Automation, RPA, bots, digital transformation, low-code processes, workflow efficiency– all of these functions have come a long way since the early beginnings of the personal computing. Before we can understand where we are now, I thought we could look back and see how far we have come and how the digital revolution has changes how businesses operate and stay competitive.
Crafting Ideal Constructs
Call it whatever you like, “abstraction pattern”, “technology platform”, “software framework” – these valuable constructs enable users, developers, and businesses, to do more with less. These constructs allow us to focus on important high value tasks, shorten process time, along with enabling minimal work to achieve significant end results.
They also allow for a broad reuse of common functionality facilitating standardization and abstraction, all this to say that you don’t have to know how the combustible engine works in order to drive the car. Constructs are essential to business because, as time moves on, thought leaders and businesses demand ever increasing levels of sophistication to achieve game changing results. From a build perspective these constructs allow shorter build and validation cycles. From the productivity perspective users can focus on the 20% of the work that is truly high value.
The Start of the Digital Age
At the outset of the personal computing revolution, the Altair 8800 debuted and created a significant impact on the industry and its users. By toggling flippable switches of the Altair 8800 users could program this general-purpose computer in binary. As you can imagine, this could be hugely tedious for anything more than a simple set of operations or problems. As you might have guessed, programming binary in this manner is time consuming and of course fraught with human error.
Luckily, an abstraction pattern in the form of a programming language was available at the time and in use on mainframes. The programming language BASIC was well known by this time and was soon adopted by users to program the Altair. By leveraging the BASIC programming language, users could create more complex and useful programs without needing to remember which bit was stored at what address – although this did come up from time to time.
BASIC enabled a more human readable and writable programming which resulting in programs, from simple to the complex, to be created at an accelerated pace of speeds and scale – with limited human errors. Being able to create and innovate quickly drove interest and adoption and subsequently helped spark the personal computer revolution. Creators and consumers could now tackle common and complex problems that previously were unthought of for a computer.
Operating Systems and You
Another major technology advancement that accelerated computers in becoming an increasingly important part of business operations was the advent of operating systems. OSes such as Unix/Linux, DOS/Windows allowed for a huge array of new tasks that could be accomplished on a computer. Developers could now focus on quickly building applications that provided enormous impact, without needing to worry about all the fundamental operations that the OSes were now able to take care of (such as redrawing the screen). Further, OSes made it easier for users to interact with a computer in a more intuitive and natural fashion. Specifically, users could type commands through text-based interaction (command line interface), or the later graphical user interfaces, taking advantage of the broader range of capabilities that were at hand. For example, GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) enabled spreadsheet programs to be visualized on a computer and revolutionized how businesses managed and utilized information making computers indispensable for organizations.
Staying Connected with APIs
While there has been a long rich history of remote invocation and cross system/network communication, the advent of standardized Web APIs has accelerated businesses adoption. Web applications leveraging web APIs are able to rapidly connect systems that were previously isolated, allowing a flow of information to enrich business operations.
Web APIs facilitate communication to and from remote systems without the need for long customization projects which were often fraught with difficulties and expenses. A standard abstraction offered by Web APIs made it easier to build for business operations, which meant faster more immediate results for data driven decision making. Anyone who had access to the right API documentation, could build a Web application that could connect to any number of systems. And as application functionality changed and were exposed as Web APIs, those changes could be taken advantage of immediately by using the most recent web APIs. Applications that took advantage of these APIs had more agility than previous generations.
Automation is the Future
So, what’s next? This is where low-code comes in to play. Low-code lets businesses develop solutions that spans the gaps between legacy or modern applications and systems. It is able to address business specific challenges where applications fall short. For example, a low code application can be quickly developed to provide a single interface for multiple enterprise systems, eliminating the “swivel chair” approach that plagues the modern business user’s daily routine – flipping from one application/system to another.
Low-code tools like Microsoft’s Power Apps allows for incredible speed in application development and at very little cost to the business. Low-code in the form of robotic process automation (RPA) robots via Microsoft Power Automate, more commonly called “bots”, free up users from mundane time-consuming tasks. By tackling repetitive rule based manual work with RPA bots, users are enabled to do real work with significant business value. Employees start to get free from all the mindless tactical activity and become empowered for more strategic activity to truly help the business grow and succeed.
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