Appian: the building blocks of success
Talk to any business leader and they will inform you that implementation as opposed to innovation drives scalability. Commercial automation was simplistic across a quasi-static business landscape, but when deployed against today’s fluid and rapidly changing technological frontiers, processes are frequently outdated from the moment of conception.
The methodology through which a company can manifest its long-term goals and unique identity through software is described as digital transformation. This process acts as a fundamental building block in creating a better customer experience, allowing the company to demonstrate its distinctive advantages across all available technologies, which delivers a unique and preferential relationship when compared to the generic nature of the competition’s offering.
Responding to the opportunities and dangers presented by digital transformation is one of the greatest challenges facing large corporations. Appian, a unique software provider focusing on Low-Code, is blazing a trail with its proprietary protocol that’s redefining the way in which code is created, deployed and modified in the commercial environment.
Matt Calkins, Appian’s Founder and CEO, believes his company is correctly positioned to support large businesses in developing the digital assets required to adapt to this demand. “Companies now understand that they need digital transformation and this can be delivered on Low-Code’s platform, but to arrive here we had to convince them that they needed unique software to define unique relationships with clients, track customer journeys and assert their brand identity.”
Deciding to break from the conventional approach of Appian’s respective sector in 1996, Calkins explains the foundations of Appian’s philosophy, before explaining how this single-minded attitude also permeated the financial culture. “We came up with the idea that designing software should be as easy as drawing a flow chart. And unlike other tech companies that develop a so-called war chest to fund growth, we only used the money we made to grow our business. We broke even from day one until we went public; a very unusual thing to do.”
Diverging from industry norms might sound like a fraught position, but this was a by-product of deeper strategic drivers as opposed to a conscious choice. “Our approach has always been to generate utility for customers – so this was a reductive exercise in elegance, driven more by business than technology. We prioritized factors that previous products had failed to prioritize. Hence, we follow a Moore’s Law trajectory; every two years the cost of building something on our platform should halve, and we have been following this curve for several years. It’s about bringing an otherwise unrealized market into reality by reducing the non-cash cost.”
Calkins provides a critique of the commercial sector’s current response to the demand for digital transformation, citing the most significant problem. “I believe many companies suffer from an excess of applications; the typical enterprise has over a thousand, which tend to exist in separate silos and hence fail to communicate adequately. Additionally, security procedures are overly long and maintenance costs run high, making it very difficult for chief information officers to respond to customer needs.
“We understand these problems and believe that we have the answer. On the Appian platform, if you build hundreds of applications, you still only have one environment, where you can work alongside your peers, referring to the same stack of information.”
Whilst many competing platforms expect clients to adapt to their software’s parameters, this situation is reversed by Appian’s Low-Code. “We make it easy to express the culture of the company. You can have something functioning in around 15 minutes. Ultimately, digital transformation is about expressing business through software, creating applications that characterize relationships with the company and track key information to streamline every decision point in the customer journey. We make it simple for our clients to act in the unique way delivers the maximum level of benefit.”
Naturally, Calkins is keen to drill down into the details of how Appian’s Low-Code operates and delivers an advantage in today’s business environment. “Low-Code is the natural successor to business process management (BPM). Users draw a flow chart to create an application. Today’s Low-Code is more data-centric, provides more integration with the workspace and it is the easiest way to build unique software. Coding has traditionally been about a writing behavior; we are trying to substitute this with a drawing behavior. When someone wishes to change existing Low-Code software all they need to do is look at a flow chart to understand its operation.
“It runs on every known device, including the cloud and is more adaptable than regular code. It offers the facility to run several applications simultaneously with simple protocols for joining them together.
Empowering business process leaders
Perhaps the greatest barriers preventing process-centric business personnel from expressing their expertise in code has been the need for mathematical understanding, coupled with the formal requirements of modern code. Calkins describes how Appian’s methodology effortlessly vaults these constraints. “There are two ways in which Low-Code is deployed. Firstly, to speed up development, multiplying effectiveness by up to 20 times. For instance, one of our clients rolled out 40 applications in 18 months, which is so far in excess of the accepted delivery times it’s comparable with breaking the sound barrier.
“Secondly, once the developers have finished creating their code, business users can configure and adapt these components both freely and simply. One of the largest banks in Australia migrated all its applications to Low-Code and when the developers had generated a complete set of objects, these were turned over to the business users who in turn constructed a range of new applications that serves all the various functions of the organization. First Low-Code accelerates development, then it opens up development for non-developers.”
From an exterior perspective it appears that Appian has maneuvered into a position to create an even greater impact over the coming years. Calkins goes as far to underpin this vista. “There has never been so much demand for unique software on a global basis – every company needs to be a software company. However, the supply of developers is decidedly static. Hence existing development teams need to be more productive, as organizations need more code. Additionally, once an application is completed, time is rarely allocated for revisions and changes. Most custom-made software is therefore out of date, and is incredibly difficult to maintain. Appian addresses this problem by greatly empowering the developer, allowing them to modify applications.”
Appian’s achievement is most visible in the company’s recent decision to become an IPO. Calkins revealed that this was about more than simple business funding. “We felt that we had a better offering than our competitors and we needed people to hear about it – and we wanted to prove that our idea is valuable. Appian reached this point a few years ago and had major case studies that demonstrate our success. What we then required was more attention and new level of publicity, which was the main objective of the IPO. And our stock’s performance is a reflection that this market’s time has come and our company is in the right place to answer this.”
And finally, when it comes to future goals, Calkins’ aspirations are honest and characteristically forthright. “We want to maintain our high levels of customer satisfaction, whilst making our software simpler. That’s what this market needs more than anything.” And if you thought that Low-Code is to development as Lego is to modelling, then this metaphor is not lost on Calkins, who notes one way in which Appian celebrates success. “Sometimes we hire a professional Lego builder to create a model of the client’s business which we send them when they launch their Appian applications. Recently we sent a model to one of the world’s top ten largest airports. It was a gigantic beautiful thing.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.