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Low and no-code paradox: Freeing up tech pros’ time, but creating new entanglements

  • April 03, 2023
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Can the movement to low and no-code software development make a dent in the workloads of over-stretched technology professionals? Absolutely. The catch is the new types of workloads that will arise and consume their newfound time, requiring companies to provide guidance to keep all those user-created apps from overwhelming the organization.  

Also: Low/no-code software may soon test the limits of IT hand-holding   

A survey released a couple of years ago by Mendix suggests low and no-code does free up professionals’ time. Two-thirds of developers using low and no-code agree that low-code is their go-to work-around development solution since they can’t keep up with the intense demand for developers. At least 90% report having fewer than five app requests per month in their backlogs. In addition, the survey suggested that the average company “avoided hiring two IT developers using low-code tools.” 

Too good to be true? Mendix is a low-code vendor, so of course they have a good reason to highlight these results. The data validates the movement to let business users focus on their domains while freeing up IT to worry about bigger things. Just as importantly, it emphasizes the fact that developers themselves are low and no-code tool consumers. 

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Industry experts and leaders in the industry agree: in an era where IT budgets are tight, tech talent is hard to find and keep, and business users are more hungry than ever for more capabilities on demand, the time is ripe for low and no-code approaches. “We are seeing companies adopt low-code and no-code platforms for multiple reasons including automation of manual processes, application landscape modernization, and the decentralization of application development to reduce the backlog of demand within IT,” says David McIntire, director at Capgemini. “While these platforms typically still require some level of support from IT, allowing business to build simple applications within a standardized platform does help address the staffing challenges for application development talent.”

Also: Low-code development: Here’s how it’s being used

Citizen developers, for one, “want to focus on developing applications that simplify the business processes they utilize on a day-to-day basis,” says McIntire. “They seek to automate specific workflows or business processes. They are also using data-focused low-code platforms to improve visibility into business operations through the creation of new reports and analysis.”

What roles will IT professionals need to play as low-code and no-code proliferate? One of the most important emerging roles in this era is serving as stewards or curators of burgeoning no-code and low-code environments. “We’re in an interesting period,” says Mike Loukides, vice president of emerging tech content at O’Reilly Media. “It’s great that citizen developers can build software they can use without having programming skills. But we’re still trying to define the proper relationships between these developers and more formal IT processes. Will a sales manager build a better web app for managing the sales team than a bunch of IT developers who rarely talk to the salespeople? Probably. But can that same manager deploy the app, verify that it’s secure, and do all the other things we expect of IT? Probably not. So we need to figure out how to make those relationships work.”

Also: Low and no-code apps spur new job descriptions for software developers

Low and no-code approaches “are most effective where the visual constructs of the platform that a citizen developer is using map really well onto the business concepts that they are already familiar with,” says Pete Bonney, executive general manager of product engineering, apps, and services at Xero. “Otherwise they will need to develop the skills that a professional developer has — such as understanding generalized concepts like data structures, algorithms, and complexity — the fundamentals of computer science.”

Freed from needing to constantly create and maintain reports and analysis, “IT professionals can focus on maintaining the platforms themselves and integrating the platforms into the broader ecosystem,” says McIntire. Still, that doesn’t mean IT professionals remove themselves from the plethora of apps that business users — or their IT colleagues — may be building and using. “IT staff also frequently become the centralized managers of the developed applications,” McIntire relates. “Professional developers also play a key role in defining the coding standards leveraged by citizen developers and training new citizen developers.”

Also: Low-code is not a cure for overworked IT departments just yet     

Successfully leveraging low-code and no-code means IT professionals need to “devote the time at the onset of the engagement to defining the structures and processes that govern the use of the platform,” says McIntire. “Defining the training required for citizen developers, the standards around security and data, the processes for delivering new applications, and the review process are all key to using low-code/no-code to balance speed of delivery with application suitability.”

Low-code and no-code “is about reacting to a certain condition by taking a well-understood, repeatable action,” says Bonney. “It’s aiming for DIY, and generally doesn’t require professional help. However, for particularly large, complex, or customized workflows, you’re better off approaching a professional. For example, if a business has experienced rapid growth and significant data volumes are causing problems with performance and timeliness of data, then that is a situation where professional help is usually required.”

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Part of this role is to help mitigate “the risk of the proliferation of applications in the environment that aren’t developed to company standards,” he continues. “Applications that are implemented without following proper development standards risks introducing security or regulatory compliance issues to the environment.”

In addition, IT managers will need to constantly fight the complexity that may result from an unbridled proliferation of low and no-code apps. “Enabling individuals across disparate business units and geographies increases the risks of multiple applications being developed with common or overlapping functionality, unnecessarily increasing the size and complexity of the application landscape,” McIntire says.

Also: ChatGPT just debugged my code. For real.

Ultimately, IT professionals need to remain hands-on when it comes to guiding citizen developers to adhere to corporate and technology standards. “There are tools for building websites, business intelligence, and using a spreadsheet model for working with databases,” says Loukides. “On one hand, these are radically different tools that frequently don’t require writing code at all. But the same thing applies: The user won’t be able to use a tool for building websites if they don’t have a good feel for what they want the website to look like. This includes the design, its ease of use, and so on. The tool takes care of the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but the user still has the hard decisions. The same is true for BI; business intelligence tools can do a lot to help analyze data, but the user still needs to know what they want to get from the data. A tool can’t give you insights if you don’t know what you want to be insightful about.”


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