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Low Code, High Results?

August 16, 2021


The editorial team at insideBIGDATA has declared 2021 “The Year of Low Code.”[1] They report, “Forrester analysts estimate 75% of all enterprise software will be built with low-code technology this year.” UiPath experts write, “Hype has put a spotlight on low code.”[2] They add, “Low-code platforms [are] a chief information officer’s (CIO) key to more efficient weekdays and far more enjoyable weekends. Low-code builders are ushering in a new future of work.” Technology journalist David Roe (@druadh20) insists all of the low-code hyperbole results from the stress digital transformation efforts have placed on information technology professionals. He explains, “With an ongoing shortage of software developer and data science talent globally, companies are scrambling to reduce the strain and demands on IT departments with limited resources. Low-code/no-code technology helps bridge this IT gap by automating processes without taxing the IT department.”[3] Jon Knisley (@jknisley) a principal at FortressIQ, agrees with that assessment. He writes, “When the pandemic hit, digital transformation was accelerated, and many companies turned to low-code development in the hopes of winning in the new agile world.”[4] How much did the pandemic accelerate digital transformation efforts? Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), Chief Digital Evangelist for Salesforce, asserts, “The pandemic served as a 5-10 year accelerant for digital business transformation.”[5]


Low Code/No Code Explained


“We’ve all been hearing the hype lately about low-code and no-code platforms,” writes Setrag Khoshafian (@setrag), cofounder at Startup Assistant and Principal and Chief Scientist at Khosh Consulting. “The promise of no-code platforms is that they’ll make software development just as easy as using Word or PowerPoint so that the average business user can move projects forward without the extra cost (in money and time) of an engineering team. Unlike no-code platforms, low-code platforms still require coding skills but promise to accelerate software development by letting developers work with pre-written code components.”[6] Forsyth Alexander, Product Marketing Manager at OutSystems, adds, “It’s easy to confuse low-code and no-code. Market confusion aside, it really is possible to distinguish between low-code and no-code platforms. There are literally hundreds of small details and capabilities that differentiate low-code platforms from no-code solutions. Most of them aren’t apparent at the UI level, which is where much of the confusion between the two comes from.”[7] I suspect most end-users of programs don’t care what the differences are between no code and low code. However, if the impact no code and low code platforms are predicted to have on organizations is more than hyperbole, business leaders should have a basic understanding of low code and no code .


Low Code. Alexander provides a straight forward explanation of low code. She writes, “Low-code is a way for developers of all skill levels to design applications quickly and with minimum hand-coding by dragging and dropping visual blocks of existing code into a workflow to create applications. Building software with low-code is the same as building software any other way, with the main difference being the types of shortcuts offered. Rather than hand-coding a user management system, learning the latest programming framework, or writing 10 tests before a single line of your app’s code, you go straight to creating something new and valuable.”


No Code. According to Alexander, “No-code solutions also feature drag-and-drop, visual development. Unlike low-code, they mostly cater to business people or others in IT who may not know any actual programming languages but want to develop an application for a specific use case — often for their department. In other words, no-code allows organizations to equip teams with the tools they need to create applications without formal development training.”


As you might imagine, the thought of untrained people mucking about with IT programs can keep CIOs up at night. With a little training, however, CIOs indicate they’re okay with the introduction of low code/no code platforms. Afshar reports a Salesforce survey found, “92% of IT leaders are comfortable with the use of low-code tools by business users, assuming proper training, governance, and processes.”


Low Code/No Code in Business


The experts at UiPath note, “When business users can build, and IT is free to focus on more strategic work, your business can solve a whole new layer of problems, and become more competitive.” Roe adds, “Low-code tools are currently being adopted primarily for custom app development inside separate business units such as sales and marketing, service, human resources, or finance.” When and where to use low code/no code platforms is a question addressed by Chris Johannessen (@measurefuture), Director of Digital Transformation at Axis Group, and Thomas H. Davenport (@tdav), the President’s Distinguished Professor of IT and Management at Babson College. They write, “Low code/no code (LC/NC) applications can provide a close fit to business requirements, can be implemented quickly, and typically cost much less than systems developed in-house.”[8] According to Johannessen and Davenport, small businesses have the most to gain from LC/NC applications. They explain:


LC/NC software development approaches support a variety of application types. Small business transactional systems are perhaps the most common. These are applications that process business transactions — tools such as human resource management (e.g., performance appraisal), reservation management for restaurants or other experiences, order quote creation, field service management, and so forth. Large firms might have expensive packages or custom-developed programs to perform them, but small businesses can generate their own easily. Another common one is small-scale automation capabilities. Automation of large-scale enterprise processes and workflows should generally be done by professional developers, but many firms also have smaller workflows to automate. … Companies also use LC/NC programs for analytics, particularly visual analytics. The growth market for descriptive analytics has largely been for LC/NC programs that can generate attractive and insightful visual analytics, with some systems now focusing on delivering insights through a text or even voice-based chat experience.”


As I noted above, CIOs can toss and turn over the thought of untrained personnel playing around with IT programs. Johannessen and Davenport explain there are good reasons for concern. They write, “There are great benefits from LC/NC software development, but management challenges as well. Broad use of these tools institutionalizes the ‘shadow IT’ phenomenon, which has bedeviled IT organizations for decades — and could make the problem much worse, if not governed properly. Citizen developers tend to create applications that don’t work or scale well, and then they try to turn them over to IT.” Alexander agrees that caution needs to be exercised. She writes, “The downside to no-code is that it can result in shadow IT, whereby people are developing apps without proper supervision or consideration. Predictably, the results can lead to security concerns, compliance issues, integration problems, apps that use more resources than necessary, and increased technical debt.”


Concluding Thoughts


Despite concerns about well-intentioned, but poorly trained, personnel creating programs, Johannessen and Davenport acknowledge that most companies will require LC/NC platforms in the years ahead. They conclude, “Almost every organization today needs more system development talent. LC/NC development isn’t a panacea, but it can address some of these resource shortages. Over time, it’s likely that systems will become even easier to build for common processes and use cases. As Chris Wanstrath, the former CEO of code-sharing repository Github, put it, ‘The future of coding is no coding at all.’” Alexander reports, “Low-code and no-code tools are increasingly playing a crucial role in speeding up the delivery of applications. Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low-code or no-code as one of their strategic application platforms and that low-code will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024.”


[1] Editorial Team, “Why 2021 is The Year of Low-Code,” insideBIGDATA, 9 January 2021.
[2] UiPath, “Dear CIOs: Why You Need an Enterprise-Scale, Low-Code Strategy Now (Part 1),” Techwire, 14 May 2021.
[3] David Roe, “How Digital Transformation Is Driving Low-Code/No-Code Growth,” CMS Wire, 1 June 2021.
[4] Jon Knisley, “How Low-Code is Anchoring the Digital-First Enterprise,” DevOps.com, 15 June 2021.
[5] Vala Afshar, “92% of IT leaders comfortable with business users using low-code tools,” ZDnet, 16 June 2021.
[6] Setrag Khoshafian, “No-code/low-code: Why you should be paying attention,” VentureBeat, 14 February 2021.
[7] Forsyth Alexander, “Low-Code and No-Code: What’s the Difference and When to Use What?” Outsystems Blog, 8 January 2021.
[8] Chris Johannessen and Thomas H. Davenport, “When Low-Code/No-Code Development Works — and When It Doesn’t,” Harvard Business Review, 22 June 2021.

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