Friday, March 11, 2022

It’s official—flexible and remote work are here to stay, say empowered employees

The world’s office workers have more clout and influence now than ever over where and how they do their jobs. Those who have worked from home and want to continue are spurring on their employers to do more than just embrace hybrid work. They’re seeking to reinvent the very nature of employment.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

Stay with BriefingsDirect as we explore new research into how innovations such as contingent labor exchanges and intelligent workspaces are changing the future of work forever.

To learn more about how flexible work models are the new normal for workers and businesses alike, please welcome Andrew Bartolini, Founder and Chief Research Officer at Ardent Partners in Boston, and Tim Minahan, Executive Vice President of Business Strategy at Citrix, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tim, COVID-19 or not, workers seem to have spoken adamantly when it comes to flexible work. What are they saying and why is flexible work here to stay?

Minahan: If you think about major historical moments throughout the ages that have kind of reset how we live and how we work, certainly the pandemic will go down in history as one of those. While no one would ever wish the pandemic to occur again, if there’s any iota of a silver lining, it’s this rapidly accelerated digital transformation which has caused employees and employers to dramatically rethink the way they work, where they work, how they work, and who does the work.


We’ve been studying this dynamic for several years from an executive and IT perspective and the knowledge-worker perspective. The latest poll of 13,000 knowledge workers around the globe clearly indicated that folks are not going back to the office five days a week. They’ve proven that they can engage and be productive anywhere, and they’re not going back. In fact, nearly 90 percent of those who participated in the poll said they plan to work on flexible models in the year ahead, with the majority of them indicating that they plan to remain fully remote.

Gardner: Is there a back and forth in how companies have been responding to this? And, of course, it’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen in two weeks, never mind two months, but is this creating some confusion, some angst? Is that contributing to what some people are calling the Great Revelation of why workers are seeking something new?

Workers want out of the office

Minahan: Certainly, there’s a near-term part of it where companies haven’t even figured out how to get folks back safely in a condition that’s conducive to working. But more realistically, it’s been a major reset. We’ve talked about the Great Resignation but also, I have heard it defined differently as the Great Revelation.

In fact, a similar study of 1,500 knowledge workers across North America shows that as many as 50 percent of workers in the U.S. have left or plan to leave their jobs. There are several different reasons, but it really boils down to three things: burnout, opt-out, and time out.

Well over a third of knowledge workers surveyed said they left their jobs because they're burned out by the stress of working in this prolonged pandemic environment as well as over the demands in the workplace.

From a burnout perspective, well over a third said they left their jobs because they’re just burned out by the stress of working in this prolonged pandemic environment as well as over the demands in the workplace. From an opt-out part, a lot of folks either took time during the pandemic to retrain themselves, to get new skills, or they just wanted a new challenge. They’ve been working at their employer for a while and they’re looking for a promotion or they literally just want to take on a new challenge.

An interesting part of the study is a number of respondents said they ditched their jobs really to feel like they can get some control over their lives, which had somewhat gotten out of control. The last part of the study is time out, and you think about the dynamics of the workforce. We often forget, but if we can think back, unfortunately 48, 50 months ago we had a global talent shortage. McKinsey was estimating that we had a shortage of 95 million medium- to high-skilled workers, especially those with the most in-demand skills, such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and security, skills needed to digitize and modernize your business. And guess what? That hasn’t gone away. So, these are the dynamics that are really causing a complete reset of the workplace.

Gardner: Andrew, it sounds as though workers have learned a few lessons through this whole experiment during the last couple of years. What’s working best for them when it comes to getting things done and how different is that from just two years ago?

Bartolini: Right. I mean this has been a dramatic, radical shift. Necessity is the mother of invention and at the core, people are resilient. They evolved when they had to. When we go back to March of 2020, there was no choice, but people found a way to keep working. Maybe they had a home office but more frequently, people were working from their kitchen tables and from their bedrooms.


How workers and teams were able to maintain productivity was amazing, but it wasn’t necessarily easy. Some part of our research focuses on the contingent workforce but also on the supply chain. I remember speaking to the number-two person for a Fortune 50 pharma company a couple of weeks after the shutdown. She was talking to me about how they were completely retooling several Asian factories to start manufacturing hand sanitizer because they clearly saw a huge demand or future demand coming.

We started to drill into the weeds, and I was talking about the challenges of the global supply chain. She paused and said, “The biggest challenge for us has been in dealing with the team working from home.” This was sort of at the height of uncertainty around the risks of COVID-19 and the impact there. And as someone who’s been generally working virtually for about 20 years now, I almost forgot that. I live in Boston where the rush-hour traffic is terrible because most people work in an office environment. Overnight, that changed.

It sounds odd, but the pandemic, because it helped minimize distractions -- you can’t go to a movie, you can’t go to a mall-- helped people focus on the work at hand. I think that the pandemic unified teams, I mean especially for those with family responsibilities. When you bring the office into your home, you erase the lines between work and home and things blend into each other, particularly for people with young children at home.

And so, I think the reaction to that was that team leaders and leaders of large organizations understood that they needed to instill greater levels of communication and collaboration. Really, as the leaders themselves, many chief procurement officers (CPOs) talked about having much better scheduling and interacting more with the people on their teams as well as their direct reports in a virtual environment than they had in the preceding years. So, I think it’s all part of having to learn on the fly. I think by and large, organizations were sort of able to get through the challenging time and are now settling into this period of greater uncertainty. 

Gardner: Well, it seems as though the workers get it. The workers have found how to be productive and gain balance in their whole lives quickly, but employers seem to be still thinking we’re going back to the nine-to-five and the cubicles thing. Are employers lagging in their perceptions? Why haven’t they learned the same lessons of how this can work so well?

Mind the management-employee gap

Bartolini: Yes, I do think there’s always been a gap between sort of the workers and their views and management if you will. I don’t think that the gap, at least in our research, is necessarily related to the pandemic itself. When we were looking at it sort of pre-pandemic, maybe around 21 percent of the workforce was remote. We’re doing a study right now and the early indications are that post-pandemic, fewer than 10 percent maybe even fewer than 5 percent of all businesses plan to revert to the way things were, doing that nine-to-five thing.

Workers Speak: Remote Work is Here to Stay.

Now You Can Enable it in a Secure, Reliable Way.

So, I think that the gap is a larger, more general one. I mean, Great Resignation, Great Revelation right there. When you look at the shift in power from employer to employee over the past couple of years -- the McKinsey study that Tim just quoted being one great example -- we’re really dealing with the market where there’s this Great Resignation plus a huge demand for talent. There’s extremely low rates of unemployment and we’re really experiencing what we would call a talent revolution. It’s a revolution that’s hitting workers of all types. It’s hitting white collar, blue collar, and the contingents as well. It impacts their voice and what they’re looking for from an employer, whether that’s flexibility or a sort of greater alignment between the companies that you work for and the purpose of those companies. 

There’s strong demand for engagement with corporate culture. This is really across the blended workforce. Look at the blue-collar workers seeking safer and better work conditions. Workers seek the intrinsic rewards, such as better pay, better benefits, but also the extrinsic benefits. There’s been that gap and employers have been slower to respond to that, but by necessity again, they’re going to need to start to craft engagement models and employment models that allow them to attract the best talent.

Gardner: Tim, what do these employees need to do to close this gap functionally even if they get it, even if they want to? What’s missing from a lot of employers in terms of making the accommodations to keep their employees happy, productive, and flexible?

Redefine where, who, and how talent works

Minahan: Now, the savvy employers recognize that this is an opportunity to drive greater innovation to recruit and retain the best skill set. They need to use a lot of the same tactics that they used out of necessity during the pandemic, such as allowing people to work more flexibly and remotely and arming them with more effective productivity and collaboration tools. They need to be able to rethink their workforce strategies. Whereas before they had to compete with folks down the street in major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and New York, now they can hire the best talent by empowering the work wherever they want.

When they're doing thoughtful research, maybe it's time for them to be remote. When it comes to brainstorming and strategic planning, maybe its better for them to come together.

When you think about what this post-pandemic world of work is going to look like, there’s really three categories. One is what we’ve talked about and that you hear about in the press, which is where work gets done. It’s much more transcendent than just does Sam or Susie come back in the office three days a week, five days a week, or not at all? Really, it is about, “Gee, how do I create and maybe even rethink the role that the office plays? How do we create a work environment and a toolset that allows employees to perform the different types of work they do in the best way possible?” When they’re doing kind of thoughtful, meaningful research and other work, maybe it’s better for them to be remote. When it comes time for brainstorming, planning, strategic planning, that type of thing, maybe it’s better for them to come together.

Then you begin to look at your real-estate footprint. “Do we have a big office in a major metropolitan area, or do we downscale? Do we transform that office from one where everyone goes into the office, punches a virtual clock and closes the door into more of a collaboration space where they come together for very discrete moments and activities, or into a customer-experience space where we can invest more in those high-traffic metropolitan areas and create an engaging experience such as you might experience in an Apple store?” That’s the “where.”

Then, there’s the “who.” Smart companies recognize that they can use what they learn through the pandemic around remote work to go out and recruit new talent. In other areas, they’re not beholden to a commuting distance to one of their office hubs. Also, thinking about rebalancing the workforce where they might not be able to secure that developer or designer when competing with Amazon or Google on a full-time basis, there’s a whole host of very skilled and talented freelance workers and free agents who have that skill that are willing and interested in taking the projects that they want. So, you can get the top talent.

And then the last part is the “how they work.” Over the several past few decades, we’ve been amassed a massive amount of tech debt. We’ve deployed a whole host of individual devices and applications that on their own were designed to solve a particular business process whether that’s automating the procurement process or something else, right, Andrew?

Bartolini: Right.

Minahan: However, when you stack them all on top of each other, there’s a cacophony of technology now that disrupts an employee’s day. So, having a digital workspace allows an employee to have access to all the work resources they need in a very secure way, no matter where work gets done, and layers it with automation and productivity and collaboration tools that allow them to work at their best. It allows for more efficient work execution and collaboration across all of these systems so that they’re not being disrupted throughout the day, but they actually quickly can get work done, quickly find the information they need, and do their best most meaningful work.

Gardner: Andrew, Tim just laid out some interesting things around where and who and how but the “who” kind of jumps out at me. It seems to me that a full-time employee (FTE) isn’t the only option. You don’t always need to know where they are, but maybe you also don’t need an FTE for every type of process or productivity. So, what is the future of work exchange and how should we think about the types of labor categories differently while we’re re-examining everything else at the same time?

Flexible work here, there, and everywhere

Bartolini: Tim is exactly right, and I think your question is absolutely on point. So, the future of work exchange is a web site that our partners launched only last year. We’ve been tracking the growth and expansion of the contingent workforce since the start for the past 13 years. They’ve really focused on what we define as the future of work and we think about that as the strategic optimization of how work gets done through the evolution of talent engagement, the advent of new technology and innovative tools, and the transformation of business standards.

And the reason why we’ve invested greater resources in this area is because the growth and expansion of the contingent workforce, the extended workforce -- it’s called a lot of different things today-- has grown dramatically over the past decade. Our research shows that 47 percent of all workers working for a company today are not FTEs. So almost half of all workers are contingent workers. They’re the independent contractors and consultants.

A decade ago, that number was 25 percent, and we expect that number to climb above 50 percent. We expect there’s probably a natural ceiling that will be hit at some point in a world where talent continues to be a major differentiator. But as organizations start to be more focused on “how” work gets done, rather than “who” does it, there’s been a shift. We’ve erased many of the geographic constraints that companies have traditionally had when trying to staff projects and to find the best talent. That’s been removed by technology and the advent of digital marketplaces where people can find the talent and do matching.

Workers Are on the Move. Here Are Five Things

To Keep Your Business Moving With Them.

There’s been a shift in the way that organizations are thinking about what it is that they need to do to get their projects done, to get their work done, and it’s moved from the old view where the contingent worker was the temporary employee. Somebody’s going on vacation, somebody’s going out on maternity leave, we need to find somebody to fill a tactical position. Now, the expanded view of who we can bring in to do work and what that work is, much more strategic projects. It’s an evolving mindset that has been accelerated by the pandemic. It’s an interesting and exciting time for those working in procurement and HR to get their hands around what does their total workforce look like as they go forward.

Gardner: Tim, Ardent Partners reports that almost half of the workforce is no longer full-time. That means when they start working for a company, they’re not onboarded in the same way. They don’t get, “Here’s your 15 applications. Here’s your laptop. You have now 45 different sign-ons to deal with.” Now, you need to do all that on a more granular basis, maybe focused on a process or a project, not on an employee definition. How can technology support this interesting new mix of types of workers when it comes to getting things done?

Minahan: You’re absolutely right. That is something that companies had to grapple with throughout the pandemic. I’m thinking of some of our financial services customers that saw, as you might expect, a dramatic uptick in their remote financial advisory services.

One was telling me that they hired 3,000 new employees during the pandemic, and they needed to onboard them all remotely. They needed to get them technology very quickly, they needed to get them access to the applications and information they required and that was where they kind of really embraced a secure digital workspace strategy, leveraging in this case our desktop as a service offering to be able to quickly stand up a desktop that had a personalized workspace for that employee.

Thanks to virtual desktop-as-a-service, employees were able to get all the onboarding materials delivered in a reliable and secure manner so they could ensure the corporate information remained private and secure.

In some cases, they would send out a thin client device like a Chromebook to allow that employee to have access to a device. Or, in other cases, at least early on throughout the pandemic, they would allow them to use their home device. Because they had a virtual desktop-as-a-service offering, they were able to ensure that not only did their employee have reliable access to all the onboarding materials, all the applications, all the training, all the information needed, but also that it was delivered in a reliable and very secure way so they could ensure that their corporate information remained secure.

This is offering a whole new flexibility particularly as we look at who does the work. As we’ve transitioned virtual desktop delivery from on-premises to the cloud, it’s opened up and made desktop delivery much more turnkey and much more practical for a broader set of use cases. So, not just FTEs, but contingent workers, seasonal workers, temp labor, these freelancers that we’ve talked about, designers and the like, it’s allowed companies to stand up and empower and onboard these employees very quickly without putting their corporate resources at risk.

One great example of this is a customer and innovation partner of ours, Major League Baseball (MLB), which, throughout the pandemic in the full spotlight, had to grapple with how to put the season on, how to keep the players and employees safe, how to empower them. But at the same time, everyone was seeing rising incidents of cybersecurity threats. They were able to empower not just this employee base but also their supply chain with desktop services.

A lot of their supply chain partners are small partners and they needed to step up their security requirements and they just didn’t have a large IT department. So, MLB basically extended this desktop service to that supply chain so that they could be compliant, continue to deliver the high grade of innovative and quality services that MLB needed while meeting the stepped-up security requirements. And so, I think we’re going to see a massive shift if we believe that flexible work is here to stay. The only consistent place that an employee is going to work is going to be their digital workspace.

Gardner: Andrew, sometimes I think we get complacent about how important a role this technology is playing in allowing this all to happen. One of the ways for me to wrap my head around how essential and innovative and powerful the technology is, is to say, well, what if this pandemic hit 10 or even 15 years ago? If this had happened 10 or 15 years ago and we didn’t have cloud computing, we didn’t have desktop as a service, and virtualization was just starting out, where would we have been? It seems to me that we lucked out, right? We got just over the line on where this technology is capable enough to allow people to work remotely almost anywhere on the planet. This technology is, I think, underappreciated. 

Tech enables transition to digital workspace

Bartolini: Yeah, I would say, no doubt. I mean, there’s been a long steady march towards driving improved communication whether that’s among teams and the capability to chat or among trading partners as well. I mean, that’s another piece. If you think about the growth of the global supply chain, that’s been a technology-enabled phenomenon as much as anything else, when it comes to the workers and to the workforce, right?

If this was 10 or 15 years ago, I’d like to think that we would have seen many of today’s innovations come along much sooner. But from a workforce management standpoint, when you’re dealing with a workforce that is not full-time, that is much more transient in how it engages and how you engage, your approach to that workforce necessarily has to change. From a technology standpoint, if you have your old HR playbook of how you onboard a traditional employee, you need that same playbook now for the freelancers, for the temps, and you need to have those things codified and smooth because there’s a war for talent that’s going on right now.

And so, it’s not just the FTEs that are picking and choosing when and how they engage. It’s the independents as well. It is this extended workforce. And so, you as an organization have to be at the ready. You have to be the employer of choice whether that’s a short-term project or the long-term employer of still 50 percent of the workforce.

So, yes, technology has been absolutely critical, and it is only going to play a greater role. When I speak to procurement leaders, CPOs and directors of sourcing, there’s been a shift that has happened and it’s going to continue to happen. As you see company offices and the investment in corporate real estate shrink, that money is redeployed to productivity tools, to technology that can create the digital workspaces that Tim has just been talking about. So, there is this transition, and the technology has absolutely played a key role.

Gardner: And Tim, we talked a little earlier about employers needing to close the gap between recognizing a flexible workforce future. It seems to me that this has forced them to appreciate how impactful the technology can be, and in many ways, we’re only scratching the surface of what the technology is capable of. So, is the silver lining here that we’ve created a catalyst to technology adoption and therefore also a catalyst to further technology development?

Minahan: Yes, Dana. I think it’s the combination. Certainly, the pandemic has expedited everything as folks are looking at accelerating their digital transformation and the shift to more flexible work models. That is causing companies to think not just about how to deliver all the work resources, all the applications, all the content, all the collaboration tools that employees need to be productive and do it securely so they can work anywhere, but also looking at, “Gee, how do I help them work better?”

At the top of the list for prioritized investments for IT are collaboration tools that foster more efficient work execution across all these distributed work environments.

If you look at any of the analyst studies out there, at the top of the list of prioritized investments for IT this year are collaboration tools. Tools that foster more efficient work execution and collaboration across these distributed work environments. Some of them are actual tools such as whiteboarding tools, project management tools. And some of them are actually, this role in robotic process automation (RPA) or automation providing a way for frontline business analysts and business users to knit together all of the source systems to complete a single business process so that employees can actually not be burdened by technology but can drive differentiated business processes. That’s a key opportunity as companies are looking at, “Gee, a lot of the stuff I invested in out of necessity during the pandemic is now allowing me to drive new business processes and innovation in my business that I couldn’t think through before.”

But all of this needs to be accompanied by changes in policy and ultimately culture. So, if you think about our experience during the pandemic including on this podcast here whether we’re using Zoom or Teams or whatever, it was really the great equalizer. We all have the same size box, we all have the same access to the same tools, the same information but as we rotate back to what a lot of folks are trying to work out as hybrid work, it opens up the opportunity to create a high level of inequity in the workplace where you have these battles between the office-first culture and the remote culture and how you run meetings.

Gardner: We used to call them road warriors, remember?

Equality essential for hybrid workmates

Minahan: Exactly. And it’s a big shift that we need to talk about. How do you create equity in the workplace? You just assume that you’re going to have a planning meeting, a work environment where you’re going to have remote workers and in the office workers and how do you create that equality? So, as we talk about this hybrid work model, companies really have an opportunity now to figure it out.

Here at Citrix, for example, we are retrofitting all of our conference rooms to be hybrid oriented. We’ve got cameras now in the middle of the table. We’re operating on Teams whenever we have a meeting. We’ve got cameras on the whiteboard and we’re trying to develop protocols or policies that include remote people participating in a meeting. For example, they get to respond or ask the first questions. Those types of things which we haven’t really thought through need to be thought through, in addition to the technology infrastructure that enables such work.

What is the Future of Digital Workspaces?

Tune in to The Future of Work Podcast.

Gardner: Andrew, companies right now are sort of dealing with some tough, thorny problems around flexible work models and also the talent shortage. What does your research tell you about what they should do sooner rather than later in terms of how to best adjust to this? What is the research telling you are sort of the fast-track things that people should be doing to be best prepared for our strategic approach to these problems?

Bartolini: The new flexible work model, the extended or contingent workforce and its growth in size and in strategic impact really has changed the way that organizations need to engage talent. So, if you are a hiring manager, if you lead a large organization, hiring is now a 24/7, 365-day activity because workers’ duration and the amount of time that they’re staying with a single employee also has shortened dramatically.

And so, you need to be developing and building a talent pipeline and maintaining that pipeline in an ongoing fashion. You need to be working to become the employer of choice. The research that we’ve seen and the strategies that organizations should be employing, if they haven’t already, include that there needs to be a more empathetic approach to how you manage your people. I think that the workforce today, because of the labor shortage or the low unemployment and the high demand for talent really has allowed employees to spend more time seeking out the jobs with employers that match their own sensibilities.

Is there a purpose that the company can communicate to their candidates and to their current workers? What is the culture of the organization and how is that culture manifested when you’re dealing with people that are in a distributed environment and not meeting face to face? How are you thinking about the benefits and how are you trying to better understand what it is that your workers need from a flexibility standpoint?

I think all of those things sort of go back to how do you engage your talent? And that’s the talent that you’re trying to recruit to bring into your organization and the talent that you have now that you’re trying to retain.

Gardner: Similar question for you, Tim. As companies are grappling with flexible work and talent shortage issues that are critical, what does Citrix’s research and its product development efforts tell you that they should be doing now tactically in order to be set up strategically for this cultural shift as we’ve termed it?

Minahan: The number one thing, if you look at it, is that 90 percent of employees plan to use a flexible work model this year. And 80 percent prefer to continue on in that fashion. Companies really need to think about their workforce strategies in different ways. They need to be open to flexible work arrangements to secure the top talent and the modern skills that they need, but also to retain their existing talent who are increasingly looking for new opportunities in this hot job market.

Secondly, they need to create an environment from a technology standpoint that is conducive to allowing employees to do their best work. Before, if everyone was coming into the office, your technology investment was pretty systematic. Now, you have to look at what it is going to take to empower an employee to work from their own device while protecting corporate resources, while ensuring that they have the collaboration, communication, and productivity tools that they need to foster more efficient work execution and collaboration across this distributed environment.

Those are the types of things folks need to think about. But they need to be coupled with a change in policy and culture. One that is forward thinking about, “Okay, if I have a new workforce strategy that is a balance between FTEs and contractors to make sure we have the right skills on the right project and people who are managing things in much greater pools of talent. What are the policies that we need to put in place to make that most effective?

If I know my employees and assume that we’re always going to be in a work environment where we’ve got to have in-person and distributed folks participating in the same meeting, what am I doing to foster an environment that makes it a meaningful experience for everyone involved, not just those who are sitting in the room? And then finally, what am I doing culturally to ensure that development opportunities and career advancement opportunities are not hindered by the choice of where an employee works?

There’s a major reset that companies need to think through. In order to be competitive, to be able to secure the top talent, tame the top talent, and drive and modernize your business with this talent, you need to adjust on those three vectors.

Gardner: Tim, I really respect the amount of research that you’re doing there at Citrix. You’re being empirical and not just using gut instinct on this and that’s great. And you’re also sharing this research, so where can people go to learn more? Where can I find some of the resources that Citrix is providing?

Minahan: I appreciate the feedback, Dana. You can go to Fieldwork by Citrix where we incorporate and make our research available. We also have our own kind of remote-work podcast there. Go to to check it out.

Gardner: Andrew, where can people learn more about Ardent Partners, their research, and the future of work exchange?

Bartolini: Go to, that’s our site that’s got all of our current research and innovative ideas and tools. Tim even has a few articles up on the site there, too, which we appreciate.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Citrix.

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Monday, February 14, 2022

How low-code development has entered a maturity spurt thanks to new process-oriented capabilities

Closing the gap between the applications and services a company needs -- and the ones they can actually produce -- has long been a missing keystone for attaining digital transformation.

For increasingly software-driven organizations, the speed by which developers produce the needed processes, data flows, and business transactions has been much too slow for much too long. Fast-forward to the pressing new requirements of pervasively digital business in 2022, and it’s abundantly clear that something has to change.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

Stay with us now as BriefingsDirect explores the latest capabilities and burgeoning strengths of Low-Code software development. To learn how the current maturity of Low-Code development will revolutionize the delivery of essential business applications, please join Matt Calkins, Founder and CEO of Appian in Reston, VA. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Matt, in a nutshell, what is Low Code, and why is this a great time for it to revolutionize digital business?

Calkins: Low Code is a new way to build applications and processes. Instead of using code, drawing your code line by line, you make a picture. You draw a flowchart with lines, boxes, and arrows -- with a start node and an end node -- and that becomes your program.


Instead of thinking of a program, it’s now like a series of characters and instructions. At its essence, it’s a drawing. That’s a very human way to program and to envision a process. It’s a very human way -- and it’s empowering to people because it’s intuitive to all of us. It’s also a lot faster. And this is the key advantage of low code. When you do less coding, you move faster.

Now a person can describe a new process by drawing a flowchart -- maybe 10 times as fast, even 20 times as fast, as they could have described the same process using lines of code. When you put that kind of power of speed in the hands of a person, they can develop a lot more software. They can not only develop it, but they can also go back and change it periodically to keep up with the times. It allows far greater flexibility in the way your organization behaves as expressed through software.

Gardner: What is it about the maturity of Low Code now that has more people excited about using it?

Speeding the inevitability of change

Calkins: Low Code is about speed, and speed is helpful because it helps you keep up with change. There’s never been a time that there’s been so much change to keep up with. In the last few years, change has gone from being a nice-to-have to being a must-have.

We've been talking about change and digital transformation for years, but it's never been so imperative as in the last few years. We've now reached a turning point where change is no longer an option.

In the pandemic, every organization had to change to survive, to keep up with the way their customers wanted to do business, the way their employees wanted to work, the locations from which they wanted to work, and to keep up with regulations.

We’ve been talking about change and digital transformation for years, but it’s never been so imperative as in the last few years. We’ve now reached a turning point where change is no longer an option. It’s a necessity. The speed of Low Code allows you to change -- and change is what we’re all about at Appian.

Gardner: So, what can make software development more of a wind in your sail rather than an obstacle to overcome?

Calkins: Software has been too difficult to create -- and to change. Someday we’re going to look back on this period of history and be amazed at how hard we made it on ourselves to program our machines. And how difficult it was to change the behavior of our organizations, because, of course, our behavior is written in software. We’re going to look back and think it’s astonishing that our software was the most immutable thing about our organizations. It’s harder to change than our building, our logo, or our management. Anything could be changed more easily than our software.

That makes no sense to me, because software is ideas, and it should be easy to change them. But the way we’ve created code is so difficult. This structured language with which we instruct machines, it is so complicated, it is so inscrutable. If you didn’t write it, it’s hard to know what the person who did write it was thinking.

It remains very difficult to create and to change our applications. This has got to change. We know we need more software -- and we’re not getting more developers. So, one way or another, we need a faster way to create and change our software.

Low Code is such a way because it makes it intuitive. You’re drawing, you’re dragging and dropping boxes and arrows; it’s very human-like in the way we’re communicating. It’s the last link in a long chain of advancements in the ease by which people instruct their machines. Starting with Ada Lovelace programming the Babbage machine, and all the way up to the present day, we have kept making it easier to program our computers.

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Low Code is just one more step in that direction. It’s not a finished step, we keep trying to make Low Code more intuitive, using more wizards, more drag-and-drop, and minimizing the need for anything that looks like code. We keep working on that, and now we understand the urgency between the global demand for new processes or software and the urgency of change in the pandemic era. We have every reason to be as fast as possible in the way we provide change to our customers.

Gardner: I suppose another difficulty has been the communication of requirements from those who are in the trenches, so to speak, to those who are doing the software development. Is there something about Low Code too that helps understand what the business is doing? Is there a benefit not only in the coding, but also in the communication?

Calkins: Yes, absolutely, there is. If you or I were to look at a Low-Code application, we would understand the main structure of how it works. We would understand the flow because it is a flowchart.

By making it understandable to everybody, even the ones who didn't program it, we've democratized the meaning of a program. We're made it easier to create that program.

By making it understandable to everybody, even the ones who didn’t program it, we’ve democratized the meaning of a program. We’ve made it easier to create that program, but also easier to understand it and therefore, to validate it, to look at it and think that’s not exactly the way I believe it should work. If I’m in the trenches, you may have written it, but I’m looking at it and I know that it’s not right.

That’s a higher degree of common knowledge that will help us be on the same page, write better software, and pivot our organizations more quickly to match the needs that only our people in the trenches, as you say, know that we have.

Gardner: You mentioned earlier, Matt, that we’re having a hard time finding developers. Seems like we’re having a hard time finding all sorts of skills and labor, but development seems near the top. If we have a finite set of resources, but we have growing demand for software, how do we reconcile these two realities? 

Calkins: We’re just going to have to get better at creating applications more cheaply and with less time. Because we can’t continue these two curves; they’re diverging, and we need way more software and we’re not getting way more developers.

And for that matter, the cost of a developer we can get is very expensive. So, we need to be more efficient and get more applications per developer, per year. So, if it’s not Low Code, it’s going to have to be something very much like Low Code, a more human, intuitive, and faster way to express our instructions to a machine.

Another way you do this, of course, is to democratize programming to the point where not everybody who does it has to be a “developer,” maybe we could take somebody who’s a power user and bring them in and make them a programmer.

Maybe we could create a programming language, a Low-Code programming language, that is easy enough so a fairly technical person could spend a month and become a productive professional developer in this medium. That’s what we’re going for. We want to democratize access to programming so that more people become developers -- and developers become far more efficient.

Pioneers in democratizing programming

Gardner: What is it about Appian’s legacy that puts you in a position to be helpful in all of this? What is it about what Appian brings to the table that helps make this transformation?

Calkins: We’ve been focused on this for a long time. For about 15 years, we’ve been on this exact issue. How do you create a program by drawing a picture? I encountered that idea nearly 20 years ago, loved the concept, felt it was necessary.

The way the world was going -- more software, not more programmers -- I realized we’re going to need something like that. So, we have been working on it for more than a decade and a half. We were the first Low-Code company to go public in 2017. We’ve been pioneering this space; we’re not the only pioneer, but we’re definitely one of them. 

We’ve put a lot of thought into this, and our entire business is focused on just this: Empowering people to create their processes. And so, we’ve a lot to add. We’re setting the standards. We’re creating the new shape of the market. We’re introducing the new nomenclature.

Low Code wasn’t a big thing when we decided that that was the right term. We went public with “Low Code” as our headline, and a lot of people thought, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that. You should always go public with a very famous well-known market.” But we were first. And now, it’s a much bigger deal.

Gardner: I’ve been curious over the years as to why, as software become more sophisticated – with computer aided design (CAD), engineering, and media and video production, and the design of homes and buildings – that it seems like developers put all their emphasis into automating the business tasks of others. Have they been too busy to automate what they were doing? Do the cobblers’ children have no shoes? Why has the development of software for the development of software lagged?

Calkins: You know, it’s funny. You’re right on this dichotomy. You could think of the advances in software as being of two types. There’s the sheer power inside the software application. And then there’s the connection from the user to the application. And, of course, according to Moore’s Law, the processing power is increasing all the time.

We have so much more power to work with. It’s incredible what these programs can do. But the interface hasn’t advanced as much, has it? The connection between a human and the machine is not advancing, not according to the pace of Moore’s Law.

Sometimes it seems pretty backward. It seems like we ought to be able to do better in facilitating human-to-machine collaboration and instruction. And at Appian, that’s what we’re all about. You can’t just surf the advances in the latest chip technology. You have got to think about what would be more human and what would be more intuitive and empowering. That has to be a critical area of advancement as well. 

Gardner: Well, the need for improvement is very clear. So, Matt, as an industry, where is Low Code going?

Low Code with a purpose

Calkins: Low Code is in the midst of a dramatic change. Like all industries that reach maturity, it has to change at some point from focusing on what it does to focusing on what it’s for. So far, the Low-Code industry is focused on what it does, and you can see that in the name Low Code even. That’s what it does. It gives you an interface to create a program with less code, that’s Low Code.

We need to make it easier to conceive of a new process, design it, deploy it, run it, and change it -- end to end.

What it doesn’t address is what it’s for, and what it’s for has changed. This industry is now about providing the ability to bring change to our customers. Our customers want to create a new behavior, and these days behavior is done in software. You’re going to create a new process.

We therefore need to make it easy for a customer to conceive of that new process, design it, deploy it, run it, and change it -- everything about it, end-to-end. We are going to be a change engine that allows them to create -- and do everything -- with a new process.

That’s the emerging mission for our industry. We can’t afford any longer to be about the technology. We must be about the effect of the technology.

Gardner: Matt, can we unpack this for two different constituencies? One would be the business leader, so they understand what you’re getting at. But also the technologists, the IT people and developers. What does this mean for businesses, and what does this mean for technologists?

Calkins: First, it means that business and technology are going to be using the same product. Instead of having a product for business, a product for technology, and yet another product later on -- we need a unified suite. We need a change engine that gets you from discovering your new process to designing your new process to automating and deploying your new process. The business will be involved in this largely in the discovery phase and the return on investment (ROI) phase.

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And then, the technologists and the developers are involved in the design, deployment, and automation. It’s going to be one platform, a single product with a single stock keeping unit (SKU) getting you from the beginning to the end on a new process as fast as possible. By bringing all these people together via a common language and common interface, we make it so much easier for businesses to change. And if you don’t think this is necessary, just consider how much difficulty businesses have today with changing fast enough.

They’re always behind the times, always behaving a little too slowly, always reacting to new ideas slower than they should; always, like you said, having their aspirations unmet and their backlog too big. Businesses need to move faster. They need change. And so, we’re providing a change engine to facilitate that most fundamental want in every business I’ve seen.

Gardner: Another trend I’ve noticed over the years, Matt, is that in development, we go through a pendulum swing between centralization and decentralization. On one end there are a lot of different new tools, better testing environments, and yet a lack of integration between them all. That gets too unwieldy, and we swing back to more centralized and integrated platforms.

Is that what’s happening with Low Code as well? Are we swinging in one direction or the other?

Calkins: You’re completely right about that pendulum. I’ve seen the same thing over the last few decades. And lately, the pendulum has swung pretty far toward the power of the largest stack vendors and the big technology vendors. They’ve become exceptionally powerful, pervasive, and irreplaceable in many organizations. 

I believe that the pendulum, when it swings, is going to swing back in the other direction. It’s going back to best-of-breed because best-of-breed tends to have better products. It’s going to be very important for customers to get the speed of change that they want and the agility in the way they execute their plans.

Big tech is going to be a straitjacket to achieving that. So, they’re going to want freedom of choice. They’re going to want to be able to plug into whatever data sources they may have around the enterprise instead of having to move all the data to one location. 

There’s going to be a swing back in that pendulum toward best-of-breed and freedom, and the natural idiosyncrasy that emerges in any large organization. You can’t put that in a straitjacket or a cookie cutter. They’re going to want to express their unique plans and their unique backgrounds.

Low Code is empowering because you can program quickly -- and so you can change quickly. You can adapt to your unique organization and your own data from many different places.

Low Code is an empowerment tool in this way. It’s empowering because you can program quickly -- and so you can change quickly. But it’s also empowering in that you can adapt to the unique organization that you already are. You can adapt to the fact that you have your data in 27 different places. Some of them are in the cloud, and some of them are on-premises. They’re in different formats. Some of them are databases that you haven’t touched in 20 years. 

Your data is scattered, right? That’s a situation that demands freedom, and Low Code is very good at adapting to unique situations like that. So, Low Code is empowering in that it facilitates idiosyncrasy and it also is going to benefit from that swing away from centralization and toward best-of-breed and individual empowerment.

Gardner: When we look for the best-of-breed approach to things like process mining, Low Code, and democratization of skills, are there specific use cases that come to mind where this will be the most valuable the soonest? Is there a low-lying fruit, if you will, to where Low Code platforms will emerge so that the early adopters get the best, empowering results?

Behavioral change in software

Calkins: Every organization of scale needs change, especially in the last few years, because change has become such a norm. Every organization is going to need to make changes.

Imagine a new regulation. Imagine entering a new business. Imagine launching a new product. Imagine having your customers expect something different from you and needing to change your behavior to adapt to that. Imagine your employees saying that they want to work in a new way from a new location, in a new pattern, and on different hours. All of these things require new behaviors. And when you adopt a behavior at scale in an organization, you are always facilitating it with software. So, every change an organization needs to make now is a change that is written or drawn in software.

For example, we recently helped a large financial institution, maybe the most famous financial institution in the world. They were launching a new product, entering a new market. They needed new behaviors and they realized they couldn’t code it fast enough, so they turned to us.

They used our Low-Code platform to program the new behaviors, the new case management that they required to launch this product, and then they were able to launch on time. It was successful. Every time they have to make a new launch or adjustment or behavior around this product, they can come right back to this platform and write some new processes and it’s as easy as drawing.

It’s Low Code, very simple. It’s become a major part of the way they do business. They’ve relied on Low Code to enable their agility -- and every large organization is facing the same situation. They need to be agile. They’re looking for a means to change quickly and Low Code can be that.

Gardner: Matt, are there any misconceptions that you find in the field about Low Code? Perhaps it’s time to better understand the reality. It sounds like from that last example that there are some people who might not be understanding the benefits.

Calkins: The biggest misconception about Low Code is that it isn’t powerful. It’s simple and so, people assume that it’s a toy. But it’s anything but. In fact, it is as powerful as a development language. It’s in use today by the largest organizations in the world to create some of the most important processes that they run, processes that are a matter of law or a matter of satisfying the customer that addresses the core workflows in an organization. Low Code is used for some of the world’s most important processes today, and so, that’s the number one misconception.

The next misconception is that it’s hard to get into. Low Code in fact is exceptionally simple to get into. In fact, you could log on to Appian’s website and learn right there. We have videos, there’s a training course, there’s a free environment that you can use. We’re making it as easy as possible to learn Low Code, make that part of your skill set and make use of it. So, Low Code is actually easy to get into and very powerful, but not everyone realizes it.

Gardner: How do traditional software developers feel about Low Code? How do they react to it?

Calkins: Well, some of them dive right in and realize that it’s very empowering. Others are very attached to a programming language that they’ve used in the past and preferred to stick with it. I see all kinds of reactions.

Low Code is simple so people assume it's a toy. But it's anything but, it's as powerful as a development language. And it's used for some of the most important processes today.

But to those on the edge of programming, let’s say they’re starting a career. They’re in their 20s, they’re learning their place in the world of development and this Low Code tool comes along. Well, they love it, they love it. Those who are getting going with their careers see this as an unqualified positive -- and they enthusiastically get involved.

It’s true, the wages are very high right now, salaries are high for people who know how to do this. There’s a shortage of Low-Code developers. The people who know how to do this are commanding a lot of money and influence in the market. So, I see Low Code as a great tool for those who are finding their way into the development field.

Gardner: If you’re a chief technology officer (CTO), a chief executive officer (CEO), or on the board, if you’re a chief information officer (CIO), how does Appian help you in your role and your company?

Empowered processes and partners

Calkins: If you’re an executive at a big organization, you have to ask yourself, “Are we changing fast enough?” Almost certainly, the answer is going to be, “No.” Seriously think about that. Don’t measure yourself against what you thought was possible. Measure yourself against what your customers would like.

Are we moving as fast as our customers wish we were moving? Are we introducing new products? Are we changing our behavior? Are we as responsive as, ideally, we could be? There’s almost no business I know of that could say yes to that question.

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If it’s true that you would like to move faster, now is your chance. There’s now such a thing as a Low-Code suite that can take you from discovering a new process, to designing it, and automating it in the same product. You can increase the rate at which you launch a new process by 10x or 20x.

So, an executive can ask these questions and then direct the organization to look into Low Code. Whether you’re on the board, the CEO, the CTO, or the CIO, the direction would be the same. Ask that question and then talk to some Low-Code vendors.

Gardner: How about the ecosystem that’s around you? It seems like over the years, there have been consultancies that have developed within vertical industries and focus on solutions. It seems to me that Low Code would be very important and of interest to them. They’re not interested in selling software; they’re interested in creating solutions in vertical industries. What is your partner ecosystem like?

Calkins: There’s been a lot of enthusiasm. If you have expertise in one vertical industry and you want to bring that expertise to value by instantiating it. Well, there’s no better way to instantiate it than in a Low-Code framework. It’s so easy to deploy and adjust. Every client you have is going to want a variation on your expertise, but the core expertise can be expressed and then modified to fit each circumstance so quickly in Low Code.

Instead of selling your time on an hourly basis, you’re selling your ideas and they’re reproducible. This is a critical pivot where you go from selling the minutes to selling the ideas. This has been very enthusiastically adopted by people who are consultants and who have expertise in one industry or another.

Gardner: Matt, where should we expect the direction of Low Code productivity to go next?

See the process mining big picture

Calkins: Appian recently announced a major new product. We announced our process mining module, which we’ve been working on for a long time. We bought a company, and we’ve been developing it. We finally merged it all into our platform and Low-Code suite.

Process mining is like an x-ray giving you a view into what behaviors happen inside your enterprise. It looks at the usage logs of your applications, weaves them together to create a unified understanding of the sequences and the patterns of behaviors that happen whenever you launch a new use case of any kind.

Process mining is like an x-ray giving you a view into what behaviors happen inside your enterprise. It creates a unified understanding of behaviors.

So, after a customer calls, as an example of a use case, what do you do? If a problem happens in such a process, what sequence of actions do you then best pursue? Based on that process mining look -- that x-ray into your actions -- you can tell whether it’s too slow, you’re being inefficient, you’re spending too much money routing work to the wrong resource or keeping your customers waiting too long. This x-ray can tell you a lot about where you need to build a new process or improve your existing processes.

When you get that diagnostic, you can convert it. You can make a workflow based on what you learned. So, this is the natural starting point for the journey of process optimization. First, we take the x-ray, and we understand what’s inefficient and where we need to make an improvement. Then, we develop the new process. We use a Low-Code workflow interface to drag and drop the right process -- and then we automate it.

You start with discovery, go to design, and then you go to automation -- and it’s on the same product. I think it’s a big step. It’s going to be a great way to measure ROI. It’s going to be a great way to find new places to use Low Code. And it will be well in demand by our partners because they’re going to enjoy deploying their expertise to discover new places where they could be of use.

Gardner: The timing is very auspicious in that processes are now distributed across multiple organizations. As we’ve gone to cloud-native services and using third parties as software as a service (SaaS) services for so much, it’s hard to grasp the whole process. They are not necessarily inside your four walls, and probably never will be again. Is there something about process mining that helps ameliorate this complexity of a distributed business?

Calkins: Yes. Process mining looks at all the usage logs and brings them together. That’s the magic of the technology. So, whereas we used to see only an aspect of the business and one dimension of our behavior at a time, now we see all of it. Just like if you’re going from a 2D view to a 3D view, things start popping out at you. It becomes much clearer about what could be improved and where the inefficiencies lie. It’s a great clarification tool.

Gardner: It sounds like that’s something we could dive deeper into at some point and it’s very interesting. Any other ways that people can learn more if they’re intrigued about Low Code? What do you advise them in terms of making this move from a lesson into an engagement? 

Calkins: We’re so eager to make it easy to learn Low Code. We’re building our community as fast as we can. We have free resources, free environments to use, a great program to get you involved, a forum where you can post your work and learn from other people’s work. Just go to or and avail yourself of all these resources. It’s a booming industry.

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