Appian CEO Matt Calkins on low-code and its value to consultants

12 January 2023 7 min. read
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Matt Calkins is the Chief Executive Officer of Appian. With Appian’s low-code platform increasingly used by companies and consultants worldwide, 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 clients.

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 organisations that they needed to change to survive and change inside a large company is a matter of reprogramming. If you want a thousand people to do a thing differently than they did before, you're going to coordinate that with software.

Matt Calkins, Chief Executive Officer, Appian

So, when I say that these organisations needed to change, I'm also saying that they needed to change their software, their processes, and their 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 the 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 organisation. It never should have been, but we had, as a business society, begun to tolerate the immutability of our software. The pandemic was a time when we learned that wasn't necessary, and in fact was disadvantageous.

I don’t believe the world’s ever going back to being willing to have unchangeable software. Instead, I think flexibility and agility is the new expectation.

Further reading: Low code emerging as the core technology for digital transformation.

What do you think will happen to these innovation programs now we are heading into a period of economic downturn?

I think that innovation is one of the ways that an organisation can survive a period of uncertainty. Just like the pandemic was a period of uncertainty that led to innovation, I think we will see more of it, the only difference is what kind of innovation we will need.

I predict that during the economic turbulence that we expect this year, there will be new emphasis on automation technology. For example, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and sophisticated business rules. All of which is useful in a time when efficiency is of maximum importance, like 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’ll handle it by letting software do some of the work. If you need to do better customer service or if you need to be more aware of your data across the enterprise, automation is going to help you do the work.

At Appian, we're focused on automation technology, so that software can help you do the work. And we're focused on process mining technology so that you can optimise the return on the investment you’ve already made.

Process mining is a way to diagnose the efficiency of applications that you’ve already written, instead of using it to show you where you could spend more money, we’re using it to show you how well you can spend your existing budget.

That’s what a recessionary buyer is going to be most interested in.

What are the implications of businesses slowing their innovation programs?

It means that they’re going to favour certain kinds of innovation and certain kinds of technology over others. Some technology is growth oriented and experimental, other technology is efficiency oriented, and I believe that there will just be more emphasis on the latter.

How can consultants help businesses to continue their innovation program momentum during tighter economic circumstances?

My advice is that the key here is to reduce the risk.

First, reduce the risk for the customer because they won't be looking for speculative investments, they’ll be looking for sure things. Go back to customers that know you or go to customers that will take the case studies that you've produced from a similar customer very seriously.

Secondly, you want to have a short timeline to value instead of a longer speculative project. It has to be something that’ll pay for itself quickly and propose something of tangible value, perhaps guarantee it, so that risk is diminished on the part of the customer.

Work in short, self-justifying leaps: phase one finishes, and you can see the results and you know it's going correctly, so, you're moving on to phase two, and that finishes quickly and it has good results, so, you're moving on to phase three. That’s how to do consulting 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 advancing organisational innovation agendas over the next twelve months?

Low-code is a fantastic tool in the hands of a consultant. It makes the consultant very powerful because it allows them to create applications rapidly and then modify them going forward.

Consider for a moment the difference between that and the typical consultant business model. In the past, it would be 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.”

In a recession, that isn’t going to 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 will be able to come back anytime you want and modify that application to keep it up to date with the latest changes.”

That’s a big difference. You see, consultants are used to doing a job and being done and being out, and now actually you have a hall pass. You're kind of in 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 change.

It’s actually a recession friendly business model because it’s quick return on investment and helps consultants justify their time rapidly.

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’s going to be a perpetual shortage of developers, which is to say there's always going to be work for a good developer.

Low-code will empower developers to be more efficient. It has two main effects: firstly, it takes a non-developer and makes them a nominally capable developer, and secondly, 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 into technology. It’s a turbo boost for established consultants, especially if one of the main things that you're selling is your subject matter expertise, because now you can codify that and rapidly express it through software. It just gives organised or systematic life to the knowledge that you’re already bringing.

Low-code is going to be a hyper-charge for subject matter expert consultants who are technical.

What is Appian doing to help grow the amount of developers the market will need in the coming years?

There is a distinct shortage of Appian experts on the market today and there's good money being made on our technology. I speak to a lot of clients, and I keep hearing that they want more project managers and knowledgeable practitioners.

We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for you to get that expertise. We have a free training course, we have certifications, tests that you can take. We have a marketplace where you can proclaim your expertise by getting into conversations and meeting up with employers.

As a result, our community has been growing tremendously and has more than doubled in the past year. Now's a great time to get in because it’s is a way to make value and customers are actively looking for it, even in economic times like these.