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Low-code and no-code platforms move beyond the shiny-tools stage

The tried-and-true rule of “follow the money” certainly suggests the low-code and no-code space is the place to be in 2022. But these platforms are now more than just shiny tools for users to pursue pet projects. They are vital and necessary components of enterprise digital strategies going forward, 

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

Just recently. Airtable announced it was now worth $11 billion after its latest funding round. The company promotes a that its “code-for-everyone-else approach allows professionals who aren’t fluent in coding languages such as Java or Python, and don’t have their desk buried deep within the stack, to play a part in rethinking and remaking the consumer and client digital experience,” reports Riley de León of CNBC. “The low-code movement has attracted an even higher level of attention as a result of the pandemic, during which organizations from hospitals to government entities and corporations have had to develop online offerings at a faster pace than ever expected and for new use cases.” 

This movement is part of an increasing democratization of programming — borne of necessity — extreme necessity. At a time when digital transformation is everywhere, “relying on IT departments and professional programmers is unsustainable,” an O’Reilly analysis states. “We need to enable people who aren’t programmers to develop the software they need. We need to enable people to solve their own computational problems.” At the same time, “programmers know their jobs won’t disappear with a broad-scale low-code takeover, but undeniably their roles as programmers will shift as more companies adopt low-code solutions.” Namely, “professional programmers will be needed to do what the low-code users can’t. They build new tools, and make the connections between these tools and the old tools…. Low-code will inevitably create more work, rather than less.”

Industry experts agree that low-code and no-code is more than a nice luxury for end-users — it is a necessity. “I have seen predictions that application development needs over the next five years will collectively exceed the quantity of applications built over the past three to four decades,” says Ryan Berry, vice president and software architect with OneStream Software. 

While these tools allow for more rapid innovation, “low-code tooling does not replace the need for traditionally built enterprise applications,” says Berry. “There will always be needs for pro-developer built solutions such as critical APIs, low-latency, high-performance web applications or even native mobile apps. Low-code tooling builds a bridge to allow the business to enhance portfolios of both commercial off-the-shelf and in-house built applications, allowing citizen developers the ability to rapidly build applications such as input forms, data validation applications and remote monitoring or management tools.”

The ease of which citizen developers can build applications needs to be carefully managed, however — and that’s where IT professionals need to step up. “One risk is that citizen developers often have a limited understanding of how the problem they’re trying to solve with automation touches other company objectives, such as security and compliance,” says Harel Tayeb, CEO of Kryon Systems. Typically, he adds, citizen developers aren’t tuned into such requirements, and therefore require guardrails. 

In addition, IT managers need “to stave off any concerns with security and compliance risks new citizen developers may be creating for the company,” says Berry. “There is also the need to ensure that these applications are built in a manner that can scale and grow with organizational changes. Supporting successful rollouts of these platforms requires some thoughtful attention to training both around an organization’s compliance requirements and data handling procedures, as well as some education on low-code and no-code platforms themselves.”

Ultimately, it’s all good. “Citizen developers, or individuals who use technology to develop a business application, have the power to advance automation and digital transformation,” says Tayeb. “For the citizen developer, it’s an opportunity to upskill, gain a valuable new competency and future-proof their career. Who knows what life-changing apps are waiting to be developed?”  For example, he relates, “at Kryon, when our Tel Aviv office re-opened, our office administrator was tasked with making sure that everyone who came into the office was following the safety guidelines. This included signing in for contract tracing purposes, temperature checks, and hand sanitizing. Our administrator found this task was getting in the way of her regular duties, so she built a bot to handle the admin tasks. She named the bot ‘Hygeia,’ and it automates the entire process each time an employee or visitor comes into the building. This saved her hours a day and kept her on target with her other duties, while still meeting the safety requirements of having our team return to the office.”

There is great potential for citizen and professional developers developing these various levels of applications. Proper education and including IT in the decision of any low-code and no-code platform “also establishes a foundation of the ideal situations where these next-generation applications can be leveraged, how they are deployed, and most importantly how they and the data they interact with is secured,” Berry says. “Addressing these challenges earlier than later can help yield a successful rollout and aid in organization’s realizing the immediate value to having the number of IT pro-developers expand to include this new population of citizen developers.”   

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