Here are some pointers on how the low code software market works, stealing ideas from Forrester’s report “Five Customer Facing Scenarios Shape Low Code Platform Choices”.
The five ‘scenarios’ which Forrester identifies are
- Simple customer self service apps (eg an online form or succession of online forms connected to a database)
- “Dynamic” customer self service apps (something more complicated, such as a supermarket online store)
- “Human mediated forms applications” (a more complicated form, when the customer would typically be taken through it by someone over the telephone, such as an insurance application)
- “Human mediated customer engagement application” – a more complex form system with a customer speaking to an employee over the phone – eg a credit card application
- “Human mediated case management” – a more complex internal / external administrative system for a certain process, which may involve uploading documents
Understanding the software landscape is an enormous challenge – there is a lot of terminology, some of it overlaps, and some has more specific definitions than others.
“Business Process Management” can mean literally managing business processes – or software to help manage business processes. (You get the impression that some people don’t think there is much difference between these two).
There is a whole range of ‘business process management’ software tools, to help make it easier to make a system to manage your business process.
According to the Wikipedia page on ‘Business Process Management’, a typical BPM suite might include:
- Process engine — a robust platform for modeling and executing process-based applications, including business rules
- Business analytics — enable managers to identify business issues, trends, and opportunities with reports and dashboards and react accordingly
- Content management — provides a system for storing and securing electronic documents, images, and other files
- Collaboration tools — remove intra- and interdepartmental communication barriers through discussion forums, dynamic workspaces, and message boards
This is close to what we are interested in with ‘Software for Domain Experts’ although it also perhaps a bit more sophisticated than most expert users need.
There is also ‘Professional Services Automation’ – defined on Wikipedia as “software designed to assist professionals, such as lawyers, auditors, IT consultants, and other professionals, with project management and resource management for client projects”. So that’s project management software.
The kind of ‘Software for Domain Experts’ we are interested in here is more about simply gathering together information people need and presenting it in the right way.
We believe many expert users are satisfied enough with their corporate file storage systems (for content management) and satisfied with e-mail systems for collaboration (or if not, there are plenty of specialist tools available which will do more)
But what they don’t have is their data in exactly the way they want it – and of course their requirements are always changing.
So that’s why we are maybe looking for a more ‘low code’ version of ‘Business Process Management’.
Here are some ideas about how software can help in urban transport planning, gaining from reading a few chapters of this book “Urban Transport without the hot air”. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00UQYS1MO
An underlying theme of the book is that urban transport planning is extremely difficult – but there are large bodies of data which can help guide just about every decision.
- For example, what happens if you build houses in cities with no car parking? Does “naked” street architecture (building roads with no barriers between the road and the pavement) improve safety? Is it practical to get traffic to slow down?
- Planning public transport is actually extremely difficult. Making a service which people actually use will require that it is more convenient than a car, which can (usually) take them from their house to their destination in comfort any time they like at low cost. For a bus to do this, they might need their own private bus. This kills off the bus economics. But how do you get good bus economics with the convenience of a car?
- And plenty more.
- Dense cities can solve many environmental problems. If we’re expecting a future with high energy prices and carbon emission constraints, we’ll need to keep transportation short distances, preferably shared, with as many walking trips as possible. But making a dense city without streets clogged up with motor cars requires public transport which works well.
- Back to Software for Domain Experts – imagine an urban transport planner with software which could provide – at her fingertips – all the data about past transport projects in cities around the world – all the data about her current city – and advice and stories from other transport planners about how they would work in any situation.
- Then imagine if she could gather and manage data about everything she’d built to see how well it works – and possibly make adjustments (over short term – traffic signal timings for example, over long term, in policy for building new housing estates) – and see how well that works too?
One of our basic ideas here is that low code built software tools could be used to help domain experts make decisions.
That’s an idea which not many people seem to have thought of yet.
Most “Low Code” software companies are in the realm of online forms, data collection, lightweight business process management (re previous blog).
Helping domain experts make decisions involves a different set of tools.
We can think of:
DATA GATHERING AND PRESENTING
– Gathering data (from multiple sources, including searching the corporate archive)
– Interpreting available data (spotting anomalies, automatically classifying and indexing unclassified data, spotting patterns, statistical analysis)
– Visualising available data in various ways (like Spotfire can do)
– Higher level analysis – calculating key performance indicators or other indicators
– Data from last time something like this happened
– Case based reasoning – what did we do last time something like this happened? Is there a story available?
– Diagnosis / analysis tools, particularly in engineering, possibly in economics – what is going on this time?
– What am I trying to achieve here? How do I manage conflicting goals?
– Overall, how far away am I from where I would ideally like to be? Am I close to a danger zone?
Forrester has an interesting report on Low Code software (available for free download on the Scribe Software website)
The general thrust of it is that low code is usually used by large corporations developing online tools for interacting with customers (online forms, including complex application forms such as for credit card applications) or interacting internally (a form of business process management).
Some of the most complex applications where Low Code is used, according to the report, are ‘case management’ applications, with the example given of a US Federal Agency making a low code tool for tracking appeal cases, with functionality to load documents, send notifications to various parties.
Low Code tools are used for making interactive web pages or entire websites (often based on opensource content management software Drupal).
Many low code platforms have tools for managing ‘workflow’, but they don’t have the ‘deep process design, execution and management features typical of Business Process Management products”, Forrester says.
An (unnamed) systems manager from a UK building society is quoted as saying they first worked with a fully automated Business Process Management system and found it took a lot of time and IT work, and then tried a low code platform after that.
Forrester doesn’t say directly, but it sounds like it is saying that Business Process Management products are usually more sophisticated and complex than ‘low code’ and also take more skills – but you might find ‘low code’ adequate if you need business process management.
EMPATHETIC SOFTWARE – by ’empathetic’ we mean ‘software which works the way you do’ (the term ‘user-friendly’ is over-used to the point where it is meaningless). There are two ways to make empathetic software – one is to spend billions of pounds on research, testing and refinement (as Amazon, Google and Microsoft do) – the other is to have very personal service, providing updates, developments and training as the user needs them. So far business user rarely have empathetic software, because most business software is provided by companies which are too large to provide personal service, but not large enough to develop empathy through intense research.
WORK FOR YOURSELF – many software programmers – and people in general – would be happier working for their own small company rather than working for someone else’s big company – and this provides a route to achieving it.
UTILISE UNDEREMPLOYED DOMAIN EXPERTS – we come across many people with enormous domain expertise who find themselves under employed. They have financial security enough not to take employment in an unpleasant, high stressful position, but find that society is unable to use their expertise in other ways. This project enables them to use this expertise.
ADVERTISING REVENUES – if you have software / online tools with high spending business experts as users, in some situations you may be able to sell their attention (by selling advertising), instead of, or complementing, subscription fee revenue
MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE – imagine what would be possible with domain experts with better information and tools to help them make better decisions. Everything would be better run – city government, village government, schools, police departments, services. Governments could achieve their targets – everything from collecting tax to reducing disease. Companies could perform so much better.
Everybody would be much happier.
Small companies + low code = better domain expert software + great business opportunity.
This is our idea, we invite you to explore it with us.
“LOW CODE” is a new term for software development platforms which don’t require developers to write much code (because all the coding is already done), often hosted on the cloud. By building in low code, you can make software tools much faster and cheaper than if you have to do the coding yourself. This means you don’t need a big team of software programmers in your company, you don’t even need to define yourselves as a ‘software company’. You can also adapt software to user needs after you have built it. Low code software can be web hosted, of course, so no client installation hassles.
DOMAIN EXPERT SOFTWARE is software tools for business experts and managers who could be in any field – from agriculture to zoology. It can include tools to search for and gather the data they need, analyse it, visualise it ready for decision making – and then help them to collaborate, and implement their decisions, and monitor the progress. Not many domain experts have software to maximise their productivity – they are using either mass produced software like Microsoft Office, which can’t do everything they want, or poorly adapted business tools, which are often designed and built by people a long way away from the end users.
GREAT BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY FOR SMALL COMPANIES – because small companies can use low code to make domain expert software, which is much better, less expensive and comes with much better service and support than the software most domain experts currently use! Domain experts might be willing to spend Eur 1000 a month for software + service + support + ongoing customisation which helps them massively improve productivity, so a company can be viable with just a small number of clients. We imagine that the small company could have both software people and domain experts as partners. That way the sales can be done by domain expert speaking to domain expert (for example, a former telecoms CFO speaking to a current telecoms CFO), rather than employing sales people.
There are actually some tasks in life which are still better delivered by personal service. It isn’t true that everything is delivered better by machine, or a big corporate.
As many business gurus will tell you, a company should only get big if there is a business reason for it to get big – ie it is more efficient that way.
There are costs of being big (more management layers and meetings). In terms of employees, people will usually be more attracted to working for a big company (I don’t know why) and big companies will be better at getting value out of their staff. But employees will often – or usually – be more motivated working for smaller companies or even working for themselves.
And so we come to the software industry.
It isn’t hard to find a software user who doesn’t like their software.
And we get raging debates about whose fault this was. Is the user ‘resistant to change’? Was the user not involved in the discussion about how the software should be built (or did they only realise what they needed after it was built?) Is the user too lazy to work out a new user interface? Is the software company unwilling to provide better support (and who is going to pay for it)?
There is a better solution – have a small company in between the big software company and the big company user – and the small company is paid a monthly fee to provide a personal service, be available to solve problems, and reconfigure the software on the fly (which is possible, since it is made from low-code) if the user realises that their requirements were different to what they thought.
The small company uses empathy and imagination to work out what the user needs (even if the user can’t describe it).
This is another angle to our ‘Software for Domain Experts’ business model.