Writing "real" software code is a complex task that often involves a background in different programming languages and specialized training. There is another way to create applications that can process data or execute easily automated routines and tasks – the low-code/no-code approach.
The basic concept behind low-code and no-code is that instead of developing an application or process in a programming language that often requires hundreds (if not thousands) of lines of code, low-code/no-code tools provide a WYSIWYG interface for end users. This interface allows them to use wizards or template-driven approaches to create apps for specific business purposes, like generating reports or updating specific mailing lists based on new data.
Essentially, low-code/no-code tools deliver an "easy" button for certain forms of development, and by all accounts, the button is working and its use is set to expand in 2021. Forrester Research pegs the market for low-code and no-code tools to grow to around $14 billion by the year 2024. John Bratincevic, senior analyst at Forrester, said that COVID-19 seems to have increased enterprise interest in low-code and accelerated its use.
"Low-code was one of the technologies that fared best during the early days of the pandemic, with many new applications quickly deployed, sometimes in just a day or two," Bratincevic said.
Low-Code and No-Code Will Boost Collaboration
Chris Byers, CEO at workplace productivity platform provider Formstack, said that as organizations consider what the future of work looks like, they will see that it is actually not about work; it's about driving increased collaboration and reducing data silos across departments.
"True low-code/no-code solutions are still widely used by tech specialists to automate processes but are simple enough that anyone in an organization can use them to improve their world of work," Byers said. "These solutions work with existing tech stacks, rather than replacing them, and help to empower employees who are interacting with customers."
There are several myths and misconceptions about low-code/no-code tools, including the notion that they are only suitable for lightweight apps. Byers emphasized that, in reality, these tools can handle complex applications.
"These applications can be created and implemented in short time periods so that workers can begin utilizing them quickly," Byers said. "They can also be built with extensive features and functionality, including conditional logic as well as automating workflows."
Enabling Business Self-Service and Innovation
Praerit Garg, CTO of collaboration and work management service Smartsheet, noted that organizations are adopting low-code/no-code tools across their business, applying it to departments like marketing, finance, HR and others.
Low-code and no-code is also not about replacing existing developers but about empowering business users to create task-specific tools. Garg commented that with low-code/no-code platforms, IT professionals can nudge business users toward self-service solutions for team-specific workflows. This allows IT to focus on the highly leveraged transformative work that impacts the entire organization.
"Instead of thinking about whether people are getting work done, business leaders should encourage their teams to think about how they're doing work, as that is what truly drives innovation and long-term business impact," Garg said. "For this to happen, people need to be empowered with the tools that help them work differently."
How and Where Organizations are Using Low-Code/No-Code
Forrester's Bratincevic recommended that, at a minimum, every development team should have a low-code platform in its toolbelt for prototyping applications or responding to urgent and unanticipated situations (like COVID-19).
A low-code/no-code strategy includes both professional developers and business teams empowered to develop apps themselves. For professional development teams, Bratincevic sees a number of benefits, including the ability to provide dramatically faster and cheaper development than you can with coding. This also means a lot more software can be developed with the same resources.
"This is not the majority case, but as a proof point of how far it can go: We've spoken to enterprises that have standardized on a single low-code platform as their default development approach for new apps and only allow alternative methods – coding from scratch – when it is justified," Bratincevic said.
In Bratincevic's view, in a truly adaptive enterprise, the employees closest to the real business problems should be able to develop the tools they need to help address those problems. That's where low-code/no-code tools can be a real fit.
"The sheer amount of software that is needed in every enterprise will far exceed the capacity of any central development team, even the ones that use low-code," Bratincevic said. "Low-code platforms allow [many] less-technical folks to develop applications, so businesspeople can pitch in."