The development space is humming with the promise of low-code and no-code developer platforms (LCDP). If these solutions deliver what they promise, it could transform the way in which enterprise organisations manage their software development needs.
These solutions are heavily anticipated. One study has estimated that 65% of application development will be low-code by 2024.
Looking at the wider tech landscape, it isn’t surprising that these solutions are being welcomed with open arms. IT leaders are facing growing obstacles around application delivery. Developer shortages and skill-set challenges are impacting the ability to meet the demands of increasing levels of business automation. In turn, vendors of low-code platforms have stepped up. They have been improving the ease at which business applications can be delivered. They are providing broader capabilities needing smaller and less specialised teams of developers.
Looking back to last year, there is data to support the hype. Early studies have suggested that these solutions yield impressive results. A survey by No-Code Census demonstrated that these low and no-code development platforms showed a 4.6 X productivity gain vs. traditional programming.
Low-code and no-code. What is the difference?
These solutions are not one and the same.
No-code platforms do just what the name suggests. No-code platforms intend to make software development just as easy for the layperson as using Word or PowerPoint. The average business user can move projects forward without the need for an expensive engineering team.
In contrast, Gartner defines a low-code developer platform (LCDP) as “a platform that supports rapid application development, one-step deployment, execution and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions, such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages.”
Low-code solutions do still require coding skills. However, they aim to speed up software development by letting developers work with pre-written code components.
The Benefits of using Low Code solutions.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental benefits of employing a low/no-code development strategy is speed. For most organisations, the ability to accelerate the delivery of new software and applications is critical. In a blog post recently, John Rymer of Forrester wrote that low-code offers the potential to “make software development as much as 10 times faster than traditional methods.”
These are just some of the ways in which an LCDP speeds up development;
- They have a drag-and-drop functionality, pre-built user interfaces, and models for business processes, logic, and data models that enable the rapid development of full-stack, cross-platform apps.
- Easy-to implement APIs and connectors integrate with third-party tools that developers already use, so no time is lost due to a learning curve.
- One-click application delivery automatically tracks all changes and handles database scripts and deployment processes, eliminating many time-consuming deployment and operations processes.
LCDPs allow businesses to be agile and respond to market changes rapidly. They offer new opportunities using innovative, digital solutions to solve business problems. Organisations can pivot when they need to respond to abrupt market changes and to new consumer or customer needs. For example, an LCDP would allow a business to deliver cloud applications that integrate with some legacy systems. In so doing, it is better able to meet the changing needs of customers. Users are also able to deliver applications across more platforms. Customers can interact with a business whenever, however and wherever they wish. Low-code also enables a business to take advantage of technology generally associated with agility, such as microservices and containers.
Multiexperience is critical to customer interaction and allows customers to reach out to an organisation their way. This is a key benefit of low-code platforms. Businesses can deliver brilliant omnichannel customer experiences that rival those of the leaders without the big budgets and expensive development teams. Among others, multiexperience development offers pre-built templates, automated refactoring, and easy chatbots ensuring that all the ways which customers touch your business are consistent. Customers are able to transition between different forms of engagement without having to relearn or duplicate steps. Low-code speeds up the process and removes the complexity of providing an optimal experience to every customer or user every time.
Innovation for All.
Last year’s Speed of Change report revealed that IT leaders were finding it “difficult or very difficult” to find and hire full-stack developers. The skilled and specialised developers needed to pursue digital transformation are hard to come by. Small and mid-size enterprises are struggling to secure these IT professionals at the hands of the tech giants. Unable to compete against the larger salaries and the brand attractiveness of Google or Amazon, for example. The minnows have reported they are losing out to the sharks!
The speed and the developmental simplicity of these solutions allow junior developers and tech enthusiasts to build apps like a seasoned Full Stack Developer with years of experience. Just as importantly, it allows skilled developers to work more efficiently. Thanks to low-code, companies of any size are able to maximize their existing resources and deliver the solutions their business requires to stay competitive.
Filling the Gap.
Katherine Kostereva is CEO and managing partner of the low-code platform provider, Creatio. She confirms the tech talent shortfall when she asserts that there are almost one million IT jobs that remain unfilled in the UK.
As we know, low-code and no-code platforms typically automate and streamline functions to let the user create solutions and apps quickly, sometimes with no understanding of coding at all. While such apps might not have the robust functions of something built from the ground up by a professional developer, they do allow businesses to move forward when little granular detail is required.
A security solution?
According to Sheryl Koenigsberg, head of global product marketing for Mendix (a low-code application development platform), enterprises can also find benefits with low-code and no-code platforms when it comes to scaling up and maintaining security.
The guardrails and automation within the platforms mean apps developed through them are less likely to expose organisations to risk because of reductions in human error.
The end of Shadow IT.
Shadow IT refers to when unsanctioned business users build apps to use in their daily work but without the knowledge and approval of the IT department. Low-code dispenses with this. With its focus on innovation for all, low-code offers ways to bring stealth development out of the shadows. Business users who are developing simple apps with low-code can follow best practices and avoid common pitfalls during application development.
The Challenges of Low Code / No code solutions.
Low-code and no-code are no panacea, and using these solutions is not without challenges.
Low-code / no-code deployment requires;
A change in culture.
Whether an organisation is well established or a startup, low-code / no-code requires a change in culture. It requires executive vision and endorsement from the top of the IT tree. It also needs the allocation of budget and employee empowerment to facilitate low-code/no-code digital transformation competency.
Low-code/no-code can increase speed and productivity, but it is not easy; the tools and platforms are not simple to learn. This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of low-code / no-code. Complex programming constructs, such as nested loops, are not that easy on any platform! Development of expertise takes time.
Some low / no-code platforms are more complete than others. Organisations may need to use multi-platforms to achieve the best performance. For example, Unquork and Bubble are two LCDPs that are designed to be used across any use case. They offer many options for integration with enterprise systems. However, they can benefit from other components that specialise in specific areas. For example, Bubble can be used in conjunction with the Parabola or Zapier plugin for automated integration. The data manipulation and integration capabilities in Parabola or Zapier are easier to work with than the native ones in Bubble.
Resources and community support.
Due to the fairly recent adoption of these platforms, many best practices are just emerging. There are millions of developers – sometimes tens of millions – for conventional programming languages. The longevity of traditional programming methodologies brings with it an enormous body of experience. There are robust communities of developers who contribute to and document best practices. Its infancy is exciting but also is perhaps its biggest obstacle.
Traditional programming also has a wealth of learning materials and resource to support its use. There are many online and on-site courses, books, and materials readily available for languages such as Java or C#, for example.
It is an entirely different scenario for low-code/no-code – especially for the more recent platforms.
Clear and proportionate pricing.
Enterprise low-code/no-code platforms tend to be unnecessarily expensive. Although the mid and small-market platforms are less costly, they are less scalable. When you factor in the involvement of multiple platforms for an end-to-end solution, pricing becomes more confusing still.
What does low-code / no-code mean for the talent market?
The emergence of these platforms will have a significant impact on the developer talent pool as we know it. If the predictions for the significance of low/no-code are accurate, then a lot of organisations will have some recalibration to do. Low-code developers currently make up less than 7% of all developers. As this trend becomes more vocal, we are going to see a higher proportion of low-code (or citizen developers – as they are also known) on the market.
There are some thinkers though, who say this growth is not guaranteed. Sachin Gupta, CEO of skills assessment solutions provider HackerEarth is one of these. He states that in the early stages of the COVID 19 pandemic, the demand for developers dropped. He has since said that businesses are becoming more optimistic. As time has moved on, hiring and growth have become less cautious. The demand for these IT professionals has grown again.
This is certainly something we can echo here at Ignite Digital HQ. Developers are more in demand than ever before.
He predicts that thanks to this U-turn, low/no-code solutions remain on the fringes.
He says, “I don’t see anybody using no-code and low-code platforms for building out their core solution that could be used either by enterprise or the end consumers”.
He doesn’t refute them entirely though. He believes their promise to lie in business logic processes that formerly were outsourced, done through Excel, macros, or by operations personnel.
In short, he sees these platforms as complementary to an organisation, but not a 360 solution. Learning to work with no-code and low-code platforms is not a replacement for the skills developers can bring to the table. Instead, it gives operations staff ways to engage with an increasingly technology-driven world. He believes that leveraging no-code and low-code platforms, as well as continuing to invest in more robust developers, is the path that will become the most trod.
Low code / No Code opens doors.
No-code and low-code platforms can also be the means for opening potential hires to new opportunities they may not have considered before. Mendix’s Sheryl Koenigsberg believes that most people who have general computer acumen of any sort can get pretty far with no-code or low-code; the majority of these platforms have guardrails to keep users on track.
“These systems can let people create enterprise-class software through guided AI to maintain the continuous integration/continuous deployment pipeline…There is an automated system to make sure it won’t do something that won’t work”.
Whilst transformative, low-code / no-code solutions do not provide a complete answer to the challenges that traditional programming poses for struggling enterprises and startups. That being said, it is a tech trend that is formidable, innovative, and disruptive.
As it continues to develop, we can expect more new products to emerge that will require testing, deployment, and evaluation before we can assess how much of an impact this trend will have on the software development space going forward.
Until then it can be assumed that the pace, agility, and accessibility of these low-code/no-code products will be transformative for some businesses, particularly those who may have struggled to find the talent and finances to support development as we have known it thus far.