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Charlie Carpinteri

The low-code/no-code revolution

How low-code/no-code could revolutionise the way we build technology products.

The low-code/no-code revolution

The low-code/no-code revolution

It feels like a cliche to refer to a new technology as a “game-changer”. But the more I learn about low-code/no-code (LC/NC) platforms, the greater my confidence that they will revolutionise the way we build technology products. And unlike other nascent technologies, businesses that adopt a wait-and-see approach will lose out. There is a huge first-mover advantage in integrating LC/NC into your tech stack as soon as possible. After an initial learning curve and mindset shift, it will reduce costs and increase speed to market, allowing you to do more with less. By the time your competitors adopt similar processes, your organisation will be leaps ahead in reaping the benefits.

LC/NC platforms continue to gain traction within the technology community. But so far they have mostly been adopted by budget-constrained scale-ups and startups, rather than product teams in large enterprises (with a few exceptions). A lot of software engineers are unconvinced or outright resistant to LC/NC coming anywhere near their tech stack. I believe this scepticism is misplaced. LC/NC solutions are here to stay. And grow. They will eat more and more of our tech stacks. It’s not a matter of if, but when, your organisation will embrace the power of LC/NC.

Despite glowing praise from many, the topic and technology have divided opinions. In my view the benefits are undeniable. With faster, more efficient, and more accessible software development, how could they not be?

In this blog, I will unpack the following:

  • What is the difference between low-code and no-code?
  • Why is low-code development a game-changer?
  • Benefits of LC/NC: faster and more flexible
  • Practical use cases of LC/NC

What is the difference between low-code and no-code?

Both low-code (LC) and no-code (NC) platforms allow all types of developers and even professionals outside of IT teams to create mobile or web apps. People with varying levels of coding ability can drag and drop application components, and connect them together in order to create rapid designs and builds.

There is however a clear distinction between the two which is often misunderstood.

Low-code offers more flexibility

LC platforms are predominantly aimed at developers. These platforms require more technical knowledge compared to NC platforms, and they do allow for some coding to take place. More complex integrations and digital transformation initiatives can be built in an LC environment. They make coding for even the most seasoned developer a more efficient and faster process. In short, the job of an LC platform is to augment a developer to make them more productive.

No-code offers ease-of-use

In contrast, NC platforms are targeted at business users or non-IT professionals. The beauty of NC solutions is that people with little to no coding experience are able to build apps and websites. NC platforms can be used to create simple functioning apps at a much lower cost than anything built by developers from the ground up. It is fantastic for small, bounded software projects

However, for larger enterprise development in the coming decade, LC platforms will be the true game-changer. The rest of this piece is focused solely on LC development.

Why is low-code development a game-changer?

It is no secret that developers are in high demand. We all have so many great ideas and not enough engineers to build them. Businesses around the world are struggling to attract and retain scarce developer talent. Combining this with impatient investors and a constant push to reduce costs and improve the bottom line has led to the perfect storm. Enter the LC/NC revolution. LC platforms enable developers of all skill levels to design applications, in many cases, three to five times faster than they would traditionally. Dragging and dropping components or reusable code into a workflow and composing user interfaces across native mobile and responsive web platforms has never been easier. And artificial intelligence capabilities are further enhancing how effectively these tools support developers in moving faster. LC platforms promise to do everything from easing the challenge of developer scarcity to empowering the average business user to build applications.

There are businesses that are seeing the payback and ROI on their LC platform investments in as little as three months. With the significant amount of investment in the technology space, and with companies like Amazon and Google building their own LC platforms, the rate of adoption will increase exponentially in the years to come.

Benefits of LC/NC: faster and more flexible

The rapid adoption of LC development is being driven by ease of use and faster and more flexible integration with existing technologies. More of these platforms can slot seamlessly into your current, traditionally built technology stack. The combination of these benefits has led to accelerated value creation. Along with this adoption, there will be wide-ranging long-term benefits to the external departments within a business. But let’s focus on some of the immediate wins.

Speed: With LC, you can build apps for multiple platforms faster than traditional methods by dragging and dropping modules with pre-built code. Developers are able to build apps rapidly, minimising the amount of coding they need to do, which allows them to focus more on the customer and business problems (higher value work). These platforms typically abstract the entire application stack, including the hosting, security, pipelines, and more. This gives teams the ability to show stakeholders working examples of applications in days, or sometimes even hours. Using visual design components and pre-built or prescribed templates, teams can respond quickly to new ideas and information.  

Flexibility: The ability to drag and drop pre-built components enables teams to quickly develop, ideate, and make rapid changes to designs and interfaces. More complex and bespoke functions within an application can be manually coded and embedded in the LC application. This flexibility empowers business users to build and automate new solutions through a collaborative approach.

Resourcing: LC platforms typically require fewer developers, time, and requirement for coding. Developers can produce the same quantity and quality of output in less time. When finding and securing talent is a challenge, LC technologies allow businesses to do more with less.

Efficiency: With LC solutions, a single click is all it takes to send your application to production. Typically these platforms also have mechanisms to allow users to provide direct feedback on particular pages or functions of an application, which speeds up the time for the delivery teams to respond and deliver value to customers and other stakeholders.

Increased ROI: Being able to deliver working code quicker and at lower cost drives up return on investment (ROI). It also seeds a virtuous cycle of ongoing efficiencies of continuous delivery/improvement.

The (short-term) downside

There is an initial investment and a number of organisational challenges in adopting LC platforms. Many of your developers may need to upskill and learn how best to interface with the LC platform. Like any tool, an experienced practitioner will produce better outcomes.

There is also a mindset shift that will need to occur within your teams. Product owners and technology leaders will need to spot commonalities between solutions being built. If one area of the business solves a given use case or problem, this can often be repurposed in other areas. This will then free up time to focus on what actually drives results, whether that’s marketing, reformulating strategy, or developing your roadmap. Your technology teams will also have more time to focus on higher value and more complex problems.

Practical use cases of low-code

When it comes to the use of LC platforms, naturally the most common and obvious use cases are building mobile and web apps. However, LC platforms provide opportunities to enable many more uses, particularly in the enterprise segment. Currently, I see three key areas that can benefit massively right now.

Workplace Innovation 

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the digital transformation of nearly all businesses. Literally overnight, businesses had to completely transform how they work and how they use technology. We saw a massive adoption of platforms like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Zoom, Slack, and other software that enabled hybrid ways of working and online collaboration. Staff within businesses had to find quick ways to update their existing processes, some of which were still paper-based! There are some great off-the-shelf platforms and tools that help with process automation, though sometimes something a lot more powerful is needed. Enter LC platforms in the workplace. We’ve seen applications of LC platforms solve problems and create solutions in areas like:

  • Employee recruitment: Digitising an experience that perhaps has been far too clunky for too long.
  • Employee onboarding/offboarding: Businesses have really had to up their game in this area, particularly with the scarcity of talent.
  • Workplace community and culture: Transforming ways of working overnight meant businesses had to find new, innovative, and digital ways to stay connected.
  • Workforce resource planning: Shift working, contingent workers, etc.
  • COVID-19 health and protocols management

Process Automation 

Another shift resulting from COVID-19 was the change in how businesses provided services to customers. Although there are many great process automation platforms out there, LC platforms tend to have a lot more utility. Not only can they support a digitised business process with things like visual business flow technology, but they also have the entire tech stack built in. Consequently, businesses can digitise and optimise processes iteratively, and deliver new, modern user interfaces that focus on enhancing the employee experience (which leads to a better customer experience). Some use-cases as to where we have seen low-code play a role are:

  • Supply chain management: introducing new interfaces and new capabilities in managing assets, warehouse inventory, transportation management and visibility, etc.
  • Field services optimisation: digitising paper-based ways of working, optimising resource allocation, routing, etc.
  • Facilities management
  • Sales and financial operations

Application Modernisation

In enabling the above use-cases, larger, mature businesses typically have old legacy systems that are the lifeblood and core of the organisation. Many managers would rather keep these creaking along than attempt to replace them at great cost and risk. Over the years, every other element of the tech stack is built around these legacy systems and it becomes increasingly difficult to move forward in the face of so much technical debt. On top of this, the long list of business and customer feature requests require interfacing with or enhancement of those old systems. When it comes to “modernising” those old, core business systems (AS400 / DB2 is a great example!), LC platforms can play a role here, handling:

  • complex business logic;
  • modern API interfaces and gateways;
  • modern web-based interfaces (unless you like a good old green screen!); and
  • moving to a microservice architecture (breaking down legacy monoliths a little at a time to reduce the risk of business disruption and increase opportunity for innovation).

The rise of the LC/NC platform revolution has arrived and it’s here to stay. Those of us who shift our mindset will unlock its potential first. Our entire conception of the development process will transform. We’ve done a lot of interesting work with our engineering team to uncover exactly what this mindset shift looks like, which I’ll speak about soon.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to learn more about LC platforms, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or reach out to us here at IE. I’m always keen to grab coffee and talk about how tech is changing!

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