Mendix spent last week at the Gartner Application Strategies & Solutions Summit in Las Vegas. As part of the booth team, I had the opportunity to attend several keynotes and breakout sessions.
In general, I found the main themes to be evolutionary and reinforcing, rather than radically new. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as there is a lot for IT leaders to digest and operationalize, particularly when it comes to adopting emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Below is a recap of those themes.
The new digital platform is built, not bought
In the opening keynote, Gartner unveiled what it calls the New Digital Platform, comprised of five elements: Customers (engage), Ecosystems (interact), Things (sense), Intelligence (decide), and IT Systems (run).
Compared to its predecessors, the New Digital Platform is much more focused on how technologies like AI and IoT relate and combine to create new sources of business value. As one example, Gartner shared how Italian train operator Trenitalia combined IoT and analytics technologies to shift to predictive maintenance, saving 100 million Euros a year.
Ultimately, Gartner emphasized that these new digital platforms are built, not bought. Given the focus on ecosystems, though, organizations don’t necessarily need to build all the components themselves. Instead, they should tap partners and external communities to create innovations they might never have thought of.
Demand for apps soars, but IT capacity isn’t keeping pace
The second major theme from the Gartner Application Strategies & Solutions Summit was that demand for custom applications is soaring. One of the biggest drivers is IoT. When discussing the ‘Things’ component of the New Digital Platform, one Gartner analyst said, “Things are just things. Software unlocks their value.” That’s similar to Mendix CTO Johan den Haan’s concept of the Internet of Experiences, which focuses on the need to apply sensors and the data they generate to create new user experiences.
Similarly, Gartner analyst Richard Marshall emphasized how “everything we touch has an app in it.” Examples he gave include cars, drones, trash cans and even cows. He went on to elaborate that the future of app development is building millions of tiny, useful purposeful apps.
What’s potentially alarming is that IT is struggling to keep pace with this demand. According to a statistic cited by Gartner, through 2021, market demand for app development will grow at least five times faster than IT capacity to deliver it!
Close the gap by enabling citizen developers in a safe way
Fortunately, much of the event focused on how IT leaders could close the gap, which brings me to the next theme: enabling citizen developers. Gartner analyst Jason Wong defined Citizen developers as “end users who create new business applications for consumption by themselves and others, using development and runtime environments sanctioned, or at least not actively forbidden, by central IT.”
In his session, “App Dev 2020,” Gartner analyst Richard Marshall talked about enabling a continuum of developers, from technical resources like traditional developers to business-oriented individuals like business analysts and process experts. The latter have deep domain expertise and can therefore be very valuable in development efforts, working with and alongside traditional developers.
“Don’t think of business users as shadow IT,” Marshall said. “Think of them as future developers—and embrace them!”
Accelerate time to market with low code tools
In addition to the people element, the Gartner Summit focused a lot on the enabling technologies required to deliver custom applications with greater speed and agility. Top among these were high productivity application Platform as-a-Service (hpaPaaS) and Mobile App Development Platforms (MADP).
In his session “The Seven Key Considerations for Selecting Your Next Cloud Application Platform,” Gartner Analyst Paul Vincent outlined six primary benefits of aPaaS, including productivity and time to market gains enabled by model-driven/low-code capabilities and agile/DevOps support; operational agility through cloud architecture practices, like self-service, high availability and elasticity; and innovation enabled by support for new services like AI and machine learning.
In a session on the MADP Magic Quadrant, Analyst Van Baker shared how by 2020, more than 75 percent of enterprises will have adopted at least one mobile app development platform to enable self-service citizen development and accelerate their digital transformation strategy. What’s important to note, though, is that Gartner sees mobile and web converging, with MADP vendors like Mendix offering broader omni-channel support. For this reason, the lines between aPaaS and MADP are blurring.
Deliver new experiences by building Smart Apps
Last but not least was the theme of Smart Apps. This trend started during the opening keynote with the refrain “Make it digital. Make it programmable. Make it smart.” But it really hit home during Jason Wong’s session, “Lessons from Innovative Consumer Apps to Transform Your Mobile App Strategy.”
Using real-world examples, Jason offered five key lessons for (mobile) app development, including leveraging context to anticipate user needs and applying machine learning, cognitive services and conversational UIs to offer more intelligent user experiences. One example he shared was Ozlo, a mobile app that uses a conversational UI to intelligently guide users to find restaurants, buy movie tickets and more.
Jason said that by 2020, more than 50% of consumer mobile interactions will be in-context, hyper personal experiences based on historic and real-time behavior. Though, there’s no reason why enterprises can’t apply the same principles to B2E and B2B apps as well.
Ultimately, the key to effectively applying any of these technologies is being able to experiment rapidly, in a fail-fast approach to discover what users really want or need. As one analyst said, “The only way to find the right idea is to eliminate all of the wrong ones.”