Appian’s Marc Wilson on low code digital transformation and consulting

29 August 2022 7 min. read
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Marc Wilson is a founder of Appian and oversees the company’s global strategic partnerships. With Appian’s low code system increasingly used by clients and consultants worldwide, sat down with Wilson to understand some of key opportunities for Australian organisations – and how consultants can help in the process.

Tell us about your role as Chief Partner Officer; what does that mean? 

The most important thing that I do on a daily basis is to increase the number of people capable of having a conversation about what Appian can do.

Many people don't understand our capabilities, and I love to see the light bulb go off in people’s minds when they understand the power of the Appian platform. Whether I’m educating people face-to-face, virtually, or through content creation, I love witnessing the power of that knowledge and the enthusiasm it creates.

Marc Wilson, Co-Founder and Chief Partner Officer, Appian

Appian’s been expanding its partnership or partner team locally. Can you tell us about your growth plans and goals for the coming years when it comes to working with partners?  

We see Australia and Asia Pacific as a high-growth region, which is reflected in our partner and channel strategy. We are investing Australia in a manner that recognises the growth opportunity, with partners, of course, being one of the most vital areas. We plan to expand our sales reach, whether that’s through more account executives, solutions, consultants or marketing.

Appian is looking to not only get deeper with high-end, large-scale Australian customers, but we also want to get broader in terms of the customers we appeal to. We believe our success in the mid and small enterprise around the world is just as applicable to the Australian market.

What should consultants know about low code?  

It's not just for citizen developers. Low-code is best for mission-critical, complex applications. The old model of building inflexible technology that is only effective for a limited time no longer works. The applications that are needed today, and will be dominant going forward, are an amalgamation of different technologies.

Low-code provides a continuous cycle comprised of discovery of processes, building workflows, and automation. And when you finish something, you go back to the discovery phase and begin again.

How did Appian become a leader in the low-code space? How did the company evolve into what it is today?

Matt Calkins, Robert Kramer, Michael Meckley, and I started the company in 1999 without a product or a business plan. We didn’t know what we wanted to offer the market, but we knew where we wanted to be positioned: in a space that wasn’t commoditised, that tackled the most complex business problems and that wasn’t going to be quickly taken over by a large entity.

We picked the business process management (BPM) space, and this proved to be very fortuitous. Through innovations like being the first company to offer a completely web-based process and design environment, Forrester and Gartner identified Appian as an industry leader within a few years. The BPM workflow space soon became the low-code space and brought us where we are today.

Are consultancy groups important to Appian, and how does Appian work with these?

Consultancies have and always will be critical to Appian. In fact, before going public, working with consulting partners was our primary funding mechanism.

Prior to 2017, our revenue split was generally 50 / 50 between software and services. Today it is closer to 80 per cent software and 20 per cent services. So, our software sales have continued to grow, and our services haven't grown as much.

The reason for this is we have allowed our partners to fill in those gaps. We realise that consulting firms play a key role in understanding the clients’ problems and history. And marrying Appian’s technical competency with a corporate understanding of process is essential to make these projects work and to help our partners grow their revenues.

Our partner strategy is geared towards consultancies that help organisations on their transformation journeys through a low-code application platform. The work that Appian does with consultancies is a mutually beneficial relationship. With most consultancies we work with, the low bar for growth they see with their Appian practices is 50 per cent. That's the low bar. Most of them are currently looking at triple digits.

What are Australian organisations getting wrong when it comes to digital transformation today?

I think that organisations are getting two things wrong when embarking on a digital transformation journey. First, there is a constant struggle to understand that digital transformation is about workflow and data. Organisations tend to focus on one or the other, leading to a lot of spectacular failures.

Second, they don't truly understand the importance of corporate psychology when it comes to digital transformation. It's a momentum game; you must have successful projects to avoid resentment.

The first application you build must touch enough people to get them on board and show them where the project is going. I believe that digital transformation efforts fail because most people still think technology is something that's done to them. They have no sense of ownership. They think, “Oh, great. A new system. I'll give it a month and then revert to the old way of doing business.”

Many people think digital transformation is merely taking something that used to be on paper and making it digital. And sometimes, they believe that transformation is merely the act of doing something different. In fact, it's about bringing those things together, making it easier for the end user, seamless for the end user and making their experience better across the board. And I think many digital transformation initiatives are merely modernising a siloed experience.

What impact does corporate culture have on digital transformation?

Corporate culture has a huge impact on how organisations approach digital transformation and how successfully projects are implemented.

Organisations always think that their challenges are unique but what really differs is their corporate culture, even within the same industry. Often success is entirely based on how well a business can understand how to leverage a tool like low-code.

Our challenge is that some organisations spend all of their time explaining what is wrong with a prototype without understanding that this is just a starting point that has worked in the past; we can do whatever they want us to do.

What challenges do Australian organisations face with their digital transformation journeys today? 

The global demand for developers is currently outstripping the supply. According to Morgan Stanley, there are currently 26 million total developers in the world, and we are expected to need 38 million by 2024.

In Australia, the Covid-19 pandemic turbo-charged the move towards digitisation, but a lack of development talent is now putting key projects at risk of delay or failure.

Appian is addressing the development talent shortfall by providing access to low-code education and certification to the next generation of low-code developers. Our free #lowcode4all program provides participants a clear path to learn low-code technology and complete their Appian Certified Associate Developer exam. The program is available to current undergraduate and graduate students, students who have paused their education, unemployed individuals and people looking for a career change.

Can you talk through some recent Appian innovations and why consultants should care about this?

Appian recently added a process mining capability, which gives our consultants and their customers a platform that delivers a comprehensive, repeatable cycle of continuous improvement.

Data process mining allows our consultants to review historical information, interpret it and identify workflow bottlenecks. Then the unified platform can quickly create prototypes, and this helps our consultants break free from projects with limited horizons. Combining data process mining with the design and automation of workflows allows one technology project to flow into the next.