Low Code & No Code - The Revolution in Software Development
Bots & People
6 min read
When companies need new programs, they usually have two options. They can have the application tailored by a developer or they can buy the application off the shelf. The first alternative involves high costs and a long waiting period, and the second is cheaper and faster to implement, but often doesn't fit as well. For some time now, however, there has been a third option: so-called Low Code (LC) / No Code (NC) tools. With these tools, companies can use point-and-click or pull-down menu interfaces to develop applications themselves that precisely fit their requirements and automate processes more easily and quickly.
Low Code & No Code: A Success Story
It all started when a few programmers developed tools to more quickly develop and deploy applications visually, without a lot of traditional manual coding. In 2014, Forester first referred to these tools as low-code platforms. Shortly thereafter, the first no-code platforms also emerged to enable so-called citizen developers, who have no programming skills, to develop an application. In doing so, the No Code providers anticipated the needs of users and packed all the functions necessary for programming an application into their tools. LC/NC systems ultimately owe their popularity to Robotic Process Automation (RPA). As part of the automation wave that erupted a few years ago, RPA tools make it easier for companies to automate workflows and processes on their own, quickly and on demand, using rules and building blocks for easy decision making. Various tools also support the discovery of automation opportunities or connectors to AI tools, enabling intelligent automation.
What is Low Code & No Code?
Low Code and No Code platforms are designed to rapidly design, build and launch applications without worrying about the intricacies of underlying operating systems or scalability requirements. To solve business problems faster than is possible with traditional software development, LC/NC tools leverage visual programming interfaces, pre-built building blocks, and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to integrate even semi-structured and unstructured data sources. Integrated templates for various automated workflow scenarios support application developers to create even complex process logics.
LC/NC tools allow the user to visually define user interfaces, workflows and data models of the application, and if necessary, through handwritten code (LC). This is complemented by connectors to various back-ends or services and an Application Lifecycle Manager, an automated tool for building, debugging, deploying and managing the application in test, staging and production.
Low code programming eliminates up to 90% of the coding process, saving developers from repetitive code sections or manual coding and allowing them to focus more on the architecture of the solution and the strategic aspect of the application. With minimal coding effort, visual blocks of existing code can be dragged and dropped into an application build workflow. Pre-built integrations and security features allow developers to build reliable applications without relying on security or integration specialists. Low code is an intuitive, visual approach to software development that can also be used to automate tasks, end-to-end processes and complex workflows. Since complex or specific automation projects in particular always require coding at some point, LC automation tools also provide the ability to do this, which in turn requires some programming skills.
No Code software is suitable for use by so-called "Citizen Developers". These are employees without any programming knowledge who want to develop an application for a specific use case or quickly digitize and automate tasks and processes. NC solutions enable users to drag and drop application development through an intuitive interface by arranging pre-built, pre-coded building blocks according to application requirements. User-friendly visual elements simplify and streamline the design process. That's because all the elements users need to build an app are already built into the tool. Using NC platforms also allows Citizen Developers to quickly respond to changing business needs, as the feature set and high level of integrations of NC tools allow users to automate any process according to their business needs - but with less option for customization and scalability as with low-code RPA tools.
What Are The Differences Between Low Code & No Code?
Both LC and NC platforms were developed with the same goal: Increasing the speed of software development . This has led to LC and NC often being used interchangeably. But there is a slight difference between the two categories. LC solutions are typically aimed at users with strong development experience or developers who need to build apps quickly, using visual development environments and automated links to back-end systems, databases, web services or APIs. LC is also well-suited for developing standalone mobile and web apps and portals that use multiple data sources and require integration with other systems. In fact, LC can be used for almost anything except for sophisticated, mission-critical systems that need to integrate with multiple back ends and external data sources.
No Code solutions take this abstraction a step further by introducing visual drag-and-drop interfaces that require no coding at all. No Code platforms allow the end user to dictate the automation process design through simple drag-and-drop manipulation. Although Low Code platforms use a similar deployment model, the ultimate difference with NC is that LC tools also provide the developer with the option of hard coding.
How will Low Code & No Code Change The World Of Work?
LC and NC tools will play a critical role in accelerating application delivery in the coming years, becoming the fuel for digitization . According to a survey by KPMG, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of executives who consider low-code and no-code development tools to be the most important automation investment has already nearly tripled. By 2024, Gartner expects 65% of all apps to be developed with LC/NC tools. As the demand for business applications can no longer be met by the number of professional programmers, more and more employees will take programming into their own hands and click together applications themselves that meet their specific needs.
From Consumer To Prosumer
As Escriba founder Dr. Jürgen Erbeldinger so aptly puts it, employees will change from consumers to prosumers. It will no longer be the hours worked that represent productivity, but the self-developed applications they bring with them as an expression of their reified know-how and productivity. The knowledge mapped in this way can then be easily scaled within the company. The use of LC and NC tools by employees thus opens up an opportunity, especially for smaller companies, to compensate for competitive disadvantages due to the war of tech talent, which the large and rich companies will decide in their favor, by getting more out of the available resources. Especially since LC/NC also allows (software) projects to be implemented that only large companies could previously afford. Being able to think in software terms is becoming the skillset of tomorrow.
Speed Becomes Essential For Success
Low code/no code platforms are revolutionizing the software industry by shortening the learning curve and making software development faster, easier, and accessible to everyone. They provide better problem-solving capabilities and enable easy and fast creation of business applications on both the web and mobile devices. Employees with no programming experience can easily create well-functioning digital products with a visually appealing design in minutes. The LC/NC platform automates operations that are critical to the customer experience. In the process, app development agility and strong business process capabilities help build apps that improve the overall customer experience. In a rapidly evolving world where digital innovation plays a critical role in business growth, speed of app development and delivery to meet customer needs and innovation are essential to business success.
The Agony Of Choice
There are now a large number of providers offering a low-code platform:
The list of providers could be continued at will. Important aspects when selecting a low-code development platform are price structure, range of functions and use cases. In order to narrow down the selection of the appropriate tool, the use case should be clearly defined, as the tools set different priorities, for example, with regard to mobile app development, customization to personal branding, integration with other systems, or security requirements.
Whether it's building a website or developing a payment service, even in the No Code segment there are plenty of providers offering their services in the form of NC platforms when it comes to developing apps and automating workflows and processes.
No Code automation tools have been around for a number of years and, as with low code tools, each NC platform has its merits and features that make it necessary to take an in-depth look at the various tools.
How Do You Go About Developing Such an App?
NC platforms offer the possibility to create applications by drag-and-drop or import/export using dialog boxes or other UI prompts. The system immediately displays the result so that one can proceed to the next function. In the case of Google's AppSheet, developing an automated email greeting in the onboarding of new employees or workers involves three simple steps. The first step is to create the bot, the second step is to configure the event and the process, and last but not least, the bot is tested.
Your Own App In Just a Few Steps
Via the AppSheet user interface and the Automation menu item, a new bot can be created via the Bots tab. After entering "employee send email" a dialog box shows different suggestions for bots. After selecting the "When a new record is created for new employees, send an email" suggestion, a fully implemented bot is ready to get to work. To tweak the settings so that the email is also sent to the correct email address, the event and process must be configured. A bot always includes an event (when something happens) and a process (perform a sequence of tasks). After clicking on the event, the definition of the event is displayed in the settings area and can be edited. By clicking on the Process tab and then on the "Send email" step, the definition is displayed in the settings area. Clicking on the "Go to: Task" link in the settings area will take you to the task definition. The email content can now be customized and formatted using templates. The app can then be deployed via the deployment wizard. The configuration of the bot is complete. When an employee record is now created, the new record is automatically synchronized and a welcome email is sent to the corresponding email address.
Custom buttons and actions can be added via the AppSheet editor, e.g. the type of action to be performed and whether the action should be triggered via a button. The appearance and behavior of the button can be specified. Workflows and reports are used to set up the automations, such as sending emails or texts, adding or updating data, or adding new calendar events. Workflows are automations that are triggered when certain actions are performed. Reports are automations that are triggered based on regular schedules.
Low Code & No Code In The Automation Context
The commitment of hyper-scale vendors such as Microsoft with its Power Platform or Google with AppSheet shows the importance of Low Code / No Code as a key center of business innovation for the future. Workflow technology and iPaaS solutions are becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to create, orchestrate and automate end-to-end business processes and personalized customer engagement workflows in an LC/NC manner. While workflow automation and iPaaS solutions focus on improving the interoperability of existing apps, a second category of LC/NC innovations focuses on helping employees create their own custom apps.
App builders increase the speed of application operationalization. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) based on low-code/no-code platforms provides the ability to automate everyday tasks that increase productivity without disrupting underlying business processes. Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) takes the core premise of robotic process automation and adds a dash of Artificial Intelligence. LC/NC automation platforms for IPA are no longer subject to the constraints of RPA and can work with both semi-structured and structured data. What is certain is that low code/no code automation platforms will successively open up more and more automation technologies and thus make the practical application of artificial intelligence accessible to an ever larger circle of employees.
LC/NC Management Challenge
However, LC/NC software development does not only offer productivity benefits. In addition to the opportunities offered by LC/NC, companies also face a number of challenges that are difficult to overcome without appropriate governance rules and an LC/NC strategy. The first question companies must ask themselves is: Who is allowed to develop and publish applications in the company? How must the whole process be structured so that software is not developed that is counterproductive and no shadow IT is created. Many of the applications developed by Citizen Developers have functional deficiencies and do not scale well. NC tools in particular sometimes tempt the Citizen Developer to make mistakes that a developer would not make. From a technical perspective, this can lead to vulnerabilities or inefficiencies that later escalate into real difficulties, such as slow or ineffective apps, or coding full of unnecessary or irrelevant filler. Systems and apps implemented without oversight are also not part of the IT department's backup and restore strategy. An incident can result in the loss of critical data. Citizen Developer developments can also lead to inefficiencies if a solution to improve a single process negatively impacts related processes. Furthermore, if the Citizen Developer leaves the company, there is a risk that no one will know how to change or support the system developed by the Citizen Developer. This also raises the question, who owns the application built by a Citizen Developer?
Governance Guidelines Are Essential
Organizations are therefore well advised to retain some control over system development, including the selection of LC/NC tools, by implementing governance guidelines that provide some IT oversight. This can be realized, for example, through a hybrid development model in which Citizen Developer and IT organization work together. After the Citizen Developer has developed 80% of the model, he or she hands the application off to the IT organization, which does the fine-tuning. Or, the Citizen Developer develops the application using a graphical interface tool and a developer implements it in a scalable language. In both cases, it is ensured that the application is recorded and works correctly.
LC/NC platforms will fundamentally change the business world. There will be a paradigm shift for which companies will need a strategy. Because LC/NC will open up completely new perspectives. Companies will suddenly become software producers, able to build and implement their own digital business models. Since this will not work without the participation of employees, citizen developers must develop an understanding of software structures so that their self-built applications do not have a counterproductive effect on the business. Appropriate corporate governance forms the guard rails for the citizen developers.
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