What is low-code/no-code application development?
For decades, there have been only two routes for businesses to take on their way to application development: buy apps ready-made from an external vendor or build and customise them from scratch using skilled developers and coders. But today, we’re seeing the rise and growing sophistication of low-code/no-code (LCNC) development alternatives that bring the power of application development to users across the business.
These alternative app development methods leverage an intuitive and graphical interface to give users the power and freedom to quickly build applications and automate business processes without having to write code line by line. The adoption of LCNC tools comes with the promise of greater user accessibility, which in turn spurs more innovation and reduces strain on IT departments. The implementation of LCNC platforms is the next leap in making application development easy and accessible to all.
What is low-code?
Low-code is a method of designing and developing applications using intuitive graphical tools and embedded functionalities that reduce traditional – or pro-code –writing requirements. Pro-code writing is still part of the development process, but low-code development offers an augmented and simplified experience to help users start creating quickly.
Low-code vs. no-code
The main difference between low-code and no-code development platforms lies in how much coding knowledge the user needs. Low-code development platforms (LCDPs) require some basic coding skills for users to develop and integrate complex applications, while no-code development platforms (NCDPs) do not require programming knowledge at all. Because most organisations have a wide range of technical skill sets within their workforce, many platforms offer both low-code and no-code tools.
The rise of citizen developers
Subject-area specialists have unique knowledge and insights that can often be difficult to effectively impart to IT teams. By empowering these “citizen developers,” businesses ensure that the best-informed team members can be part of the app development process. And with LCNC platforms on their side, department leaders and IT professionals can better collaborate and ensure that the right technologies, workflows, and processes are in place. The rise in citizen developers helps fulfil the demand for new applications, address the shortage of skilled developers, reduce the workloads of IT teams, and respond faster to customer and market demands.
How do low-code and no-code tools work?
Conventional application development requires the use of highly skilled code-writing practitioners and often involves getting in a long queue in the IT department to get new applications developed or updated.
Low-code development platforms (LCDPs) and no-code development platforms (NCDPs) are based on the principles of model-driven design, automatic code generation, and visual programming. These platforms are intentionally designed to target users that are familiar with processes and workflows within their business department, regardless of their coding experience. And once again, not only does this empower non-technical users, it matches them with experienced developers.
Below are some of the fundamental steps in the LCNC development journey:
- Define your needs and the desired outcome: Whether you are working on a customer-facing application or an internal business process, it’s essential to identify the business needs and the desired outcomes of your project at the outset. What is the problem this app needs to solve? Who will be using it? What information and data will it need to function?
- Draw a business process or workflow: Using LCNC business process management (BPM) and development tools, users specify and document the desired processes and workflows. This is often achieved by identifying modules – by purpose – within the application and developing them as independent entities. For example, some modules may gather data, others may trigger an action or event. At this stage, the citizen developer can first build, then integrate the modules to achieve the desired outcome.
- Test and deploy your project as an LCNC application: With a couple of clicks, the LCNC platform resolves all the back-end complexity of the process for users. When it is ready, IT specialists and/or beta testers can evaluate the application, and once their recommendations are implemented, the app can be deployed for general use.
Who uses low-code/no-code app development?
According to a recent Gartner survey, LCNC platforms will be used in more than 65% of application developments worldwide by 2024. This comes with a steep 165% projected growth rate every two years. When businesses begin to use LCNC tools, the number – and sophistication – of citizen users swiftly grows as people begin to realise the benefit of fast and accurate app development across almost any area of any business.
Here are some examples:
- Supply chain managers can develop applications to help overcome multiple challenges, including pandemic-related delays, trade sanctions, and climate change, all of which can create supply chain disruption. LCNC tools have the potential to help address these challenges in three significant ways:
- Developing responsive and progressive applications for collaboration and end-to-end visibility, providing improved trackability, and traceability to the supply chain
- Creating automated workflows and business processes to model, monitor, and improve supply chain operations, from raw goods sourcing to delivery at the customer’s front door
- digitalising legacy data and records and integrating them with existing and new incoming data, which facilitates more accurate analytics and robust data-driven insights
- Manufacturing can use LCNC to model processes and drive the evolution of smart factories and digital manufacturing environments. LCNC also helps to unlock the potential of robotic process automation (RPA) and Internet of Things (IoT) networks. From processing raw materials to packaging and shipping finished goods, LCNC solutions help manufacturing operations run more smoothly and efficiently.
- Accounting and finance teams can develop customised business applications that support a wide range of workflows and information management processes. For example, by defining workflows for tax filing, an accounting firm could design a portal to guide clients through the process of reporting expenses and income, presenting bank statements and other financial disclosures, and eliminating the glut of emails and printed documents. Similarly, a financial institution could map workflows by automating loan approvals, risk assessments, decision flows, and information management – saving time for both clients and financial advisors.
- Human resources teams can use LCNC to customise job posts, automate hiring processes, filter candidates, and create entire training programmes. And all these activities can now be done without having to strain the resources of IT teams.
- IT departments find that LCNC platforms can help them streamline complex processes and increase efficiency and agility. In addition, with more citizen developers, organisations can reduce IT bottlenecks and overwork. IT departments can still retain the ability to govern and implement LCNC initiatives, but they are significantly freed up from the repetitive and time-consuming code-writing tasks that are normally associated with that process. IT professionals are encouraged to see LCNC less as a threat and more as an agile work environment that gives them the space they need to build and develop at peak levels. In fact, the most robust software solutions support pro-code/low-code hybrids – an in-between process that requires IT programming skills as well as citizen developer work. According to recent estimates, IT professionals and business users collaborate in more than 60% of LCNC development projects. Harvard Business Review has also reported that one IT developer can support as many as 10 or more citizen developers, increasing overall agility and productivity.
Top 8 benefits of low-code/no-code platforms
The growing adoption of LCNC platforms reflects the business-wide benefits arising from these tools. The use of LCNC platforms means:
- Easier use: As the apps are not built from scratch, development is simplified, making it possible to focus more on fulfilling users’ wishes and requirements. In the words of Koushik Sen, renowned computer science lecturer at the UC Berkeley, “Imagine a world where you do not have to write code, just say things and the computer does it for you.”
- Faster development: Users can easily adjust and adapt the main components and basic code of their applications, meaning that the actual development is very fast. In addition, users can integrate and connect apps, processes, and workflows from existing applications. Forrester showed that low-code development platforms made development projects as much as 20 times faster than when done with traditional coding.
- Increased automation: By establishing basic rules for decision-making, users can automate the design of workflows that can then be implemented in multiple information systems. Many LCNC tools use RPA and employ artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to offer suggestions for automation based on existing data sets.
- Lower costs: The reduction in time can save valuable resources. LCNC also makes maintenance activities less complex, reducing costs and the burden on IT. In addition, you can test new ideas coming from virtually any department very inexpensively. These ideas can then revolutionise entire processes and increase productivity and efficiency.
- Simpler data integration: Creating workflows where information is collected, shared, processed, and stored makes data integration simpler and more flexible. LCNC tools allow users to find, understand, and use data within a process. This will allow you to identify the source, ownership, validity, and quality of data across processes and make more informed and confident decisions.
- More agility: Fast and easy development helps you respond to changing opportunities and regulatory/compliance issues quickly – often in real time. In addition, the simplicity of LCNC platforms allows developers to experiment and test new ideas, without the need for large investments of IT or external resources. Furthermore, because LCNC makes development easier, this broadens the pool of developers and allows more users to contribute to the application creation using technology.
- Better customer experience: The ability to keep applications and workflows up-to-date and responsive to customer feedback will enhance both customer experience and loyalty. In addition, CX professionals can use LCNC platforms to develop customised customer surveys, e-commerce, customer service, and loyalty applications.
- Greater privacy and security: LCNC allows businesses to perform development tasks that are too sensitive to be outsourced to third parties, helping to minimise the risks of breaches or cybercrime.
Getting started with low-code/no-code development platforms
There is no question that these technologies are revolutionising businesses and giving them the competitive edge they need to meet today’s market demands. But like any business transformation, incorporating citizen-user solutions requires a strong commitment to change management, communication, and breaking down silos.
In the face of these changes, some concerns have been raised. For instance, the broad use of LCNC platforms may lead to a rise in “shadow IT projects,” which are projects that are undertaken without the awareness of the IT department. In addition, applications created by citizen developers may not have been created with scalability in mind, or they may be vulnerable to obsolescence if the developer creates them in a silo and then leaves the organisation.
To avoid such issues, start by:
- Putting compliance and governance protocols in place that support best IT practices and ensure strong and workable collaboration models between IT, citizen developers, and their teams.
- Ensuring that training efforts are robust and accessible. The old saying that starts with “teach a man to fish” is very apt when it comes to LCNC training. Simply setting up a few webinars and hoping for the best will inevitably lead to low uptake of the product and poor execution of projects.
- Reaching out to your software vendor who can help you understand the best enterprise development tools for your unique needs.
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