IT struggles with corona: more innovation with less resources

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Here at Techzine, we have often written about the implications of the coronacrisis on the workplace. However, we had not yet discussed what it truly means for IT professionals. Mendix recently approached us to talk about the subject, what seemed like an excellent opportunity. The low-code vendor took a look at the consequences of the pandemic on IT leaders. We spoke with Hans de Visser, Vice President Product Management at Mendix.

Because of the measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, almost everyone had to adjust the way they work. For many people, this meant working from home, but staff who were unable to do so had to make adjustments as well. Both groups often look to the IT department to support this transition. The IT department can supply tools and hardware to support the new way of working.

The IT department was given a huge responsibility, which also increased the pressure.

The IT department was given an enormous responsibility, which also increased the pressure. The IT staff, with their expertise and skills, made sure that the company kept running. At the same time, it is expected they accelerate IT initiatives with less resources. Something that might not seem entirely consistent with the impact of the corona crisis on the work of IT professionals.

Effects on the short and long term

In its study Mendix mentions digital transformation, referring to the IT initiatives within organisations. The low-code vendor splits these initiatives into two areas. There are projects to provide employees with the right tools for working remotely, in other words working from home because of the corona crisis. On the other hand, there are also IT initiatives to adjust and digitalise the business operations on a broader scale, like supporting contact with customers and partners.

The first wave of IT initiatives observed by Mendix is already partially behind us. Initially, the focus was on supporting the switch to full-time working from home. It was crucial for this change to be implemented as successfully as possible within a week. This involved collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, but also, for example, setting up VPN connections, installing peripherals so that employees are not dependent on a small laptop screen and rolling out tools that allow employees to access applications and data remotely. The latter category is perhaps thought of less often, whereas the IT department devoted a lot of attention to this a few months ago. After all, some systems are very heavily secured, which meant that IT staff were required to go through all sorts of steps in an accelerated manner in order to give employees access to these systems.

The statistics from the Mendix study confirm that these types of tools are important for IT professionals at this moment. For example, 28 percent says that new initiatives for new applications focus mainly on remote access. 21 percent cites COVID-19 related applications as a focus area for new applications, followed by collaboration apps with 14 percent.

According to De Visser, this shows focus on ensuring that staff can continue to work. In the meantime, companies are slowly looking to the future. What will happen after the initial shock is over? Priorities of companies will be different post-pandemic. Nearly 32 percent of these companies want to embrace technology to develop applications more efficient and faster, which would be a positive development for Mendix. The next priority is access to ‘remote work’ technology and courses for working remotely with just a little under 29 percent. Other ideas score less than 20 percent. These numbers will probably change within a month, but it still gives a nice indication about future priorities.

Postponing IT projects

Changing priorities is a necessity, but they also act as an obstacle to other innovative projects. Certain initiatives have simply been put on hold, but it remains to be seen if and when IT projects will continue. Only 29.7 percent of companies didn’t put any IT projects ‘on hold’.  The remainder placed IT projects on hold because of the pandemic, though the number of projects actually put on hold can differ per organisation. For example, 15.1 percent of the organisations placed more than 50 percent of the IT projects on hold.

Changing priorities is necessary, but they also act as an obstacle to other innovative projects.

In the end, there are several reasons for postponing these projects. 36.2 percent of the respondents cited changing priorities and urgency as the main reason. Budget constraints, smaller teams with fewer skills, the difficulty of working from home and the challenge of meeting the deadline of a project are also factors that contribute to putting projects on hold.

Will the adoption of low-code rise?

The fact that 32 percent of organisations are looking at technology to develop applications faster and more efficiently, means that lowcode is seen as a way to accelerate initiatives and projects. IT had to be and should be rolled out even faster, and low-code can play a huge role in this desirement. Small applications can be built within days, while large applications can be built within weeks.

According to Mendix itself, the trend of switching to lowcode is already happening. The use of the company’s low-code platform have seen a 282 percent year-over-year growth in March and April, while the Mendix website also dealt with more traffic. The increase in traffic can perhaps be explained in part by the fact that a lot of people worldwide can’t leave their homes and therefore have more time for research, but according to Mendix, it’s also a sign of growing interest in low-code technology.

Hans de Visser, Vice President Product Management at Mendix

Ultimately, we can only conclude in retrospect whether low-code will actually make big leap in adoption, but the idea that the technology can contribute to the roll-out of IT projects in the short and long term is something we acknowledge.

De Visser anticipates that the working method concerning of the public sectors will be the perfect model for other sectors. Organisations in the public sector have frequently been using a low-code platform, which they subsequently rely on for the development of a COVID-19 application. An example of this is the government of the Dutch city Rotterdam, where an application was developed within two weeks to apply for, assess and pay corona-related social benefits for independent entrepreneurs.

IT is the foundation for change

Opinions differ on how our work will change over time. Some see the coronacrisis as a turning point which will suddenly make working from home the new normal, and others think that when the pandemic is over, we will quickly go back to our old ways. At Mendix, they believe in a future with increased remote working, simply because companies are going to allow it more quickly now that they have dealt with it more because of the coronacrisis. An earlier study already revealed that a majority of employees don’t see any merit in going back to the office full-time when the crisis is over.

It is clear, however, that IT projects are being implemented at a rapid pace, resulting in some initiatives being put on hold. IT professionals are facing limitations such as a smaller budget and a smaller team. These factors influence the willingness of companies to accelerate innovation.

All things considered, the study conducted by Mendix shows that the pressure on IT has increased. It seems that this will not change the next months, as the desire to keep innovating at an accelerated pace will remain. To this end, the IT department can build a solid foundation.