Many application development platforms market themselves as true "low-code" or "no-code" options for business, but few can actually pull it off. Appian Quick Apps—a new capability in the latest release of the Appian business process management (BPM) platform—lets users create a fully functioning web or mobile app in a completely visual interface without typing a single line of code.
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Malcolm Ross, Vice President of Product Marketing at Appian, announced Appian 16.2 at the company's Appian World user conference in Washington, DC. Ross gave PCMag a demo of the new no-code Appian Quick Apps features in advance of the event, building a working app within the Appian platform in about 15 minutes, with pre-defined objects before adding deeper customization on top in the full Appian BPM app designer.
"We've always had a focus at Appian on generating a low-code, easy-to-design environment that's still powerful enough to meet the demand of enterprises," said Ross. "Quick Apps is an acceleration of that. It's designed to allow a business user with no IT skills whatsoever to walk through a simple four-step design wizard to define the processes, interfaces, and data structures of an app, and who they want to work with for loosely structured collaboration, with ad hoc processes and tasks."
Inside Appian Quick Apps
Ross walked us through the four-step wizard-based process a business user would go through to build an app. The most important aspect of this process to note is that users are creating apps within Appian. Appian Quick Apps takes all of the existing elements with which employees work, from project management and Appian Records data to social collaboration tasks, and turns those into objects (configured in the main Appian Designer) that you can quickly pull into ad hoc apps.
From the main Appian dashboard, click your username in the top right-hand corner and select the Quick Apps Designer from the drop-down menu. Enterprises can choose who has access to the Quick Apps Designer. Click the "Create New Quick App" button and you've started the process.
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Quick Apps uses field-based app creation. Ross began simply by entering the app's name, a short description for employees to explain its main purpose, and how the app's name will be listed both in singular and plural context.
The next step is the main form. Ross used the designer to create a demo "Social Responsibility" app for an entertainment brand to ensure compliance with so-called "social norms." It's an example of the type of loosely structured app an enterprise might need in a very specific situation for use by marketing teams, and one requiring very specific natural language in the app objects and interfaces created.
In the Form tab in Appian Quick Apps, Ross then built the process by which users will enter new social responsibility entries associated with different products. Users can type in the different status configurations available for an entry (e.g., New Product, Review in Progress, Approved, Denied, etc.), and add instructions and help text to give users additional context within the app experience. For each new field, there are Label, Type, and Configuration options, a checkbox to decide whether or not the element is required, and the ability to move each element in the form up or down with arrows on the right-hand side.
In the Collaborators tab, you then choose the users or teams with whom you want to share the app. From there, click "Create Quick App" and Appian builds the app.
"When you hit Create Quick App, it actually builds out all the different design constructs: the relational database table, all the forms and processes, the record pages, the reports—everything that's needed to make this a functional application," said Ross. "Quick Apps is designed for loosely managed work, so [it's] creating this container that's capturing all my social responsibilities, tracking them, and sending ad hoc tasks when I need someone to do something. If I need to do more complete, structured work in these apps, that's where I go into the main Appian Designer."
In 15 minutes, Ross created a form and laid out all of the workflows associated with an enterprise app that users could then go in and use to fill out a social responsibility form in the Appian web dashboard or from the Appian mobile app. Then, on the Reports page of the Appian dashboard, the administrator (admin) or team leader can track all of the data associated with the app. The app Ross created in 15 minutes was bare-bones but it worked right away with a simple user experience (UX).
Appian Quick Apps is a true no-code app builder paired with the low-code Appian Designer. In the main designer, citizen developers can then use a drag-and-drop interface called the Appian Process Modeler to further customize the app with dynamic rules, automated decisioning, and system integrations. Appian Designer takes the foundational app and adds more complex combinations of pre-defined objects, data, and services that govern how the app will respond to more complicated use cases.
What "Low-Code" Actually Means
As defined by Forrester Research, low-code platforms are platforms that "enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment. The low-code development platforms market consists of a wide range of vendors that provide platforms that support building, deploying, and managing apps through declarative tooling that supports visual drag-and-drop composition."
Appian is one of the leaders in the low-code space but it's not the only one. According to the latest Forrester Wave report on low-code development platforms, Appian leads the pack along with Mendix, OutSystems, and Salesforce, though the market goes far deeper and is quickly growing. Microsoft recently entered the space with its PowerApps platform, and companies such as Arrayworks are beginning to crop up as "low-code productivity hubs" in the same vein as Appian.
Matthew Calkins, CEO of Appian, told PCMag the company intends to expand the platform to include less structured forms of work in need of support. Whether it's business users creating an app themselves or simplifying the development process for coders by automating manual processes, Calkins said Appian Quick Apps is about creating flexible apps to get specific tasks done.
"Imagine a tech support team that gets phone calls from customers with support issues," said Calkins. "Those issues all find a unique path through the support organization and go to different people depending on the expertise, who's on duty, etc. You can try to create a BPM app for that [traditionally through the IT department] or just give them the knowledge and a clean way to add their own contributions and collaborate."
Calkins said the goal with Appian Quick Apps is to keep users from getting bogged in specifying granular actions when building the core app while maintaining customizability. A real no-code platform is one that empowers citizen developers or power users while still letting them create an app that doesn't just have bare-bones functionality but actually works.
"We've got an application builder that's so easy to use that power users can make, automate, support, and structure their own world of work," said Calkins. "Take out all those lines and boxes, create a simpler explanation of what needs to be done, and yet, we can still get you an operational application in 15 minutes."