The future of application development is low code/no code. A Lone Star Communications programmer and citizen developer teamed up to build an app for technicians that didn’t require conventional coding backgrounds in native languages like Python which are traditionally used for building apps.
The dangers and potential business risks of citizen developers could soon be a thing of the past: With businesses solving customers’ problems using less technologically-demanding routes, businesses are opening themselves up to even more future possibilities.
Lone Star Communications is not just a systems integration company working behind the scenes for the healthcare industry — it interacts enthusiastically with customers about using available tools to do more for them.
The ‘low code/no code’ gospel isn’t high on the agenda for most traditional programmers. But soon it might have to be: Talented employees are creating solutions to solve real customer problems and address user needs. And these fully-functioning tools are getting built faster than anyone could’ve predicted.
Lone Star Communications Technology Integration Specialist Brian Banks and Healthcare Innovations Specialist Cliff Switzer were tasked by their employer with evaluating potential industry disruptions. What they soon found was that benefits of low code/no code solutions outweighed the usual risks associated with citizen developers.
Division of Disruption: An R&D Origin Story
Starting in a customer service role over 17 years ago, Brian quickly worked his way into research and development (R&D). Meanwhile, industry veteran Cliff Switzer served as a key part of growth of Halco Life Safety Systems — and its 65% market share — before Lone Star Communications acquired the company in 2015.
Brian and Cliff were soon asked to join a then-unnamed innovation group, with the aim of looking at disruptions in the healthcare technology industry. “They handpicked the guys that think outside the box,” Cliff explains. Prior to the founding of the group, Brian and Cliff had never actually met — despite having worked in the same company for a number of years.
Whereas Brian was engineering in the Dallas area, Cliff’s role, based in Houston, was customer-facing. “I talk to hospitals and figure out what technology they're purchasing in order to integrate it into our systems,” Cliff says. “Every day is a different day, and it's pretty awesome to see this stuff go live in these facilities.”
But the R&D group wasn’t just about looking for potential disruptions that might cause issues for the industry. It was also born with a view to deliberately disrupt the industry in a positive way by looking for potential catalysts. “One of the first things we landed on was empowering our own team from within [to] be the disruption,” Brian explains.
They soon settled on a name: DoD — Division of Disruption. As a proudly self-proclaimed disrupter, Brian knew that empowering technicians with knowledge was an angle they needed to explore. With this in mind, they hit upon the idea of a knowledge base library.
Low Code/No Code Is the Solution
A library needs an environment to run: What would that look like? Cliff suggested that the DoD consider a no code environment to implement their vision. Coming from a background of developing apps and websites with products like Xcode and Swift, Brian was initially skeptical. How could a no code solution feasibly factor into the library’s production, and what kind of timeline would the team need to develop the final product?
Cliff stumbled upon his low code/no code solution while using data analytics in customer-facing situations: “There's got to be a way [to] build modern apps without Swift [and] React,” he explains. The prospect of being able to prototype products and services to benefit from quicker customer feedback — instead of spending time and money developing an app — was especially attractive.
Having tried no code development platforms like Adalo, Bubble, and FlutterFlow, Cliff ultimately went with a different company: Glide. With Brian working in app development using WordPress and other tools “it was a perfect match,” Cliff says.
Rising Stars in Healthcare Technology
Once Cliff showed Brian what could be done in a no-code environment in just one week, the duo built a prototype ahead of their next DoD meeting. The DoD reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The prototype would ultimately become TechStar.
Functioning as the internal knowledge base for technicians, TechStar has taken on a life of its own. Once Cliff and Brian got past their proof of concept, they discovered there was significant demand for the tool.
For the final build, Brian and Cliff took concepts from a previous knowledge base library they’d created and made it forward-facing and thus technician-friendly. Technicians require entire parts catalogs, installation manuals and wiring diagrams. With TechStar, technicians are able to get what they need from an app rather than having to log into a website, making onboarding new technicians much easier.
From this initial use case and with increased centralization, the R&D team realized they could also share contact lists and site information within the app, precluding the need for phone directories. The app’s growth and development quickly snowballed.
No More Citizen Developer Risk
Brian’s role is more conventionally IT-focused, while Cliff occupies the ‘citizen developer’ category. One oft-touted concern with employing citizen developers for technological solutions is that they can introduce more business risk and actually potentially harm businesses in the process. But this concern may very soon be unwarranted.
“Moving forward, I really think [citizen development] is something that a lot of people may find benefit in,” Brian explains. It could help identify core needs, especially when citizen developers are working in customer-facing roles. “What are you really trying to create? What problem are you really trying to solve?”
Considering the amount of time people spend on their cell phones, providing interaction and information in the form of a mobile app is always a plus point for both businesses and customers. Doing this without large development teams armed with conventional coding backgrounds in native languages like Python is surely an all-around win.
The low code/no code environment was “a great meeting ground for two talents that addressed a need quickly,” Brian says. He was impressed by how well they could achieve this on a short timeline. With “both of us having technician backgrounds, we knew almost upfront what the needs were. When we started developing this, we designed it specific to those needs.” This was in spite of the fact that Cliff had a full-time job on top of his work for TechStar.
Endless Possibilities — For Businesses and for Customers
Once technicians and other people in the business see what can be achieved, their own creativity is stimulated for what else might be possible.
Kenny Schiff, founder and CEO of CareSight.com as well as Lone Star Communications’ Director of Analytics, was working on a prototype for a mobile application and ended up reusing some of Brian and Cliff’s processes to get feedback from his sales and marketing teams, customers and partners.
“Who better to build for than the person that's consuming the actual app?” Cliff highlights. Clinicians can give accurate feedback on what they want. “You're building to a need rather than building to what you think the need is. You're closer to the problem.”
Companies like Lone Star are in the problem-solving business. It might not be common to view healthcare technology organizations as product-based — with different customers having different problems — but these companies are significantly closer to customers than manufacturing companies are. Being able to listen to and take action on direct feedback puts solving problems squarely in the control of those with an interest in solving them, rather than being reliant on other parties to solve parts of those problems.
Prepare Yourself: There’s a lot of AI Coming to Healthcare
With the rise in the use of tools like ChatGPT, the effects of AI and machine learning (ML) development are rippling through every industry — healthcare included.
Brian is most excited about the potential for future integrations amid rapidly developing new environments. “TechStar was designed to give the technician the ability to look at a PDF, drawing or information quickly,” he says. With AI integrations, asking your phone a question will return the answer even more quickly.
“When you're standing in front of an engineer or contractor at a site, [the] customer relationship is totally different,” he explains. Businesses are now charged with the confidence to provide a rapid response to whatever customers require. Cliff also explains that it’s only trained on data for which TechStar is programmed. “That unlocks a lot of creative doors,” he says.
Cliff also highlights the fast pace of AI development. “There [are] all these AI tools that literally build whatever it is that you want,” he notes. “The trick is creativity — and figuring out how to create a brand around it.”
Learning Is a Lifelong Process: Lone Star Embodies It
The dividing line between real programming and citizen programming may no longer matter. “The tools are there — you just have to be a lifelong learner,” Cliff says. “That's me and Brian: After four o'clock, we're learning, looking at new tech [and] trying to figure out how to plug things in. And that's what we do — weekends [and] nights [too].”
Not all companies offer their people the opportunity to create tools and systems that may have outsized benefits to customers, employees and perhaps even further afield. But while the Division of Disruption might spark negative connotations, viewing it as a department of challenge — without barriers — changes the way of thinking about the possibilities.
Lone Star Communications isn’t just about systems integration working behind the scenes within the healthcare industry. Top talent like the DoD facilitates direct, fruitful interactions with customers and solves more problems quicker than anyone may have thought possible.
Brian Banks is a Technology Integration Specialist at Lone Star Communications and has worked with the company for over 16 years. Cliff Switzer is a Healthcare Innovations Specialist. Prior to his seven year tenure at Lone Star, Cliff worked for more than 20 years at Halco Life Safety Systems, which was acquired by Lone Star Communications in 2015.