Low-code/no-code: the rise of the ‘citizen developer’ 

Low-code and no-code development is enabling cheaper and faster software development that is more responsive to business needs – but what are the risks of relying on these platforms without a robust IT and data strategy?

What is Low-code/no-code development?

Software development has traditionally been a time-intensive process requiring a skilled programmer to write lines of code to create, design, and deploy software. Today, low-code and no-code (LC/NC) platforms aim to reduce or, in some cases, completely remove the need for users to understand or write code. These platforms, which may be hosted online as software-as-a-service (SaaS), use intuitive visual interfaces enabling users to simply ‘point-and-click’ or ‘drag and drop’ modules to build applications with no or little use of code.

But there are some important differences between low-code and no-code development.

Low-code platforms use intuitive tools that reduce, but don’t eliminate, the need for traditional coding, although they do greatly lower complexity with a graphical interface. Users of low-code development tools tend to be professional developers hoping to save time so that they can focus on more complex work with greater value to the organization. Low-code has a wide range of applications, from implementing digitalization initiatives to designing customer-facing apps as well as web and mobile frontends.

No-code platforms allow users to develop software without using code at all. Unlike low-code, no-code is entirely dependent on the platform’s visual ‘point and click’ or ‘drag-and drop’ tools. Users may be professional developers, but no-code platforms have also opened up software-development to a class of ‘citizen developers’ – non-technical users who understand business needs but without programming language skills or coding know-how. No-code is especially useful for building user-interfaces, or apps to replace time-intensive manual tasks. Such projects can be neglected by professional programmers, but they are incredibly helpful for improving efficiency and reducing costs.

The difference between the low-code and no-code isn’t always clear, and some platforms offer both no-code and low-code development tools.

What explains the growth in LC/NC platforms?

In recent years, the market for LC/NC platforms has been growing exponentially. According to a Gartner research, LC/NC tools will be used in 65% of all application development worldwide by 2024. Low-code development in particular is already part of industry-standard practice when it comes to fast-turnaround applications: already worth $11.3 billion in 2020, the market for low-code platforms alone is forecast to grow to around $30 billion by 2025.

But what explains this huge upsurge?

  • Growing demand for digital transformation, not enough developers: the desire from companies to automate and update their IT infrastructure has outstripped the resources of in-house developers and the ability of businesses to hire those with specialized technical skills. The only option has been to embrace tools that democratize software and app development.
  • Cloud disruption: for decades, larger businesses could rely on expensive IT infrastructure to give them an advantage over the competition. Now, smaller businesses can use cloud-based LC/NC SaaS platforms to access the tools they need to build an app.
  • New global challenges and opportunities: LC/NC applications have been used to respond to unprecedented supply-chain issues in the COVID-19 pandemic, deal with trade sanctions, and even respond to the impacts of climate change. They are also driving technologies of the future, such as smart factories and the implementation of Internet of Things networks.

Today, LC/NC has been implemented across a range of use-cases, from apps to deal with order and quote creation to analytics, small-scale automation to developing mobile sites. While low-code is unlikely to entirely replace traditional software development, adoption will only increase.

What are the advantages of LC/NC development?

Let's look at five key reasons why businesses are adopting LC/NC platforms:

  1. Faster, more agile development: a survey by Forrester has shown that low-code development platforms can make projects as much as 20 times faster than traditional coding (software that took months might now take days to develop).
  2. Lower costs: as well costs saved thanks to faster development time, other savings include reduced hiring costs (as more work can be done by non-experts) and a less-expensive testing process – it is easier to build and test prototypes with LC/NC platforms, minimizing the risk and cost of developing new software and apps.
  3. More democratic development: the rise of ‘citizen developers’ means that apps are developed by the well-informed team members. This is also helpful when it comes to the maintenance and improvement of apps, or the spotting of flaws in self-learning software, as this can now be overseen by subject area specialists.
  4. A better customer experience: updates to applications can now be managed by those who directly understand customer needs. Additionally, no-code programming helps to drive innovation so that customers are offered quality-of-life updates and new products more regularly.
  5. Better quality data, and consistent design: Using LC/NC tools to create workflows where information is collected, shared, processed, and stored helps to promote and streamline data integration. Moreover, LC/NC platforms promote design and code consistency, meaning it is easier to debug applications and troubleshoot.

What are the advantages and limitations of LC/NC development?

There are, however, a few pitfalls and teething issues with LC/NC platforms which, while powerful, do have their limitations:

  1. The risk of ‘shadow-IT’ projects: low-cost and easy-to-use tools, particularly no-code platforms, can result in organizations losing track of what their employees have built. IT teams may have little oversight when it comes to what data is being generated, used, or exposed, which can lead to security risks, obsolescence, and wasted resources.
  2. Lack of scalability: LC/NC tools remain less suited to developing apps with complex programming requirements or customization. No-code software tends to be something of a ‘closed' system that can only be augmented via the platform’s own templates. Low-code platforms, while offering a more ‘open’ system where it is possible to augment work with code, may require an experienced developer to, for instance, connect the application with legacy systems.
  3. Storage and other resource-related issues: as well as the associated storage costs associated with projects built by 'citizen developers’, there is the problem of software being left in silos before its creators leave the organization. An organization may also end up wasting resources in assigning ‘citizen developers’ to develop tools using LC/NC platforms, when what is really needed is a professional development team.

How companies can actually benefit from LC/NC development

Some of these limitations can be addressed as part of a company's data strategy. Advice from experts in ensuring a smarter, more efficient adoption of LC/NC platforms includes:

  • Putting data compliance and governance strategies in place to ensure IT departments and ‘citizen developers’ are working with and not against one another.
  • Putting department managers in charge of facilitating LC/NC development, ensuring they have an appropriate level of understanding about how the technology works.
  • Accepting that, while companies may be keen to talk up the capabilities of their platforms, LC/NC developed software may require the involvement of a professional developer at some point before its deployment.
  • Increasing the overall data literacy of the entire workforce to enable employees to actually understand what they’re coding. Innovative technologies as the Lyntics Data Literacy Platform can help to democratize the knowledge and make it accessible to everyone in the organization.

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