Imagine something great. Then go make it. Maybe it will be the next big thing. Maybe it will make life easier in your department, or delight customers in some new way, or revolutionize the way your enterprise operates.

Whatever it is, it starts with an idea that gets put to the test. That’s how innovation happens. And that’s why principle #7 is critical for the low-code platform:

Experimentation & Innovation:
Innovators need to experiment, explore, and create without fear or compromise.
Development tools need to be nimble, smart and affordable to support them.

Thomas Edison experimented with many thousands of filament materials before he arrived at one that would last long enough before burning out to make his light bulb practical (carbonized cotton thread ultimately proved his concept viable).

Installing each of those thousands of filaments and watching them burn out must have been supremely frustrating. But we are so fortunate today that he stuck with it.

In the software-powered digital world, traditional means of experimenting and testing are a time-consuming and cumbersome process. All the time it takes for highly skilled individuals to write code, vet it, get it deployed, and then finally test it — suffice to say, if Edison had to go through all that, we might still be reading by candlelight today.

Fortunately, we’re now in the era of LEDs and low-code.

All of the things that make low-code a spectacular development platform also make it the perfect ‘laboratory’ to perform all kinds of experiments, from simple reality checks to testing seemingly crazy, moonshot ideas. The visual drag-and-drop development environment, connectivity to everything, the tremendous resources available from the community, automated quality checks and controls, simple one-click deployment to the cloud — all of this combines to make low-code a developer’s dream playground, a place where it’s safe to reach for the stars.

But experimentation is not just about pushing the boundaries of tech or creating the ultimate interface. It’s also about testing ideas in the marketplace, finding innovative ways to engage customers, trying new product ideas, responding to changing conditions or taking advantage of a timely opportunity. If you can build something quickly and push it out to the marketplace, you can find out whether the idea works and, if not, try another one. That’s how one of our insurance customers ended up with a facial recognition app that gives prospects a quote in five minutes, just based on a selfie. And how other insurance companies are coming up with product innovations using IoT, leveraging devices such as fitness trackers or the electronic control modules in cars. When it comes to business innovation, those who are first, or close to it, reap the greatest rewards.

You have to be fast to stay ahead of the curve

There’s so much exciting new technology all around us. But what can it do for your enterprise? If you have an idea of how to use artificial intelligence (as in that facial recognition app above), there’s one sure way to see if it will work: Build it. Connected devices and sensors, conversational chatbots, augmented reality, edge-AI solutions, AI-powered everything — the only limit to what you can create with low-code is your imagination, and of course, your application platform.

To get a competitive edge requires being an early adopter, and that requires being able to integrate these new technologies, which requires connectors. Because low-code is open by design (see principle #5, Openness) and supported by a broad community, it’s possible to find or build connectors to get the necessary resources. Whether it’s the AI capabilities of IBM Watson, Google’s vast image database, or augmented reality with Hololens, low-code can connect with and give apps access to those exciting new capabilities. (Caveat: the connectors do need to be built, so they are not integral to every low-code platform; those mentioned here are available with Mendix out-of-the-box, and we are constantly creating new connectors for evolving technologies).

Now, once that idea gets built and its amazingness is proven, it has to be scaled up, and fast, to gain a preemptive foothold in the market. Low-code is cloud-native (as a proper 12-factor app must be) and so is engineered for that kind of responsive scaling. Built in the cloud to run in the cloud, low-code applications can expand and grow as needed, limited only by the cloud resources available — which is to say, their ability to scale is theoretically unlimited.

The business side of innovation

A great advantage of the low-code platform is that it enables non-technical people who have no experience writing code to participate, hands-on, in creating applications. And that is a tremendous benefit when it comes to experimenting with ideas that could have significant impact on a business. A business leader focused on customer engagement, a product designer exploring usability, a biochemist rallying resources to address an urgent healthcare crisis (such as the one that changed all our lives), and other domain experts — these are the leaders on the front lines who are best-positioned to see where and how digital innovations can have the greatest impact.

The low-code platform is a virtual whiteboard or scratchpad for them as much as it is for pro developers, a napkin where they map out their genius idea, or the development platform they use to actually make a working application. In either case, low-code helps them bring their innovation to life. Ultimately, depending on its scope and scale, they may enlist the aid of the development team to flesh out the technical detail. (And that’s where the collaborative power of low-code comes in.)

Guardrails keep everyone on the road

All this talk about experimentation and innovation can make some IT leaders nervous, and understandably so. When individuals start noodling around with what some would call crazy stuff, or even not-so-crazy stuff, and they’re making and deploying apps and seeing what works, it becomes a governance concern, whether those individuals are citizen developers or pros. Solid governance has to be built into a low-code platform.

When team members are going fast (as you want them to do), when everyone is collaborating (as you want them to do), when you have autonomous teams exploring the unknown (as you want them to do), you had better have some serious guardrails in place. But at the same time, you don’t want to limit all that creative energy. Through a combination of automated controls, baked-in best practices, artificial intelligence, visibility into what people are doing, robust traceability and auditability, and other safeguards, the danger of wreaking havoc on any part of the ecosystem is minimized — no matter how far the innovators try to push the envelope.

“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” – Miles Davis

Start with a clean sheet and go make something — this is the beauty and art of all development. Experimentation leads to discovery leads to innovation. A model-based platform enables visualization of paths and solutions in a way that writing code never can, and is the quickest path from idea to working prototype, and correspondingly, most rapidly gets innovations into the market to quickly deliver business value.

So go ahead, try out your ideas. Don’t be afraid. You won’t break anything. And you just might create something magical.