Tales from the trenches

The COVID-19 crisis presents unprecedented challenges for IT leaders. IT teams have been tasked with moving face-to-face customer and employee interactions completely online almost overnight. And the stakes for delivering a high-quality, seamless digital experience have never been higher.

The global pandemic has also shone a harsh light on the flaws in traditional application development methods that require multiple development teams, using different technologies, to write thousands of lines of code to create the same functionality multiple times for different touchpoints and channels. At a time when speed is of the essence, this approach slows development, making organizations less competitive. 

The organizations thriving now are those that take a fundamentally new approach to app development. Keep reading to learn how two OutSystems customers built new apps to meet the demands of the pandemic—in one case, literally overnight—by leveraging the platform’s high-speed, modern application development capabilities. 

Developing a health-tracking app—overnight 

When the pandemic struck, Vancouver-based global biotechnology company STEMCELL Technologies launched a work-from-home policy. Suddenly, they needed a way to track the health status, availability, and location of employees on a daily basis—and they needed it STAT. 

STEMCELL​s IT team uses the OutSystems high-speed development platform, which allows developers to create new applications in a matter of days or weeks. Developers using the OutSystems platform can leverage pre-built components and application templates and use visual development to customize them or quickly create any unique component they need. Anything that is built with the platform – including UX/UI, business logic, data, or integrations – can be easily reused in whichever app or channel they need. This enables a consistent and agile approach to app development that helps STEMCELL provide a truly unified and consistent customer and employee experience across channels, applications, and touchpoints. Everything looks, feels, and behaves the same, no matter the app or channel, making it easier for users to interact with the apps they build. 

Since STEMCELL implemented the OutSystems platform in 2017, the app dev team has put more than 10 apps into production, tripled development speed, and eliminated application development silos that once hindered their small developer team. But even Beatriz Clarke, STEMCELL’s applications development manager, didn’t realize quite how fast app development had become until her team got the requirement for the employee monitoring app.

The request was received late in the afternoon of March 9. Developer Eric Kao offered to work on the project overnight—and by morning, the new MyStatus app was ready to go into production. Visual development and the ability to reuse pre-built components and application templates were key factors in the rapid development of MyStatus.

“Our management was completely blown away that we could develop this in one night,” said Clarke, “and users find it easy to use.” Agile development enables STEMCELL’s IT team to keep pace with changing needs, too. Since the MyStatus app launched to 1,500 employees on March 11, the app dev team has delivered daily updates that added support for alerts, equipment loans, and dashboards for managers and the STEMCELL safety team. 

Empowering customers to make Paycheck Protection Program loans

Corporate One provides over 750 U.S. credit unions with wholesale financial services and digital systems they can use to engage with their own members. Initially, Corporate One​s agile IT strategy grew from a desire to build digital systems faster and reduce maintenance efforts, explains Jim Horlacher, EVP, Chief Information Officer. As Corporate One realized the potential benefits of cascading this approach to its member credit unions, the project grew in scope.

Corporate One chose the OutSystems platform to handle its agile IT transformation. Importantly, the OutSystems platform, with its advanced security capabilities, offers the security, risk management, and monitoring needed to handle sensitive financial data; and it also accommodates Corporate One’s subsidiary companies within the same environment. 

One of the first tests of the OutSystems app development platform occurred when Corporate One subsidiary Lucro Commercial Solutions found itself on a burning platform. In 2017, Lucro had launched a

digital servicing platform to allow its credit union clients to offer business customers a self-service loan application process. But in 2019, the fintech partner that provided the software was sold to a competitor, and Lucro found itself with just nine months to develop a new digital lending service.

Off-the-shelf SaaS wouldn’t work, explains Lucro founder and CEO Jim Gallagher, because the platform needed to be configurable for each credit union and community lender Lucro serves. The only solution was to develop their own digital lending service. The challenge was to do so in nine months. 

By leveraging the OutSystems modern, high-speed app development platform and OutSystems partner Truewind, Lucro launched The Digital Business Lending Center (DBLC), a first-of-its-kind, ultra-configurable lending platform, in just 15 weeks. The DBLC can be customized to reflect any credit union’s branding, lending criteria, and product details. 

“Not only are we onboarding our existing customers, but we also have huge interest from a wide range of credit unions, both big and small,” said Gallagher. “When we demonstrate the platform, prospects are blown away at how quickly we can configure it to meet their specific requirements.”

The pandemic crisis brought new challenges. When the U.S. Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) rolled out as part of the CARES Act, Lucro had to launch a new workflow approval system designed for PPP loans—and launch it fast. “We were jamming Paycheck Protection Program loans into our conventional workflows, and falling behind,” explained Cori Schmidt-Zdrazil, Chief Operating Officer at Lucro.

Because the OutSystems platform allows developers to make changes to existing applications very quickly and reuse any existing functionality they need across applications and channels, Truewind was able to bring Lucro’s PPP loan application solution to market in less than a week. Since then, the app has been deployed to 28 credit unions, processed 8,000 applications, and approved $130 million in PPP loans. By simplifying the PPP-related underwriting, loan servicing, and documentation services Lucro provides to its customers, the platform enables Lucro to compete with much larger institutions. 

Just as the PPP app helped reduce back-office work for lenders, the OutSystems platform reduced the workload for Lucro’s IT team. Automatic dependency checks and one-click deployment capabilities meant new versions could rapidly go from development to QA to production. As application hits surged from about 1,100 per day to more than 81,000 per day, the OutSystems environment scaled seamlessly to handle the workload.

“Speed and agility are crucial in such a challenging economy,” said Horlacher. “The pandemic crisis was a huge test of our agility and demonstrated the strength of our technology strategy.” 

The future of app development 

As COVID-19 continues to transform the business landscape, having the ability to create high-quality digital experiences at speed will be critical for customer and employee loyalty. Embracing a modern approach to application development can prepare organizations to meet the demands of this new world. The companies that adopted a high-speed, modern app dev technology like OutSystems have been not only better equipped to weather today’s storms, but also better prepared to thrive in the face of tomorrow’s challenges and unknowns.

With the integrated, cohesive development approach and tools that the Outsystems app development platform provides, IT teams are empowered to build even complex applications in days or weeks—not months or years. To learn more, download Gartner’s 2020 Magic Quadrant for Multiexperienc​e Development Platforms,​ where we were honored to be recognized as a leader in the field.