How CIOs create and drive new ways of engagement

How do business leaders help employees and customers thrive when they are stressed, fearful and longing for authentic human connections?

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Yoal Desurmont

Olaf Acker recently wrote in Strategy and Business that "all relationships have an emotional component — and that holds true for the connection between people and brands. A crisis puts both the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship under a spotlight. So, as a business leader, how do you help people thrive when they are stressed, fearful and longing for authentic human connections?” In response to this, I asked CIOs what they are doing to create new styles of engagement. More specifically, how are they transforming how their companies interact with customers, employees and suppliers?

Related: 14 ways CIOs can show leadership during the COVID-19 crisis

Where are the opportunities to change experience?

According to Constellation Research VP and principal analyst, Dion Hinchcliffe, “the use of low-code/no-code can accelerate and enable organizations to scale digital transformation. Citizen developers can often self-service by using these tools to re-imaging processes and products in their local part of the organization.” For Hinchcliffe, this means “low-code/no-code can improve the digitization of existing business processes and create new forms of engagement that will transform teams. Honestly, this is critical to the health of internal and external interactions during mass work from home (WFH) orders.”

CIO David Seidl sees the same potential as Hinchcliffe, “we're learning to engage more personally in some cases, and at the same time, learning to do it with technology. That's an interesting line I don't think we had ever deeply explored before.” Former CIO Wayne Sadin added to Seidl’s remark by saying that IT teams “need to be nimbler and faster to respond as things change unpredictably.” For this reason, he believes, “citizen developers plus IT pro developers can — if governed well — together increase business agility.”

Related: Employee engagement: 10 best practices for improving your culture

A time for adaption?

As recent cartoon from Marketoonist Tom Fishburne, shows COVID-19 is going to severely impact organizations that had put off digital transformation. CTO Peter Salvitti believes “many organizations were left flat-footed by the crisis and are just now adapting. In the future this type of adaption will be table stakes and part of a future-forward strategy.” For this reason, former CIO Isaac Sacolick, believes CIOs should “transform their teams to new WFH driven customer needs and requirements. This time represents an opportunity for their teams to practice agile innovation.”

So where are the biggest opportunities for low-code apps to drive new forms of engagement? Hinchcliffe believes low-code can be applied to three forms of business experiences — customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX) and process experience (PX). Sadin agrees with him and said, “we would like production developers to be building the complex back-ends and citizen developers to use their knowledge of how information is being used to improve interactions. The more nuanced answer is anywhere their domain expertise allows them to design a great solution better, faster and cheaper than the IT department can.” Salvitti agreed with Sadin and said, “low-code can provide value in the following areas:

  1. Development velocity.
  2. Agility (speed to change).
  3. Multi-channel readiness.
  4. Single pane-of-glass monitoring.
  5. Built-in governance .

Seidl added that “some of the tooling can even help as we change business processes for the better. We need to do new things and help cover the gaps. We made things work when we all went home, but making it works and making it work well are different things. Now, we're starting to talk about fixing-it and have created ‘do it better’ lists.”

McBreen said for his organizations, “we have assigned a couple of SWAT teams to develop quick workflows to allow business users to work better together remotely. The workflows pulled together standard apps within a dashboard interface.” Sacolick said, “this thinking is smart.” He believes it is “better to fix the business processes and integration rather than band-aid broken legacies. I prefer low-code solutions over robotic process automation (RPA) to address multiple data entry problems if and where possible.”

Sacolick goes on to say “you don't want analysts creating linked Microsoft Access Databases with ETLs into Visual Basic embedded in spreadsheets. I have seen this all too many times.” For this reason, McBreen said success requires “a proper solution architecture that provides governance on when to use certain classes of tools for a particular solution. This includes integration of tools as well.” CDO Jay Brodsky said these topics “matter, especially as concerns arise about the misuse or misinterpretation of analytics.”

While Sadin hopes that production developers have been able to WFH for a long time, Sacolick said, “WFH may box development out of complex implementations that require coordination between multiple development teams. For this reason, low-code may be an answer to new apps that are needed quickly. But WFH shouldn't drive developers to do more or less low-code. This is about applying technology effectively to business problems.”

Related: Are your employee engagement efforts doing exactly the opposite

Do you see a potential for low-code to simplify business capabilities?

Hinchcliffe said, “it is essential there be low-code enablement with the right IT foundation.” This includes “encouraging citizen developers to use master microservices in their apps for a single, consistent organization-wide data ecosystem and ensuring those microservices run full business rules on all data in/out.” This is similar to the authors of “Designed for Digital” who believe “to make components reusable, developers API-enable components…This allows predefined, plug and play connections between otherwise independent components…which is at the heart of the digital platform” (Design for Digital, page 59).

For this reason, Hinchcliffe said, “IT must be a consultant to the business with a big picture view. But not to the extent that they delay local progress with big bang upstream initiatives. Great IT liaisons ask the right questions and provide a couple of decades of experience to boost the work of low-code users.”

Related: 5 hard truths about employee engagement

How do you prevent low-code from adding to the pile of tech debt, scalability and security issues?

Salvitti said, “the only challenge he sees with low-code/no-code platforms has been their sluggishness to embrace CI/CD. Oh sure, they have their own baked in, but I don't need another platform — for that I already have the processes and platforms to provide this.” Sacolick does not disagree with Salvitti and said it amazes him that “so many low-code/no-code solutions don't have an answer for version control.” For this reason, he suggests that it is a good thing that “low-code/no-code and citizen data science platforms are now competing on governance capabilities. We'll see who strikes the right balance between self-serve speed and levels of security, oversight, reuse and software development lifecycle (SDLC)-like processes”

Sadin said the above is “why I add a governance caveat that includes cybersecurity, architecture, change management and auditability on every citizen development. It is important that CIOs not abdicate ownership of these tools and processes.” Sacolick said historically, “the lack of integration with other tools was a problem. Why low-code and no code platforms don't integrate with Git, Jenkins and other mainstream development tools is a sign of maturity and a tendency to avoid dev-centric solutions.”

Ed Macosky, senior vice president of product, UX and solutions at Boomi, agreed and said, “one of the key challenges we have heard time and again in adopting low-code platforms is connectivity to your cloud and on-premises app and data ecosystem. The apps you build using a low-code platform need to have a built-in connectivity ecosystem so you can develop meaningful enterprise apps that can connect to data assets across your line-of-businesses (LOBs).  If connectivity is not built-in, you end up coding those connections, and it largely defeats the purpose.”

With this said, Sadin claimed low-code/no-code is “important because they allow the CIO to get out in front of Shadow IT by providing proper tools and processes that empower citizen developers without crippling the firm.” He claims, however, that it is essential that IT leaders prevent “islands of information.”

Sadin added that users already have antecedent for low-code tools. They are called spreadsheets. And they are a nightmare to manage.” Sacolick agreed with Sadin and said for this reason “low-code/no-code solutions can be a CIOs secret swiss army knife for speed and productivity.” Having said this, Sadin does not want the fixes to extend to the pile of existing tech debt. He said that CIOs should provide all developers with appropriate tools, processes and training for the problems they will face.” At this point, Hinchcliffe said, “we really want to see low-code platforms integrate well with the following:

  • Version control
  • Internal microservices
  • ALM
  • Identity systems
  • Deployment/Ops
  • DevOps
  • CD/CI
  • Containers

Hinchcliffe said, “it is critical low-code apps don’t allow citizen developers to expose their organizations to cybersecurity risks, privacy issues and data siphoning/theft. This is why IT must still govern and put appropriate guardrails on low-code.” Additionally, Hinchcliffe said, “IT ends up having to support and fix it long term anyway. Might as well get involved upfront with a very lightweight review plus a shoring up process to ensure low-code apps aren't creating vulnerabilities faster than they can be found.”

At the same time, Hinchcliffe believes it’s important to deploy tools within a thoughtful database/ERP/BI framework to avoid worsening data sprawl. Macosky said, “these problems can largely be avoided if data is persisted in the operational backbone through integrations and APIs, this way applications can be data-less. This eliminates the major issues with historical low-code approaches.”

Parting remarks

In the era of WFH, low-code offers a significant potential for impacting customer experience, employee experience and supplier experience. However, letting it out of the box to create more tech debt or scalability and security concerns is a bad idea. It is clear that low-code needs maturing in terms of process to become part of the arsenal for mainstream organizations.