. 

Central to Ford’s low code/no code approach is this ‘lightweight governance process’, where it categorises applications into three areas: no code, low code and pro-code. Chaitanya explained: 

Applications with low complexity and risk are generally classified in the no code category. And these are predominantly implemented by our citizen developers with no, or minimal, assistance from IT. Applications with medium complexity and medium risk are classified as low code and these are supported by our CoE. Whereas the applications with high complexity and high risk are classified as pro-code, and these applications are wholly developed by either our CoE or our IT team teams and delivered directly to the business. 

Chaitanya added: 

The last key element in our lightweight governance processes is IT having total control over the onboarding of the applications and monitoring the usage of the platform. In fact, these controls have really helped us avoid a lot of performance issues and also risks associated with the security and vulnerability aspects. Overall we determine the use case fit based on the complexity of the application, the data that the application carries, and the business value it provides. 

Alongside this, Ford has also configured the Pega App Factory to meet its no code/low code requirements. The App Factory acts as a single umbrella to manage all citizen developer activity across the organization, where the automated operator ID functionality enables access of the Pega platform to all users across Ford. Chaitanya said: 

The App Factory is a one stop shop, where we collect the requirements and track the progress of the solution implementations. It also helps our citizen developers in connecting them with the coaches, keeping track of all conversations during the application development. It also takes care of the application lifecycle management and automation of the production deployment for our citizen developers. 

In Ford we have made several configuration changes to the App Factory, to align with our application development standards and processes. Inclusion of the governance review is one of the major configuration changes we have done to the App Factory tool. You can see the custom process steps we have added to the App Factory in the presentation. The steps that are highlighted in green are the out of the box process steps, and the ones highlighted in yellow are the custom steps that we have added to the Ford version. 

Upon completion of the testing phase, our governance team will review the application and see whether it meets a guardrail score of 90 per cent. Those meeting the score will be considered for production position, and those not meeting the score will be reverted back to the citizen developer for further fine tuning of the application.

A six step process

Ford’s citizen development programme has been live for six month and following the success it has seen in five business teams, it is now looking to expand the approach across the enterprise to all teams, across all regions. Commenting on how other organizations should be thinking about their low code/no code opportunity, Natarajan said: 

If you want to embrace low code/no code in your organization, consider the following steps. First of all, define your low code/no code boundaries by clearly setting the right criteria to pick the projects for implementation. Second, establish a balanced governance model that's not so stringent, lightweight in nature, to promote and encourage business participation. Third, have a wide level of IT involvement to help support the citizen developers on time and also ensure the cybersecurity and data security aspects of it. 

Fourth, make sure the resource offerings from Pega are utilized. Next, customize your app factory for your own needs, define your own guardrails scores and criterias for the compliance review process, to ensure that you are meeting your organization's needs. 

And finally, develop a standardized enterprise reusable component layer in the form of layer cake, which can be configured based on the respective department or a particular group of users or for the entire organisation, which will provide standardisation and acceleration for the development of the citizen development.

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