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What’s low-code all about? An interview with Mike Heffner, Appian

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I don't do many interviews on The Finanser, but had been planning a massive book launch over the next month, touring the world and spending $1000s on media engagement. Ah well. That's all on hold until this coronavirus thing ends ...

Meantime, one of the major sponsors of the book launch is Appian. If you google Appian it says they provide low-code automation software. What's all that about? To find out, I caught up with Mike Heffner, VP of the Global Financial Services Banking, Capital Markets, and Insurance Industry team at Appian. Here's the low down on low-code.

Chris Skinner: First of all Mike, I want to check in with you during this unprecedented time and ask how you are faring, and how is Appian responding to the Coronavirus outbreak?

Mike Heffner: Thank you, Chris. My family is hunkered down here in Massachusetts, doing well. And Appian, very early on in this crisis took exceptional measures to protect our employees, we are doing well. And, I am so proud to say that we were still able to rally together, in our respective remote work environments, to create a free Coronavirus Response Management application - available for enterprises to request, deploy, and configure in as little as 2 hours. If your readers are interested in learning more, they can do so here:

Chris Skinner: These are strange and troubling times, but we still have work to do and so welcome Mike to one of my rare Finanser interviews. Rather than talking about the crisis, let's talk about Appian and your business, as I am sure a lot of my readers will be unfamiliar with some of the things you do. For example, I talk a lot about cloud, open banking, kubernetes, AI, DLT, APIs and more TLAs and confusing things, and low-code is a newer catchphrase. Please explain what low-code means?

Mike Heffner: Low-code is much more than a catchphrase, it’s a new way to make unique software applications.

Appian is helping our clients optimize software development to propel operational efficiency, upgrade legacy systems, and delight their clients with exceptional solutions. What we are really trying to solve for is the delta between the demand for applications and the talent shortage of software developers to match the demand.

So, we pioneered the low-code market — creating a world where you build your applications with a mouse, instead of writing code with a keyboard, line by line.

Every application you build is composed of reusable components. Every data record, interface, business rule, integration, etc. So, with every app you build, it gets faster to build the next one.

Chris: So it seems that low-code is generally making software development fast and easy through packaging code into plug-and-play pieces, or am I being too simplistic?

Mike: It’s actually more significant than that. Low-code software development empowers developers by removing impedances and giving them reusable objects, so they can quickly get results, and make changes if necessary. The complexity in traditional software development historically has made it too hard to reverse course. Low-code enables better outcomes. With Appian, you can test, play, learn and adapt. The financial institutions we serve generally have large, geographically distributed teams. low-code is ideal because it makes software development fast and easy to change because it’s more mobile, more portable to the cloud, more integrated, and more secure.

We have integrated DevOps features like connected dev/test/prod environments and automated object and app comparisons or diffing. We also have an open platform compatible with third party tools, like Jenkins, Git, etc.

Chris: Even so, that description is pretty generic, and as always, I’m interested in what this means for banks?

Mike: For years, banks have been hiding behind the complexity of their architecture in an effort to defend the status quo. The truth is, that complexity creates so much opacity that it undermines decision-making and stifles innovation. Low-code provides transparency, giving the radical thinkers the ability, tools and vehicles to minimize technology impedance and foster innovation.

Low-code gives financial institutions speed and power, which is exactly what the banking industry needs to stay relevant with growing pressures from FinTech, RegTech and customer-driven expectations for enhanced services and delivery.

Appian's low-code automation platform and solutions are well positioned to deliver value and enable the industry to become more transparent, intelligent, secure, and seamless.   We want to enable banks to be able to achieve their vision and in fact talk about this concept of ‘Idea to Application, Faster’.  It's grounded in reality that too many times in Financial Services great ideas for improved service, more integrated compliance, and streamlined delivery fall victim to legacy barriers and inertia.

Chris: That sounds great, but most banks are still  heavily controlled and structured and may want to be agile, but they’re a long way from it. How are banks reacting to the idea of using these concepts?

Mike: Financial services is Appian’s largest and fastest-growing vertical. Our financial services customers know that they can deliver superior customer experiences, drive operational efficiency, maximize employee productivity, optimize business decisions, master complex compliance requirements, and manage global risk with Appian.

Chris: Can you give me any examples?

Mike: Sure, happy to. We’ve got a lot of great customers in financial services: HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Santander, State Street to name a few.  Following are a few specific public examples:

Sure, happy to. We’ve got a lot of great customers in financial services: HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Santander, State Street to name a few.  Following are a few specific public examples:

Addiko Bank reduced SMB lending approval time to from 7 days to 3 days with Appian.

Bank of the West is a great story. Using Appian, they completely transformed their enterprise in just 18 months — from customer onboarding to regulatory compliance while moving the entire organization towards digital.

Allan Gray is a newer customer. They built their client onboarding process on Appian’s low-code platform with Know Your Customer (KYC) functionality and dramatically reduced the onboarding friction experienced by their clients.

CME Group also uses us extensively, they’ve launched 23 different applications to optimize operations across the business reducing the average time to deliver a new product by 80%.

Bendigo Bank also relies on Appian throughout their organization — 25 applications deployed in 18 months, across various divisions of the bank including tier-1 mission critical work

UnionBank of the Philippines launched their first fully digital branch — they call it, “The ARK” — entirely on Appian and they did it in less than 12 months. They have deployed more than 100 applications and accelerated process times by 300% compared to their traditional branches.

FirstBank uses us for AML. We are enabling them to achieve compliance and, also saving them about 1,000 work hours each year.

TPG uses us for deal lifecycle management. We enabled them to automate lots of manual processes, creating greater accuracy and making their employees’ jobs easier.

Groupama is using Appian to manage the entire lifecycle of its product offerings

Janus Henderson developed an internal business platform that leverages Appian Records to enable investment and operations teams to see the data they need to see, collaborate around it effectively, and take immediate business action across the organization.

The OCC is a great example of the speed you can achieve with Appian. They were able to build 9 mission-critical risk management applications in just 18 months.

Sunsuper built an end-to-end Rollover automation solution in matter of weeks, their process time was reduced from weeks to overnight, resulting in a 50% savings on operational costs

Target Group built its next-generation CRM solution on Appian, reducing customer service processing time by ~80%.

Chris: What does this mean for the old nugget of banks determining whether to build or buy their code?

Mike: Low-code platforms offer a better solution that combines the speed of a packaged application, the uniqueness of custom development, and the power to support even the most complex enterprise use cases. With Appian, you get the best of both worlds, the speed that you’re looking for in a packaged application with the flexibility to make it your own, and bring the solution to market, fast. We used to argue about buy vs. build. There were those who advocated “build” because in theory they’d get exactly what they wanted, which they sometimes did in v1, but it usually wouldn’t work that way, based on waterfall development practices, you sort of get what you're looking for. And, in buying something off the shelf, you’d bring in a vendor that would show something that’s close enough  — so, you’d take it and adjust your business to fit it, which can be okay, but, often it isn’t. In response, you alter the software which puts you off the upgrade path, slowing you down even more. What we’ve learned is that these packaged solutions are too brittle, and highly cumbersome to install and manage, and they offer zero flexibility to deal with new and emerging needs.

Buy versus build is becoming a legacy concept because of low-code. We enable our financial services customers to deliver a lot more, a lot faster, with far fewer developers. This is changing the whole equation. Building with low-code provides speed and flexibility. It allows banks to create applications that are easily configured and managed, and can scale up or down based on needs and requirements. With Appian’s low-code automation platform, teams get the power they need to work fast, prove value quickly, and build on success.

Chris: That sounds a bit worrying if you’re a developer working for a large bank. Do you think banks will lay off developers en masse as a result of these developments?

Whenever you introduce something new, it creates stress and anxiety of the unknown but, low-code is for developers. They are critical to the low-code vision and to a bank’s success. Developers should spend their time and their unique talents on driving innovation, not coding the same form or interface over and over. Developers’ talents are also badly needed to deal with legacy architecture challenges that will continue to persist. Low-code now becomes a tool in their toolkit that enables them to be more productive, by a factor of ten to twenty times, improves business-IT collaboration, and leverages citizen developers,

Developers say the #1 way to help IT and reduce job frustration is “faster/easier development tools.” Nearly 80% believe that using low-code can free up developer time to work on higher-level projects. And, applications built on low-code platforms are immune to technical debt, saving developers from future frustrations, down the line.

Chris: What about generally for the future? How do you think the development marketplace will be changing over the next decade?

Mike: We are at a very interesting time, decisions we make today will have serious repercussions for our future. Humanity is constantly redefining its relationship with technology. Low-code is poised to move and shift to meet the changing needs. We are hyper-focused on accelerating the impact that our customers can bring to their customers. We believe the best way to do that is to orchestrate workflows across people, bots, and AI. We’ve recently introduced Appian RPA, which really rounds out Appian’s automation stack of unified artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA), workflow, business rules, and case management. So, however the development marketplace changes, we provide the right automation technology for the right automation use case.

Chris: And what are Appian’s immediate plans for the future?

Mike: Following on the success of our Institutional Onboarding solution, we will continue to invest in financial services solutions with a focus on the end-to-end customer lifecycle. Our customers are realizing significant value in terms of pre-defined records and industry-specific out-of-the-box integrations.

Chris: Finally, just so it’s on the record, you are a lead sponsor of my new book launch. Why?

Mike: Because our mindsets align so well. You’ve always written about digital leaders being those who think differently, and not simply digitize old-school business models with digital technology. You advocate looking at technology and trying to work out how it could be used to reach the people who need service most.  We at Appian share that vision.


About Michael Heffner

Mike Heffner leads the Global Industry group at Appian. The team is responsible for engaging with customers, partners, and analysts to solve digital transformation challenges in key verticals, including the Public Sector, Life Sciences, Healthcare, Energy, Insurance, Banking, and Capital Markets. Mike brings innovative approaches to problem solving to his role, including extensive  leadership experience in operational efficiency, process transformation, and re-engineering. He is a frequent speaker at industry events, and a contributor on thought leadership digital trends and responses. Mike's domain expertise is Financial Services. Prior to Appian, he was Managing Director, Business Transformation at State Street Corporation, held management roles at Charles Schwab & Co., and Accenture’s Creating-Financial-Markets-Advantage executive group. Mike holds a BSBA in Economics from University of South Carolina, and an MBA from Babson College.

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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