Not so long ago, when an enterprise required a new information system, it either had to hire a developer or acquire off-the-shelf software. Today, however, there’s another option: low-code/no-code applications.
Low-code/no-code applications allow organizations to build custom systems without the need to either hire teams or outsource the work. Low-code/no-code development platforms represent yet another improvement in speeding up time-to-value on creating both internal and external applications, says Christian Kelly, a managing director at business and IT advisory firm Accenture. “They allow for the democratization of technology capabilities.” As citizen developers, business teams can participate in the creation of new capabilities and customer interactions, he adds. “It allows for more participation from the broader organization and improves their ability to create more value for more people.”
Andrew Kum-Seun, a senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, notes that a low-code/no-code approach allows organizations to equip everyday digital staffers with customizable technologies and tools. “Not having to worry about infrastructure, device compatibility, code, and other technical components provides much comfort for those looking to invest in digital transformation,” he says.
Many leading software vendors will enter this low-code/no-code market in 2022, predicts Ashish Chaturvedi, a principal analyst at global technology research and advisory firm ISG. “The no-code space that was once niche and limiting is spreading its tentacles far and wide,” he states. “The next three years will see it grow to at least three times in market cap.”
Primary Benefits: Agility and More
A primary benefit of turning to a low-code/no-code development platform is increased agility. “The approach allows organizations to have a much more direct and immediate impact on the delivery of an application tailored specifically to their needs,” says David McIntire, engagement director of application managed services for business and IT consulting firm Capgemini Americas. The technology also gives IT departments the ability to reduce technical debt through the simplification and modernization of specific functions, he adds.
New adopters should begin by focusing on targeted business outcomes and specific use cases, McIntire advises. The use cases can then inform the selection of the right platform. Organizations should also establish a governance model defining the standards, policies, and procedures for using the platform to create new applications.
Organizations should also start with relatively simple, tried-and-tested use cases, Chaturvedi suggests. “For example, start with adding functionalities to business process applications,” he says. Business intelligence reporting applications and dashboards are other popular starting points. “Once an organization is comfortable, consider more complex and critical implementations.”
Application Design Training Required
While low-code/no-code development platforms are designed for speed and ease of use, they still require citizen developers to have a basic understanding of application design concepts. Although training is highly dependent on the use case and platform the organization selects, there are a few basic concepts that every user must understand. “For citizen developers to be effective, they should be trained in how data flows in a system, how customer interactions fit within the system, and how to connect different technologies together,” Kelly explains.
“Enterprises will not only need to train their teams to use the selected platform, but they will also have to develop and implement an internal organizational approach to leverage the platform, including governance structures, development and implementation processes, and standards,” McIntire says.
Bootcamps are a popular way to help staff learn how to build projects on a low-code/ no-code platform. All the leading platform providers operate or sponsor virtual academies where users can gain access to end-to-end documentation and learning guides, along with formal certifications on specific tools, Chaturvedi notes.
Trade-offs and Compromises to Citizen Developer Concept
Organizations new to the citizen developer concept must weigh the trade-offs of going no-code versus low code, versus custom-developed, versus purchasing an off-the-shelf solution, Kum-Seun says. “For example, an application can be quick and easy to develop with a no-code solution, but it will be locked into the vendor’s proprietary framework and technology stack,” he says.
There are other issues as well. “While the benefits … are attractive, the limitations of no-code solutions may not give you the output that you need,” Kum-Seun observes. “Canned application features are available through drag-and-drop and visual modeling, but they lack the comprehensiveness of those developed with low-code tools or those offered in similar off-the-shelf solutions,” he says.
Low-code/no-code is neither new nor a silver bullet, Accenture’s Kelly says. “It's merely another chapter in the democratization of technology that will require changes to current technology operating models,” he notes. “More than implementing the platform, the biggest challenge lies in an organization’s ability to evolve their operating blueprint so that every user can effectively deliver on the promise of this technology.”
“No-code platforms are still relatively immature, so while all organizations can explore their use, the primary focus should be on applying them to very specific and focused use cases rather than as a broad enterprise solution,” McIntire says.