After two long years of a pandemic, some normality, at least to the life of an industry analyst, came this week—normality in the form of a flight to a conference in Florida and a return flight the next day. Normality also, in attending a fully attended event (1400 people) and sitting through a long keynote session, complete with pumping house music, disco lighting, and a sound desk worthy of a Dua Lipa concert, it was a case of deja vu all over again.
But beyond the expected announcements, Appian World was an interesting reflection on the pandemic years and its impact on IT and IT vendors. For Appian, this period has delivered a rocket-sized boost to their business growing around 20% year on year. The themes discussed in the exhibition hall, corridors, and sessions are then worth delving into. Though, on the one hand, specific to Appian, on the other, they are broadly reflective of the profound change that we have been observing in real-time over the past couple of years.
Consider, for example, that just before the Pandemic, Appian announced its acquisition of RPA vendor Jodika. RPA was all the rage in early 2020, the silver bullet, the holy grail, the answer to all our automation problems. Fast forward to April 2022, and RPA is now no more than an, albeit important, piece part of a broader set of technologies. It’s a sobering reminder that Hype Cycles are just that, hype.
At Appian World 2022, Process Mining was left-right and center (it acquired Lana Labs in 2021). Process Mining is very important, we even have a full report exploring its importance. But just like RPA circa early 2020, Process Mining is also experiencing its moment in the hype-driven spotlight. Hence, though we expect process mining to be a key focus at other conferences in the coming year, ultimately things will settle and it will also find its rightful place in the broader tech story in time.
But illuminating, to my ears at least, was firstly a pretty dramatic shift by Appian from discussions of speeds and feeds to the practicalities of transforming legacy siloed applications. Secondly, a reversal of traditional back to front application development toward a front to back approach to development. IT concerns regarding integration, data structures, API, etc., typically start the activity, and the employee or customer experience comes late to the party. Front to back development reverses this, and considers the needs and requirements of employees and customers first, then figures out the nitty-gritty IT elements to deliver on that. Front to back is the logical approach, but it’s rare to see it happen.
Furthermore, there is a reality to face in that Low and no-code methods are becoming commonplace, and technical back-end technology skills are becoming commoditized. Hence, System Integrators are also starting to shift their focus, if for no other reason than SI’s can charge much higher hourly rates for UI, and change management consultants than they can for coders. Cynicism aside, all in all, this is a good shift of focus and approach.
Though predictable in part, the angling of the value of such accessible development practices was notably nuanced at the event. For Appian, it’s now much less about ‘citizen developers,’ and instead, it’s about ‘more developers.’ There is, after all, a skills shortage in the market. And as we have written extensively at Deep Analysis, there is a bridge that needs building to connect the realities of business with the realities of tech. Hence the firm’s announcement of #lowcode4all, a significant scholarship scheme to attract and train STEAM versus hardcore STEM developers. Or to put it another way, good development and problem-solving are more than the application of pure logic, rather it requires creativity and more right-brained thinking.
Finally, the exhibition hall itself was interesting, as rather than the typical slew of small add-on software vendors, the Appian hall was dominated by SI’s. Including all the big hitters, from EY, PWC, HCL, Infosys, Wipro, etc, and rightly so, as this is the primary route to market for Appian. This also meant a more well-heeled and dressed event than most, hence it was a good job I took a crisp white shirt and some natty brogues to wear 🙂
BTW We will be updating our Appian Vendor Vignette in the near future, so watch out for that as it will provide more technical depth and technical detail of the recent changes at the product level.