No-code and low-code platforms continue to grab headlines and gain momentum, but they’re not an IT silver bullet. Successful implementation requires a working partnership between citizen developers and IT departments, with clearly defined responsibilities and areas of focus. Now that the global pandemic has accelerated the uptake of no-code initiatives, it’s time to assess the landscape and make sure the solution fits the problem.
No-code is nothing new. You could argue that it’s been around since the 1980s, with the arrival of Microsoft Excel. Then, in 2003, we saw the democratisation of web publishing and eCommerce with players like WordPress and Shopify, respectively.
Over the intervening years, no-code and its close companion, low-code, have been delivered through Microsoft Power Apps, Salesforce Platform, Typeform, Mailchimp, and Zapier, to name just a few.
It’s nothing new—but its usage is accelerating. No-code has become better, more effective, and more widely accepted as a robust alternative to hand coding. In 2019, 84 per cent of enterprises across the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia had already implemented a low-code development tool or platform to handle some of their app development.
React faster, build quicker
Alongside the growth of the no-code economy is a new breed of non-developer team. These are employees set free to build fully individualised applications that possess a hand-coded quality. Research by Gartner shows that in 2021, 41 per cent of employees outside the IT function are customising or building data or technology solutions.
Last year, the global pandemic applied upward pressure to a market already in ascendance. Stay-at-home measures and widely dispersed teams created a business need for remote working on a scale never seen before. This played to the strengths of no-code.
Not only is the no-code and low-code approach highly suited to the surge in remote development; it has also allowed companies to react faster and support remote work functions at a quicker pace. This fast-tracked adoption is expected to continue, with the global market for low-code development technologies on track to grow by 23 per cent in 2021, to achieve a value of $13.8 billion.
No-code versus low-code: the differences
The main difference between no-code and low-code platforms is the target audience. No-code development is aimed at business users that don’t have programming knowledge. It utilises a visual drag-and-drop user interface, with no hand coding required to achieve the end result.
Low-code development requires users to have some programming skills and technical knowledge. It allows programmers to work faster, using a framework that requires minimal coding, with most of the heavy lifting still carried out in the background.
As a result, low-code is more flexible, whereas no-code allows far speedier deployment of apps that are designed with a very specific purpose.
Rise of the citizen developer
From nascent technology startups through to multinational corporations, there’s increasing internal demand for custom software solutions. More companies are embarking on their digital transformation journeys. Business technologists working alongside marketing, operations and product design functions want rapid deployment of automation solutions. And citizen developers—those employees who both create and consume applications—are finding they have the no-code tools to execute their ideas.
A new era of hyper-automation
Due to the pandemic’s effects on businesses, we have now entered an era of hyper-automation, where organizations aim to rapidly identify, vet, and automate as many approved business and IT processes as possible. Research carried out in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia shows that between 2019 and 2022, executives expected automation to increase the capacity of their existing workforces by 27 per cent. Hyper-automation is making this a reality.
Another outcome from the pandemic was that it revealed a backlog of automation requests from business stakeholders. This has prompted more than 70 per cent of commercial organisations to undertake dozens of hyper-automation initiatives, allowing them to adopt a digital-first approach to business.
Integration is key
It can be highly beneficial to place emphasis on no-code automation tools. That’s because the trinity of digital transformation, business acceleration and hyper-automation are putting pressure on business leaders and IT teams to perpetually accelerate application delivery times.
When I talk to people who are evaluating no-code options, they tell me it’s not just about the speed at which recurring tasks can be automated. It’s also about the speed of integration. That’s because many of them are building highly innovative IoT solutions with very small, interdisciplinary teams. Development time is scarce. They need to focus on creating unique product advantages, rather than spend time integrating building blocks into their tech stacks.
There’s also a great deal of value in being able to operate across a lean internal team. When citizen developers build departmental applications or line-of-business solutions, they are already there on the ground. They are knowledge natives and have an innate understanding of both the challenge and the potential solution. Often, what they don’t have is an internal development team at their disposal. Bringing contractors or central functions into the picture will slow them down and erode their competitive edge.
No-code and the Internet of Things
When applied to IoT, the benefits of no-code are greatly accentuated. Connecting the ‘things’ can often require the integration of back-end systems, sensors and other endpoints, security layers, platforms, technology stacks and more. With such a disparate range of variables, integration through traditional development routes can be highly challenging and time consuming.
An optimal solution is the combination of API-first, for functionality, with SDKs in various languages, and no-code as the logical veneer on top. This approach can be applied across a range of verticals, including:
- Smart Building & City
- Asset Management
Use cases include continuous and reliable monitoring of critical fleet data with a global IoT SIM. It’s always connected to the most suitable cellular network, allowing vehicle tracking, monitoring of driver behaviour, vehicle diagnostics and video evidence capture. Plus, there’s route planning, failure reduction, and making fleet operations more efficient and secure.
Traffic monitoring is another option, to ensure worker safety and traffic flow, with digital boards, speed meters and traffic lights. Or smart building data collection based on temperature, vibration, lights, on/off switching, meters, motion and flow, all sending failure alerts across multiple networks and using cloud native single connection without public internet breakout.
What we’re now seeing with the rapid adoption of no-code tools is similar to the SaaS explosion. SaaS provided a lean alternative to owning the software and paying for the maintenance, bringing many advantages with it. Quick set-up, seamless deployment and lower upfront costs are the hallmark. And no-code is on a similar industry-disrupting trajectory.
An evolving strategic role for IT executives
Yet there’s always going to be a role for traditional developers. In much the same way that the transition to cloud hasn’t eliminated system administrators, no-code platforms and citizen developers will coexist with specialist software developers. And traditional IT expertise is still needed for a wide range of activities.
There always needs to be a clear long-term technological roadmap. Everything still needs to align with the wider company goals, both now and in the future. That’s where the traditional IT role will continue to shine. APIs and services that will have a long life, are relatively complex or require more than a handful of developers need to remain the remit of the IT department. Similarly, bespoke user experiences, custom functionality and scaling systems are all suited to traditional development methods.
No-code is nothing without context
For no-code implementation to fulfill its potential, there needs to be a partnership between IT and the no-code citizen developers. There has to be a reporting framework and an agreement on the kinds of applications that are suited to the low-code and no-code approach. This allows for a constructive relationship, where IT can support and nurture the use of these options. There’s a lot to be said for task force teams and autonomous working, but they need to be part of a bigger plan and not just a siloed afterthought. It’s these constructive relationships, with specialist skills deployed where they can make the most impact, that build solid foundations for both agility and growth.