In the recent Gartner Applications Strategies and Solutions Summit in Las Vegas, many attendees posed the question, “what do you mean by the term enterprise-class low code?”
At AgilePoint, though, “enterprise-class” is not a term we use lightly. In fact, everything about AgilePoint NX 7.0 is designed to satisfy an exacting and stringent set of requirements that surface, almost without fail, in large-scale development initiatives—the kind undertaken by Global 2000 enterprises. (See ***.)
A Case in Point: Transforming Tax Operations of a Global Retailer with Enterprise Class Low-Code
In an article published in Forbes, Jason Bloomberg, the President of Intellyx, an industry analyst firm, describes a development initiative in the tax department of one of the world’s largest retailers, a project that required authentic enterprise-class low code.
As Bloomberg points out, the tax issue for any large retailer is extremely challenging:
Retailers’ tax function is so complex because it is so multifaceted: from sales and VAT tax calculations at the point of sale to tax reporting for shareholders to integrating tax functions of acquired companies to calculating income, property, and other taxes, tax challenges are inherently diverse and dynamic.
Exacerbating the challenge that this particular retailer faced was its sheer size, global footprint, and legacy tax systems, which included robotic process apps, document management systems, multiple data sources, and mountains of hand-written code. According to Bloomberg’s source (a company leader he gives the pseudonym of Smith), the project was considered a “strategic initiative,” requiring the complete “revamping [of] the entire tax function with an emphasis on digital and doing more with less.”
To help readers grasp the size and scope of the retailer’s challenge, Smith points out that “Tax touches all parts of the company, . . . right down to the receipt. For example, we need to know the diameter of a tire in order to calculate its sales tax properly.” And that’s just a single product class in a single department. This retailer has dozens of departments and hundreds of thousands of product classes to account for.
Managing an enterprise of that size on a global basis presents other tax challenges. “For example, the effective tax rate that goes in the shareholder report [is] a combined number, calculated for the whole company globally.” Bloomberg points out that calculating such a number “is no small feat, requiring both analytics and workflow automation.
Clearly, this retailer needed a development platform with extreme power, flexibility, scalability, and capability of handling a widely diverse development agenda in a greatly compressed time frame. In other words, the retailer needed enterprise-class low code.
The Retail Giant Chooses AgilePoint
Smith had had previous experience with both BPM and Low Code, so he knew going in what he was looking for. After evaluating the “usual suspects” (BPM and Low Code platforms that were often listed as leaders by various analyst groups), Smith finally settled on AgilePoint, which he saw as a clear choice in comparison to the likes of IBM, Appian, and Pegasystems.
Power and Sophistication
Smith recounts a development project “the IT department” had undertaken with IBM’s BPM platform, a “monster application” that had taken “over a year” to complete. He then explains that his tax team saw an application prototype built with AgilePoint in four days that eclipsed the IBM application, which had, as he put it, just a “slice of the functionality of AgilePoint prototype. He added that a production ready version of the AgilePoint app would probably take another “month” to complete. Extreme functionality with up to 10X compression of development time and with enterprise-class governance, robustness, and scalability —that’s an enterprise-class result.
Smith specifically mentioned that he had evaluated Pegasystems PEGA +0% in conjunction with document management on Abbyy. “With Pega you get glossy marketing and a hard-wired system, stated Smith. “For what I want to do, Pega wouldn’t work. It’s too hard to customize.”
In contrast, AgilePoint’s hyper-agile architecture enables the creation of future-proof applications, which are largely impervious to service updates and system swap outs. This type of flexibility is essential to sustainable digital-transformation initiatives and is a mandatory enterprise-class capability. And it was a requirement for Smith’s tax department overhaul.
Smith also compared AgilePoint to Appian, a leading low-code vendor. “One difference between AgilePoint and other usual suspects like Appian is that it supports our focus on consolidating data sources, for example from SAP , Hyperion, and Teradata TDC +0.37% . . . . [With AgilePoint,] we can reuse data across every branch of tax without having to do the work again.”
Use Low-Code and RPA Synergistically
Bloomberg, having had detailed experience with Robotic Process Automation (RPA), drilled down on the retailer’s use of RPA, which had been problematic. “They had been using RPA to automate invoice processing (among other processes), in concert with a variety of document management systems.”
For example, when invoices came into the tax department, they were automatically separating them from emails, reviewing them, and pushing them to upstream systems. The retailer was using two bots to consume and review the data, along with a document management system.
But the brittle nature of RPA was presenting challenges: “Traditionally,” stated Smith, “we had to configure the two bots and the document management [system]. . . . Then we started it all and hoped for the best, but somebody had to manage each bit.”
AgilePoint simplified and streamlined the challenge. “With AgilePoint, I can link all the pieces together. I don’t need the second bot, because I can do the reviewing directly in AgilePoint . . . . The document scanner is plugged into AgilePoint and the rest happens in AgilePoint. AgilePoint will execute, control, and monitor bots. We won’t have to use native BluePrism [RPA] tools.”
Expanding to the Enterprise
Bloomberg highlights the retailer’s traditional reliance on hand coding, an approach that, according to Smith, is no longer viable. “The complexity of the traditional development approach is too high and we just don’t have the time,” stated Smith.
The retailer has already undertaken digital-transformation projects in other departments, which are not keeping pace with Smith’s tax transformation. “Today, we have a next-tech team trying to automate all business functions, not just tax,” he said. “They’re telling me . . . you’re way ahead of us.’”
Smith is now evangelizing his AgilePoint-based low-code approach beyond the tax department, and receiving predictable resistance. Just the same, Smith believes in an inevitable outcome: “Everybody is looking for their happy story,” he concluded. They will get their happy story by looking at what we’re doing in tax—but it might take a couple of years.”
Enterprise Class—More than Just a Catchphrase
As this particular retailer expands beyond tax, its need to build a widely divergent portfolio of applications will become apparent. Sophisticated back-office process applications (BPM); lightweight, front-office and customer-facing process apps (DPA); data-driven apps; apps that incorporate AI, Blockchain, the IoT, and RPA—all will be necessary. Scalability will be an issue, and, disaster recovery, mission critical. Perhaps most importantly, for this retailing giant to achieve sustainable digital transformation, it’s portfolio of applications must have future-proof characteristics.
At AgilePoint, when we use the term “enterprise-class,” we mean all of this and more.