Appian CEO Matt Calkins on low code and its value to consultants
Matt Calkins is the CEO of Appian. With Appian’s low-code platform increasingly used by companies and consultants around the world, Consultancy.org sat down with Calkins to discuss some of the key opportunities that low-code can unlock—and how it can help consultants add value to their customers.
During the pandemic, there was a period of hyper-innovation as companies rushed to adapt to changing and disrupted operating conditions. Why did low code fit so well with innovation programs during this time?
During the pandemic it was obvious to all organizations that they needed to change in order to survive and change in a large company is a matter of reprogramming. If you want a thousand people to do something differently than they did before, you’re going to coordinate it with software.
So when I say these organizations needed to change, I’m also saying they needed to change their software, processes and applications. The fastest way to change a software process or application is with low code. So there was a natural demand during the pandemic for the kind of change that low code was best at providing.
I think the pandemic also demonstrated that speed is possible, and that software doesn’t have to be the most inflexible, immutable component of an organization. It never should have been, but we, as a business community, had come to tolerate the immutability of our software. The pandemic was a time when we learned that it wasn’t necessary, and was actually disadvantageous.
I don’t think the world will ever go back to being willing to have immutable software. Instead, I think flexibility and agility are the new expectation.
Further reading: Low code is emerging as the core technology for digital transformation.
What do you think will happen to these innovation programs now that we are entering a period of economic decline?
I believe that innovation is one of the ways an organization can survive a period of uncertainty. Just as the pandemic was a period of uncertainty that led to innovation, I think we’re going to see more of that, the only difference is the kind of innovation we need.
I predict that during the economic turbulence that we expect this year, there will be a new emphasis on automation technology. For example, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and sophisticated business rules. All of this is useful at a time when efficiency is of the greatest importance, such as in a recession.
For example, you may need to handle more throughput, but you don’t have the money to hire a bigger team, how will you handle it? Maybe you want to handle it by letting software do some of the work. If you need to provide better customer service or if you need to be more aware of your data across the enterprise, automation will help you get the job done.
At Appian, we’re focused on automation technology, so software can help you get the job done. And we focus on process mining technology so you can optimize the return on the investment you’ve already made.
Process mining is a way to diagnose the effectiveness of applications you’ve already written, instead of using it to show you where you can spend more money, we use it to show you how well you can use your existing budget.
That’s what a bearish buyer is going to be most interested in.
What are the implications of firms slowing their innovation programs?
This means that they are going to favor certain types of innovation and certain types of technology over others. Some technology is growth-oriented and experimental, other technology is efficiency-oriented, and I believe that more emphasis will only be placed on the latter.
How can consultants help companies continue their innovation program in tighter economic conditions?
My advice is that the key here is to reduce risk.
First, reduce risk for the customer because they won’t be looking for speculative investments, they’ll be looking for sure things. Go back to clients who know you, or go to clients who take the case studies you created from a similar client very seriously.
Second, you want a short timeline to value rather than a longer speculative project. It has to be something that will pay for itself quickly and offer something of tangible value, perhaps guarantee it, so that the risk is reduced on the customer’s side.
Work in short, self-justifying leaps: phase one is done and you can see the results and you know it’s going right, so you move on to phase two, and it finishes quickly and it has good results, so you move on to phase three . That’s how you do counseling in a time like this; short timelines, high credibility, low risk.
What do consultants need to know about low-code technology and how this can help advance organizational innovation agendas over the next twelve months?
Low-code is a wonderful tool in the hands of a consultant. It makes the consultant very powerful because it allows them to create applications quickly and then change them going forward.
Consider for a moment the difference between that and the typical consulting business model. In the past it would have been something like, “I have a vision, it will take me a year to build out this vision when I’m done, it’s done, and I’m off and running.”
In a recession, that won’t fly. Customers want something fast, so here’s the new business model: “Using low-code technology, I can build you an application in three months. After that, I’ll be able to come back whenever you want and modify that application to keep it up to date with the latest changes.”
There is a big difference. You see, consultants are used to doing a job and being done and being out, and now you actually have a hall pass. You’re kind of forever with one of these applications because it’s a living application. Low-code apps aren’t meant to be frozen in place—they’re meant to always be changing.
It’s actually a recession-friendly business model because it provides a quick return on investment and helps consultants justify their time quickly.
Gartner predicts that by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25% in 2020. Are there enough developers in the market today to service this growth in demand?
In my opinion, there is going to be an eternal shortage of developers, that is, there will always be work for a good developer.
Low code will allow developers to be more efficient. It has two main effects: First, it takes a non-developer and turns them into a nominally skilled developer, and second, it can take someone who is legitimately a technical person and make them very productive.
So it’s great for those of us who are already in tech. It’s a turbo boost for established consultants, especially if one of the main things you’re selling is your subject matter expertise, because now you can codify it and quickly express it through software. It just gives organized or systematic life to the knowledge you already bring.
Low code is going to be a high cost for subject matter consultants who are technical.
What is Appian doing to increase the number of developers the market will need in the coming years?
There is a clear shortage of Appian experts in the market today, and good money is being made from our technology. I speak to many clients, and I keep hearing that they want more project managers and knowledgeable practitioners.
We try to make it as easy as possible for you to get that expertise. We have a free course, we have certifications, tests you can take. We have a marketplace where you can promote your expertise by getting into conversations and meeting employers.
As a result, our community has grown tremendously and has more than doubled in size in the past year. Now is a great time to get in because it’s a way to create value and customers are actively looking for it, even in economic times like these.