No-code and low-code platforms have been generating a lot of excitement recently.
Among other things, they’re seen as a means of empowering business users to create their own internal software solutions — and, in the process, eliminate, on their own, things like bottlenecks, technology gaps, overly burdensome demand on IT, app sprawl, and even shadow IT. Could no-code/low-code one day deliver on software’s true promise: the full digital transformation of the enterprise?
The appetite for this is real. My team surveyed 500 U.S.-based IT and operations professionals in the first half of last year, and 95% of them reported that they have already adopted or will soon adopt no-code/low-code tools. The value of the low-code/no-code market is projected to hit $86.9 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research, with a number of startups emerging and large enterprises — from Microsoft to Salesforce — investing in or building their own no-code/low-code platforms.
What gets a bit lost in the hype, however, is that “no-code/low-code” is in fact a multifaceted and technologically eclectic category of software. Solutions vary greatly in capacity, functionality, and purpose. To fully grasp the potential and present utility of no-code/low-code, you need a basic grasp of the lay of the land.
The difference between no-code and low-code.
Low-code tools and no-code tools are remarkably different. They serve two distinct purposes and create distinct kinds of value. They also require different strategies to implement.
At a basic level, most low-code platforms require that users know how to code and no-code platforms don’t.Low-code tools are great for accelerating the speed of development among technical teams, but if you’re not an engineer, to either build a solution using a low-code tool or to make changes to solution, you’ll need to jump through the same hoops as you have to for any other piece of technology: reaching out to IT or to an internal developer, waiting for the problem to be addressed, or undergoing intensive training yourself. This is important to keep in mind, because unless you have a plan for involving your whole business in the implementation of low-code tools, the tools might not do what you thought they could in terms of liberating business users to create their own technology or process solutions.
No-code platforms, on the other hand, are generally accessible by way of easy-to-use drag-and-drop functionality. Typically, they don’t require end users to understand how things work “under the hood.” They come with their own limitations, though: No-code tools that aren’t extensible or sanctioned by IT create limitations for business teams, for example, who’ll still need other other solutions to improve business processes or otherwise solve operational problems.
No-Code and Low-Code Adoption Trends
No-code/low-code tools have emerged for a variety of use cases. Here are just a few of their most popular uses to date:
Web development. The initial wave of no-code/low-code tools was focused pretty specifically on helping individuals and small businesses create websites. Up until recently, that was impossible without at least knowing how to write HTML. But through what was at the time innovative drag-and-drop functionality (and employing things like plugins), these tools, which remain popular among individuals and small businesses today, made it possible to create functional websites even if you weren’t HTML-proficient.
App development. A number of no-code/low-code platforms are designed to facilitate app development. They’re used often to reduce the workload of IT teams that might otherwise be on the hook for manually building these sorts of functionalities. They generally fall into three categories: 1) low-code tools designed to accelerate IT-led app development, 2) true no-code tools that enable business-led app development with minimal-to-no IT involvement, and 3) tools that facilitate vendor-led low-code app development and which generally serve to extend the functionality of existing application platforms.
Task automation. Many no-code/low-code platforms are specifically designed to automate tasks and processes, such as, for example, tasks related to updating data in cloud systems. These are becoming increasingly popular in the enterprise, though these solutions tend to be “low-code” in terms of the level of technical proficiency they require.
Systems integration. There’s another category of no-code/low-code that focuses on integrating systems. (Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS).) As Gartner puts it, these are “cloud services enabling governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on premises and cloud-based processes, services, applications, and data within individual or across multiple organizations.”
Process orchestration. Finally, some no-code/low-code tools combine several of the above functionalities to orchestrate processes across the organization.
Considerations for Enterprises.
The opportunity of no-code/low-code is to fundamentally shift the paradigm in which IT and business teams operate — turning IT from an internal service provider responsible for creating custom technology solutions into a body capable of empowering business teams to build their own technologies.
Enabling such a shift, though, will require buy-in not only from IT but from the business as well. That’s far from a sure thing. While the appetite for no-code/low-code in most enterprises is strong, many early adopters have run into adoption challenges due to implementation missteps and unrealistic expectations. To mitigate that risk, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
First, the goal of no-code adoption should not be to foster total operational independence from IT. IT needs to maintain governance over and insight into the company tech stack, for one thing, in order to mitigate risk and ensure business teams have support when needed. Business teams using no-code tools to create their own unvetted and ultimately unsupportable tools create yet more shadow IT, adding further complexity and inefficiency to the business.
On the other hand, low-code tools that only serve to accelerate IT solution-delivery fail to realize the full promise of the technology, which must include business empowerment. In the survey my team conducted, we found that 86% of enterprises see their plans get delayed because of a lack of technical resources.The best no-code/low-code deployment strategies follow a specific pattern. First, a tool or set of tools is discovered and recommended by either the business or IT. Then, IT sets a model for business-led development using no-code/low-code tooling creating a governance, enablement, and support structure for solution delivery.
Via this structure, I’ve seen dozens of organizations go from delivering only a handful of large projects a year — through the funnel of IT — to hundreds of projects spawned, in fact, across multiple departments.
The Promise of Democratized Development
With the right strategies, structures, and models no-code/low-code tools will unlock a new era of innovation in the enterprise.But it will not do so on its own; the technology is not a silver bullet. To use it effectively, your organization must collectively commit to all aspects of the effort, from research to adoption to embracing a culture of democratized technology development.