Low Code, No Code, and the Citizen Developer

Friday, January 29, 2021

Low code app development makes it possible for people with non-technical backgrounds to create software apps in the workplace. The market for these tools is set for explosive growth, as Gartner forecasts that more than 75% of large enterprises will use numerous low-code development tools within the next three years. Low code will also account for over 65% of app development activity in the near future.


The focus to digitize operations and a growing number of remote workers will also further increase the use of no-code tools. A lack of professional developers will only continue to increase due to the impact of COVID-19, as many IT teams are under-resourced to meet the needs of businesses. Software-as-a-service with developer environments can help overcome these challenges, as they offer inexpensive training and support. 


Many investors have noticed the no-code movement. Unqork Inc. raised over $207 million with Series C funding, which brought its total fundraising to over $365 million while increasing the valuation to $2 billion. Airtable is another startup that raised $185 million in Series D funding that put the valuation at almost $2.6 billion.


Questions still remain on how this approach to software development can create complex applications for businesses. Many skeptics believe that these tools are a great way to automate workflows and create reports, but they aren't effective for developing critical applications. Those types of applications often require professional developers.


Despite these concerns, the outlook for no-code apps remains bullish. One of the challenges of past attempts of low code software was due to performance. However, the software now operates much quicker due to the higher performance of computer processing speed. Cloud application services play a key role in the success of low code development platforms, as it's much less dependent on local computer processors.


Low Code Platforms and Cloud Application Development

Software built on cloud computing applications is much less dependent on in-house processors that were designed for only one server. A cloud-based application can be divided into microservices that are continually tested for optimal performance. Processing power can easily be boosted to give programs additional power to perform these operations.


Low-code programming is more focused on putting together quality code modules, which many were created by professionals. The use of the cloud has also created additional access to new tools. Software-as-a-service applications often provide built-in development environments and low-cost training to help clients benefit from using their software. A variety of certifications are also available to further increase training.


Limited Supply

Another key aspect lowering the market is the shortage of professionally trained developers. Finding good developers is never easy, and they also command a significant salary. One estimate shows that nearly 660,000 jobs are available for software development in the United States, but only 75,000 computer science majors graduate each year.


The need for digital transformation services continues to grow even higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand for software developers is only expected to continue to grow at a rate that's five times higher compared to other jobs for the next ten years. Typically, most IT teams are under-resourced to meet the needs of an organization.


Less Resistance

Many IT companies are becoming less resistant in allowing colleagues to work on no-code platforms. Analytical processing, workflow automation, and other forms of data collection are often accomplished through a low-code application platform. However, these are often considered as a lesser priority for professional developers. One of the biggest changes is the necessity to digitize business operations. The IT world is gradually realizing that some development work will become decentralized throughout the industry.


While the pandemic has increased awareness of the importance of remote workers, the success of low-code platforms enables people to easily create applications to handle the ongoing crisis, which helps to further change perceptions. Many people now realize that agility and speed can easily be accomplished with IT governance and stability. 


Workers are increasingly becoming more confident in programming with the help of tools, such as Zapier and IFTTT to create complex application integrations. Each phone user is essentially a no-code developer, as customizing a smartphone often involves procedural logic.


Tools Continue to Improve

No-code app builder tools are also getting much better, whether you prefer high-end providers such as OutSystems Inc. or Mendix Tech BV that are often strong enough to support professional developers. However, other no-code platforms are also available that are more user-friendly, such as Claris' Filemaker and Quick Base, as nearly anyone can learn to use these platforms. Machine learning has also opened a vast number of new resources for developers. Workflow automation used to be the "sweet spot" for using low-code tools, as it now often overlaps with machine learning.


The pandemic has further increased the profile of the no-code movement due to the need to develop applications quickly to handle a variety of actions, such as monitoring employee health, handling loan applications, performing contact tracing, supporting social distancing rules, and much more. Many organizations only had a few days to comply with the latest regulations due to the fast-growing demands of the pandemic.


Van Marke NV is one of the leading wholesalers of plumbing supplies throughout Belgium. They created a contact tracing app to monitor the safety of over 1,600 employees across multiple countries in only eight days. The company also worked with BPM Co. to enable employees to voluntarily record any interactions with extended networks to upload this data to an app on the cloud. Typically, this process would take a month, but it was finished in less than five days.


Citizen Developer Strategy

All of these combinations are leading to significant changes in the attitudes of corporate tech leaders. Gartner recently reported in a survey that 41% of the respondents already have active citizen development initiatives while 20% are in the planning or evaluation stage. There are strong indications that many enterprises will begin to use a model that allows everyone to train in software development, such as a low-code developer or a professional. Businesses are now entering a new world where everyone can be developers. Ultimately, the line between non-technical and technical is blurring.


Many professionals are also finding plenty to like in a low-code application platform, as it allows developers to fully take advantage of these resources. 


While low-code and no-code tools are often categorized together, there are a few big distinctions between these options. There is also a debate about which of these platforms balance usability and performance. The term "no-code" is often confusing because it does require code. Some of these no-code platforms are easier to use, but it can also limit flexibility in the future due to their design.


Low-code will always be a superior option over no-code, as it gives you the ability to easily create your own applications. However, no-code advocates believe that the main goal needs to focus on eliminating coding, which doesn't happen with low-code tools. While low-code can often increase efficiency to boost developer productivity, they almost always require coding to perform more complex tasks.


Better Working Together

The quality of apps that people can create with low-code tools is constantly improving. Still, IT companies are often reluctant to use them without carefully vetting these applications with the help of professional developers. Often the best case results whenever citizen developers and professionals collaborate with each other.


Recently, Bantrab created a digital wallet app to make it easier for Guatemalans to manage their finances, as the vast majority do not have access to a bank account. VeriTran developers, alongside the bank's IT team, worked with each other to create middleware to help develop a user interface using a low-code application platform. Low-code made it possible to create a user-friendly platform, but it wasn't possible without the help of an IT team.


Bantrab's Yolo application has now been downloaded over 20,000 times, as it usually creates 30 new accounts each day. The use of low-code tools made it possible to launch this application within four months while everyone was working from home. Developers can now modify the user experience at any time to ensure clients receive the best service possible.


Definition of Digital Democracy

However, not everyone agrees that the low-code market has unlimited potential. For example, workflow vendors have never grown past two-hundred million in the past. Many developers will also quickly be forced to use code once an application becomes more complex. 


The trend for low-code platforms will most likely play out similar to how the internet has evolved. Twenty years ago, content management systems were very costly and complex while taking months to create and test. Now the same functions can easily be created in the cloud with little to no money. Customer relationship management systems were often delayed months due to the lack of hardware. However, now such a delay would be unthinkable.


Development teams are now under additional pressure to make it possible for non-technical people to create applications with minimum experience, as the line between technical and non-technical continues to blur. All of this allows for greater flexibility to meet the growing demand of customers in today's workplace.

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