What Businesses Need to Know About Low Code and No Code Development
In recent years, businesses in need of enterprise-wide information systems have increasingly adopted low code, and no code (LC/NC) applications have become increasingly popular. In the past, companies could build their own systems in-house, customize a system from an external vendor, or outsource production (and often, aspects of their operation and maintenance). But building systems in-house require time, resources, and expertise a business may or may not have. Similarly, customizing an off-the-shelf system may be beyond the capacity of a business’s IT department. And sometimes, a business may find itself changing its own internal processes to suit an ill-configured system.
Experiences with failed internal builds or customizations have primed some businesses for the promise of LC/NC. These applications are touted as a quick and cost-effective way for businesses to tailor information systems to their specific business applications. But do they fulfill this promise? Are they an effective replacement for homegrown or fully customized systems? And what, if any, drawbacks are there to using them?
What Are Low Code / No Code Applications?
Low code and no code refer to development platforms that allow users to create application software using graphical interfaces rather than code. These platforms allow developers to produce applications much more quickly than possible when using traditional programming languages. Further, they allow a broad range of users to develop applications. For example, a department might develop in-house applications that allow it to organize its own workflows better. Or it might create tools that allow it to plug into various in-house information systems.
Other common applications of LC/NC applications include:
- Customer experience tools such as virtual assistants, video chat interfaces, and chatbots
- Websites and mobile apps
- Automated email operations and marketing tools
- HR training and performance management tools
- Scheduling management systems
- Remote work platforms and Intranet
- Case management systems and tools
No code applications do not require coding skills or experience and can generally be used by non-technical staff. They usually come with drag-and-drop interfaces and either a database or a method of connecting to existing databases. When “developing” an application with a no code platform, one places pre-scripted code blocks into a sequence based on the desired workflow, processes, or outcome. While this reduces development time, it severely limits one’s ability to customize applications for uncommon or unique use cases.
Low code software, as its name suggests, requires some coding skills and experience. While these platforms include drag-and-drop interfaces and pre-scripted code blocks, they also allow users to code manually. Low code platforms can save developers time. Additionally, LC applications are easier to scale when necessary, given the platform’s manual coding capabilities.
In theory, expanding development work to a broader range of employees should improve workplace efficiency across the organization. But, in many cases, LC/NC applications can actually create significant problems for the businesses that adopt them.
The Pitfalls of No Code Application Development
LC/NC applications that plug into enterprise-wide systems and aggregate data may seem like a godsend for individual departments who’ve struggled to get an in-house solution built for them. It may even seem helpful to overworked IT departments to give non-technical professionals the tools to become “citizen developers” and take work off their plate.
However, no code development, in particular, is problematic. Those new to no code development often believe they can create fully functional web applications. They cannot. No code applications have functional limitations that make them a less-than-ideal solution if you’re looking to manage large quantities of data, use custom layouts, handle complex calculations, or handle other out-of-the-box functions.
Moreover, no code development is platform-dependent. Currently, there are plenty of no code platforms available, many of them produced by start-ups. If the start-up fails, the application fails with it. If the business using no code is a start-up, then using these development tools may make IP claims difficult. Finally, no code platforms themselves often have their own jargon and learning curve. If employees invest time and effort mastering a no code platform to create an app with limited functionality, they’re likely better off mastering at least enough code to use a low code development platform.
Considerations When Using Low Code Development Platforms
Low code applications then seem to present the best of both worlds, saving users time, providing them with greater customization options, and allowing them to scale when needed. However, low code solutions still require IT involvement to ensure that these new applications can be managed properly.
Consider a case where a department builds a low code application that now needs to be scaled up for use across the business. Yet the citizen developer who built it relied primarily on pre-scripted code blocks and has not mastered enough code to do so effectively or has left the company. Or perhaps a developer creates an application that gradually requires sophisticated customization and scaling. Yet, because the business has not revised its governance protocols to reflect low code platforms, there is little or no documentation for what has now become an enterprise-wide system? Or consider the possibility that a low code application a citizen developer has created has inadvertently created a cybersecurity vulnerability, yet IT has no idea the application even exists.
These and similar cases illustrate the need for developers to exercise oversight of new LC/NC applications. Both low code and no code application development threaten to exacerbate the shadow IT problem many businesses face if LC/NC tools fall outside of IT governance policies. IT departments must manage the use of these tools across the organization. Moreover, their use must be circumscribed by a business’ security plans, with citizen developers trained continuously in cybersecurity best practices.
However, depending on the size of the business, its respective IT department, and the rate of LC/NC application development, adoption may not achieve the time and resource savings they expect. As developers find themselves using low code applications, manual coding and customizing pre-scripted code blocks may take as much time as building the application from scratch.
Small businesses and start-ups often find themselves enthralled by no code tools until they stop working or need to be expanded, at which point they become a drain of time and resources. Even larger businesses often underestimate the additional workload LC/NC applications create.
When LC/NC Solutions Should Be Used
Despite these pitfalls, there are times when LC/NC solutions can be used effectively. No code development tools can best be used to create smart forms and automate simple processes, while full-fledged app development should be avoided. No code is ideal for applications that handle simple use cases and serve a narrow set of users. These applications should also require minimal (and ideally, no) customization in the present or future.
Low code development platforms are better suited for application development, with some important caveats. The selected low code development platforms should require a minimal learning curve and have maximum customization and scaling capabilities. The platform also must align neatly with IT governance and cybersecurity plans. And the business must have the resources to support low code applications from a hardware, software, and personnel perspective.
Using LC/NC Applications More Effectively
Before adopting one of these platforms, business leaders and IT departments need to take a hard look at how they can integrate LC/NC application management into their existing operations. Compatibility with enterprise-wide systems is a low barrier and often one of the most heavily weighted considerations. However, compatibility and cybersecurity must be assessed hand-in-hand, especially now that criminals are increasingly targeting APIs.
But the risks extend further than APIs. What happens when a department creates a public-facing LC/NC form that captures sensitive customer information or includes confidential corporate information in an app that lacks the cybersecurity protection of mission-critical systems? Business and IT leaders must also look at all security considerations holistically, revise governance and security policies as necessary, implement these solutions accordingly, and train all users appropriately.
Businesses and IT leaders must also thoroughly analyze whether potential cost savings and productivity gains will materialize. Is the business’ time swallowed by more mundane manual processes or more sophisticated ones? Is the organizational culture truly entrepreneurial, with employees adopting no code tools, or will those tools sit unused? And will IT have the personnel time and resources to oversee these platforms?
The latter is particularly important, especially for small and medium-sized businesses with small IT departments. Growing companies will invariably need to change their processes and require applications for custom use cases. So, businesses should project their LC/NC needs in the short-term and the long-term before implementation.
In short, there is a lot to account for if you’re looking to introduce an LC/NC solution to your business. And with all of these considerations, it’s helpful to have a trusted advisor that can help you plan, select, implement, and manage the right LC/NC solution.
For South Florida businesses, that trusted advisor is Palindrome Consulting. With world-class IT experts on staff dedicated to providing rapid and effective solutions, our firm can help you tackle your development needs. We can help you select the right LC/NC solution for your organization – a platform that is secure, compatible with your infrastructure, and can be leveraged for your most complex use cases.
And in cases where LC/NC solutions aren’t ideal, our expertise with Microsoft 365 and other cloud-based enterprise-wide systems gives us the capacity to assist your in-house staff with custom builds. We can even handle custom development projects as well. So, before you procure an LC/NC system, contact us and let’s discuss what application development solution is best for your business.
Thanks to the team at CEU Technologies for their help with this article.