How a company governs its low-code/no-code platform across the organization affects its ability to scale, manage and mitigate risk. It only takes a few proactive measures to maximize the benefits of low-code/no-code, allowing its use to scale while while taming its risks.
The digital transformation unleashed by the pandemic created a huge need for new applications. Traditional software development, requiring programmers with expertise in computer languages, development environments and testing protocols to write code, is both expensive and time consuming. At the same time, it needs more people to develop these new age apps with omnichannel availability. But a very promising alternative is emerging in the form of low-code/no-code development, where ‘citizen developers’, individuals with little or even zero technical knowledge, can create their own applications with much less reliance on the IT organization.
To put it simply, low-code/no-code development is a visual approach that employs drag and drop components to create applications. By abstracting and automating complex coding processes, low-code/no-code improves the speed, quality, accessibility and ease of software development.
This is why it is gaining so much traction. In a 2021 survey, 75 percent of 2,025 IT executives located in six countries said the low-code trend was something they couldn’t afford to miss; also, 77 percent of organizations in these countries were already using it. A leading analyst predicts that the global low-code development technology industry will grow 22.6 percent this year to touch $13.8 billion in 2023.
Low-code means high-advantage
Primarily, low-code and no-code platforms make it easier for non-technical business users to build solutions, including mobile and web apps. That said, they also enable professional developers to build complex applications faster and focus on innovation. Currently, the impact of low-code/ no-code development is most apparent in the following ways:
Rapid delivery and faster time to market
To put a number to it, it is believed that low-code/no-code development could slash “regular” development times by 50 percent to 70 percent. This is how it works: the platform packages lines of code into reusable components that a user can choose and connect into a suitable workflow for building software with the required functionality. The platform also facilitates modelling, integration, testing and deployment of web and mobile applications, to reduce the overall lifecycle management time.
Effective, productive, collaborative
When low-code/ no-code development combines the business perspective of citizen developers with the technical expertise of professional developers, the result is more effective solutions. Collaborative efforts can also increase productivity and delivery. Additionally, low-code/no-code platforms include tools that simplify the process life cycle. This can include monitoring and alerting capabilities that notify personnel when a process is at risk of failure.
Better use of technical resources
Because there is almost no fresh code being written, low-code applications are easier to maintain. When technology staff spend less time on routine coding or support activities, they can concentrate on innovation and other value-added work. For enterprises, the use of low-code/no-code tools could help to bridge the technology talent gap by reducing the need for technical resources and converting other employees into citizen developers.
Better customer experience
In conjunction with CX (customer experience) design, low-code/no-code tools can create solutions that enhance customer journeys. CX design is essentially an iterative process where experiences are designed, prototyped and tested repeatedly before the best ones are launched in the market; a low-code/no-code platform supports this by reducing the time and cost of development. This is why a third of organizations plan to leverage it to create better digital customer experiences – for example banks to simplify KYC documentation during onboarding, manufacturers for automating parts ordering, service providers for improving case management, etc.
Integration made easy
Most low-code/no-code platforms are extensible, providing direct integrations with major third-party vendors and enabling IT to turn APIs, web services, and command lines into reusable building blocks. This accelerates the time it takes to integrate and deploy new tools and technologies, helping businesses stay ahead of latest automation trends and consumer demands.
Its drag and drop properties make no-code/low-code development accessible even to lay users, who can simply connect various components and third-party application programming interfaces to create their own solution builds. This could prove to be a great path to applications being created and maintained at low cost, with a better financial risk/return profile, lowering the total cost of ownership (TCO)
Less code, more impact
Importantly, low-code/no-code has much more to offer, and could potentially change the dynamics of the IT industry itself by:
Democratizing software development
Many simple software applications, such as those used for workflow management for example, do not require high development expertise. And no-code/low-code tools are enabling even lay users to write them: people with no programming knowledge can learn low-code/no-code and start developing applications in a couple of months or less. This democratization of software development improves organizations’ performance by enabling functional or business units to solve problems mostly independently, without waiting for IT support.
Enabling hyper-automation in enterprises
Along with digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, low-code application platforms support hyper-automation of various business processes. Specifically, the platforms enable employees to build customized applications to collect, manage and exchange data throughout the enterprise. In fact, hyper-automation, a major technology trend, is a key factor in low-code adoption at present.
Supporting Software as a Service (SaaS)
Low-code/no-code development and SaaS are symbiotic. Low-code’s low entry barriers allow businesses without coding knowledge to build applications on a low-code platform for the SaaS market. On their part, major SaaS providers include low-code development tools in their list of offerings.
While adopting low-code/no-code, enterprises should be mindful of its risks. When IT is democratized and decentralized, it increases the organization’s exposure to operational risks. Left unchecked, low-code/no-code development can lead to proliferation of apps and shadow IT, the creation and management of technology projects outside, and even unknown to, the IT organization. Shadow IT seems attractive because it cuts development time but is detrimental to the organization in the long run. This is because shadow IT applications may not have the same backup and recovery support as ‘regular’ applications, making them more vulnerable to cybersecurity problems.
Making it work
How we govern the low-code/no-code platform across the organization affects the ability to scale, manage and mitigate risk. It only takes a few proactive measures to maximize the benefits of low-code/no-code, while taming its risks:
Secure the platform
Enterprises should install guardrails in their low-code/no-code platforms so they are as secure as other IT assets.
A low-code platform with open APIs for easy integration will encourage even advanced developers to work on it. Citizen developers should be trained in good security practices and allowed limited access to data and applications to contain risk. Usage of “sandboxes” should be mandated so that the organization’s active network and digital assets are separated for security.
Align the organization through a LCNC CoE
When business users or citizen developers write code, it is important to ensure that the software development and implementation processes are streamlined. Functional and all manners of silos have no place in a low-code/no-code enterprise. A low-code/no-code’s platform governance plays a crucial role in standardizing development practices, information flows for the organization and more importantly user and licence management. Hence the organization should consider its platform choice carefully, follow best practices and reuse components for better maintenance. All these can be governed by a low-code / no-code Center of Excellence (CoE) team within the organization
It is crucial that the low-code/no-code platform can enforce required standards. Whether it’s UI/UX design patterns, inheritance of data, or requiring integrations to be built by professional developers, much of the risk is mitigated through proper governance. There must be standardized tooling for app design, development, testing, deployment, and management, as well as application and platform governance.
Empower your citizens
Low code gives users of every skill level the freedom to create all kinds of applications. Business users interested in writing applications should be nurtured into skilled citizen developers. This calls for some training, of course, but also calls for encouraging creative ideas and a bit of risk taking. Last, but not least, enterprises should provide a clear policy and regulatory framework to make sure the work of citizen developers is aligned with the requirements of the organization and the law.
Low-code/no-code is not a panacea for application modernization needs but is still an excellent option. Organizations must evaluate the relevant low-code/no-code platform amongst the myriad of platforms available in the market based on their use case requirements and, if needed, execute a proof of concept for all the features and integration requirements. Last but not the least, a five-year total cost of ownership (TCO) comparison between low-code/no-code and other alternatives, such as custom development, to have clear visibility of the license model, will help organizations realize the actual ROI of the technology’s adoption.