As enterprises seek to respond quickly to customer needs and break the model of long development cycles, “low-code” or “no-code” software platforms are growing in influence. What a few years ago may have required months (or years) of hard-coding by seasoned developers will soon be the matter of only a few mouse-clicks by “citizen developers” that don’t know a lick of code language. For the tech industry that largely has been driven by software development teams, the rise of no-code means a fundamental change in what constitutes a “developer” and how all businesses and employees operate.
Low or no-code terminology has been circulating for a few years, but 2016 brought larger-scale recognition and adoption of these platforms at an enterprise level. I would define a low-code system as one that can be configured to meet the entire set of business requirements without writing more than a couple dozen lines of code, apart from code required to integrate with other systems through an API.
Forrester Research outlines the benefits in a recent report on low-code platforms: “Hand-coding is too slow to develop and deliver many of the applications that companies use to win, serve and retain customers … Faster delivery is the primary benefit of these application platforms; they also help firms respond more quickly to customer feedback after initial software releases and provision mobile and multichannel apps.” The category has finally caught its stride.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the growth in employment of software application developers from 2010 to 2020 would be 57.4 percent. Demand for developers is high, and the competition is especially fierce in technology centers like Silicon Valley.
But there is a warring trend at play – outsourcing of development to Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. In a 2016 Deloitte survey, 59 percent of respondents reported that outsourcing was an opportunity to reduce costs. Thirty-one percent reported that they will increase their IT outsourcing in particular. But what goes out will soon be coming back in.
After decades of manufacturing outsourcing to east and south Asia, in the last five years, manufacturing capacity has been trickling back to North America. Instead of the human capital-intensive production lines of the mid-20th century, the new production line is robotic, connected and automated. The jobs coming back in are focused on maintaining and working on these new automated lines, servicing the robots and monitoring machine-based analytics. As adoption of low and no-code software platforms expands, the industry will see a similar transformation in the development space. After all, if enterprises outsource software development to save 50-60 percent of costs, adopting technology that could save them 100 percent is not far behind.
In the new era of low and no-code software, the software platform generates its own code to adapt to new situations; so a line-of-business user is able to customize it quickly in a matter of clicks. Where does this leave the software developer? Just as manufacturing roles on the assembly line fell away, so too with the generic and repetitive coding tasks that are often outsourced. Instead, system design, technology partnerships and customer engagement are all business-critical roles that require context and specialized knowledge to succeed.
In the coming months, expect an avalanche of software vendors to begin to slip low-code terminology into their marketing. IT leaders must become savvy to the marketing claims vs. reality of low and no-code platforms to make good bets. While industry analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester are just beginning to examine the players in this market, a clear set of criteria for what constitutes “low-code” will also emerge in the next 12 months.
Until then, key questions to help cut through the low-code “marketing fluff” include:
- Ask the vendor to make significant changes, during a live demo, such as creating a new table with multi-tab input forms and a custom workflow. Ask the vendor to add custom fields and then create/run a report against them. Naturally these changes, such as the form layout, report content and workflow behavior, should be based on your specifications.
- Ask whether any custom coding is required to implement the system to your requirements.
- Ask for a fixed-price implementation quote.
The virtues of low and no-code platforms are reduced deployment times and costs, improved agility and improved reliability because no custom code means no custom bugs. Harness the power of low-code and no-code platforms in 2017, and you’ll be on the edge of a new wave of development that actually requires less to achieve more.
Colin Earl is CEO and founder of Agiloft. He is a software industry veteran with over 25 years of experience as a developer, product manager and CIO. Colin worked at IBM, General Electric and three startups before founding Agiloft in 1991. His vision was to accelerate the building and deployment of enterprise business applications by removing the need for custom coding. To learn more, follow us on Twitter.