If you play a role in IT spending decisions for your business, you might have heard chatter in recent years about how “low-code/no-code” software delivers value in a remarkably short time, along with high returns on investment and overall business systems cost savings.
There must be something to those claims: Research and consulting firm Gartner estimates 70 percent of all new enterprise applications will be deployed on no-code/low-code platforms by 2025, while leaders in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry predict this could reach a half-billion new applications in the same time frame.
But let’s move beyond the hype: What exactly is a low-code/no-code approach and how can it benefit your business?
The power of no-code development
Traditionally, companies have had to hire highly skilled humans with coding experience to write the software needed to get one business system to talk to another. Not to get too technical, but typically this code was written in a database query language (SQL) or in a business-system-specific language like ABAP, SAPs high-level programming language. These initiatives were later wrapped into the strategy of Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) technologies that allowed IT departments to add consistency and build in controls for the system-to-system processes. Still, these traditional development approaches lacked flexibility, were constrained by IT resources and simply took too long to achieve their goals.
As business leaders’ patience began to wear thin, SaaS software vendors responded. They began offering cloud-based platforms that bundled chunks of code into visual objects, allowing business users with no coding skills to integrate systems by simply dragging and dropping the objects into place. This low-code/no-code approach also addressed the resource constraint issue by empowering non-technical people in business units to spin up programs that meet their individual business needs. Gartner dubbed these users “citizen developers,” although hard-core techies who mock the trend prefer “Citizen IT.”
The big low-code platforms
The low-code, no-code ecosystem is being driven by many of the usual suspects including Microsoft, ServiceNow and Salesforce. Each considers its traditional business platforms the center of the universe and the perfect place to bolt on its own form of a business integration platform. There are challengers out there as well. QuickBase, Appian and Creatio are relevant players in the low-code space, even if you’ve never heard of them. Each has one thing in common: a decade or more of investment in what Gartner calls the “enterprise low-code application” market. If you write checks for IT services and one of their business development representatives hasn’t suggested dinner at a local steak restaurant to discuss their platform, do not be surprised if you receive your invitation soon.
Creating a low-code, no-code strategy is not just necessary for enterprise business leaders. If you are a small to medium sized independent software vendor (ISV), you have work to do as well, lest your offering becomes a cost-reduction target. This starts with making your software work within low-code platform ecosystems, via exposed application programming interfaces (APIs). One of the pitches common at the end of the aforementioned customer steak dinner is “we can help you reduce licenses and reduce the number of niche software vendors you have today.” If you are a niche ISV, think about that for a minute!
Are you ready for low-code?
Enabling business units to rapidly connect their business systems, transform their functionality, reduce costs and quickly create value – it all sounds as dreamy as walking through the clouds with “butterflies and zebras and moonbeams,” to quote Jimi Hendrix’s classic ‘Little Wing.’ Alas, this is no hallucination: Low-code, no-code application platforms these days pack some serious punch. If there is any major flaw in this strategy, it’s that your organization may not be ready for it. As Jimi would ask, “are you experienced?”
After all, as business leaders, we’ve been down this path before. When frustrated by eighties-era accounting systems rooted in IBM’s Application System/400 specs, the disrupters responded with the spreadsheet. Throughout the nineties businesses made a glitter bomb of corporate business logic by allowing departments to maintain their own stand-alone sheets and workbooks (call it the 1.0 version of Citizen IT). Costs dropped and productivity improved, but there was a downside: Companies now face the onerous task of reconciling heaps of disparate, incompatible data sources, each using its own structures and variations of even the simplest financial calculations. The architecture, cleanliness and interoperability of your enterprise’s data will be a major indicator of whether you’re ready for a low-/no-code environment.
How to prepare
Low-code, no-code platforms are not something you can ignore. As they enter mainstream viability, they should be considered a core component to any digital transformation strategy. But before you accept that invitation for a steak dinner, you should think about the state of your business systems, how you currently manage your data and what changes will be most impactful. Also consider your internal capabilities for managing Citizen IT-led, low-code, no-code efforts. Only then can you devise a strategy not only for closing gaps but also for transforming your organization to rally around this brave new world.
Mod Op Strategic Consulting has decades of experience in digital transformation – including low-code, no-code platforms. Tell us your story and we’ll let you know how we can help.