[authors: Jackson Liu, Shaz Aziz]
Inspiration is easy to come by when your work allows you to engage with colleagues, customers, prospects and thought leaders in the industry on a daily basis.
The idea for this blog series was sparked by one such conversation, and in particular, a line that was quoted from an early 2019 Forrester article: ‘No-code today is an aspiration and only sometimes a reality.’
To be honest, there was a time where I would have whole-heartedly agreed with this statement. However, nearly 2 years on from when that article was first published, I would say that the aspiration has indeed turned into reality!
If you were to look at a google trends graph of the term ‘no-code’, you’d see an explosion in 2020. No-code has suddenly become one of tech’s hottest buzzwords. But what does it actually mean? Why would you want to use a no-code platform? Which no-code platform is the one for me, my team and my organization? Is it really just that, a buzzword?
SETTING THE SCENE
It’s easy to forget that software development is a relatively recent advance in the way we work. It’s harder to forget just how seismic that impact has been. Every industry has been disrupted by software: in the words of Marc Andreessen, it has ‘eaten the world’.
Software development, as with anything in life, is not static. The terms ‘low-code’ and ‘no-code’ are the latest stage in this evolution. While the words are new, the concept of low-code / no-code has been around for a long time. From the early days of spreadsheet programs like Lotus 1-2-3 replacing the need to manually code software that can handle complex calculation to current webpage creators like WordPress and Wix where anyone can build their own business website, no-code platforms to build digital solutions are just the latest in this timeline. But what exactly can you do now with such platforms?
Let’s start simple. As far as naming conventions go, it doesn’t get more self-explanatory!
While both use a visual and graphical drop and drag interfaces to give users the power to build digital solutions, there is one main difference – the intended user.
It is generally accepted that no-code platforms allow business users (or more commonly known as citizen developers) to build and deploy applications themselves, without the involvement of IT professionals – through, yes, you’ve guessed it, no-code!
Low-code platforms on the other hand require the assistance of IT professionals or in-house developers to code changes before the built application can be deployed. It really is targeted towards developers – seeking to make their lives easier.
However, it does go much broader than that and believe me, if you ask both vendors and users of either tools, you’ll receive a myriad of contradicting thoughts.
While often that is a direct result of marketing and messaging content produced by vendors to address a particular segment that they want to target, a lot of the confusion resides in understanding exactly what can you achieve through no-code.
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
THE DIFFERENCE THAT MATTERS
The fundamental difference between no-code and low-code tools is accessibility. How easy is it for someone with no programming experience to use your tool? How much of your technology’s features are accessible at the point of purchase to that non-technical user? Can one really allow citizen developers – that is truly people (like me) who cannot code – to build digital solutions?
A low-code tool can offer businesses enormous opportunities for efficiency. It can eliminate the need for a lot of the repetitive, mundane coding necessary to build streamlined systems. But low-code isn’t a panacea: these tools commonly need users to roll their sleeves up and do some hand-coding to make the solution fit their business.
This assumed level of programming knowledge often also means that low-code technology providers tend to take a hands-off approach. You buy the technology and off you go – with minimal further support when things get complicated. Low Code platforms are often very powerful and can offer great benefits – but you must be prepared for a very steep learning curve, and it isn’t a tool that can be placed in front of business users. Low code platforms often require the assistance of your IT team to make code changes for the end solution to run properly.
And because of this core difference, we at Neota Logic like to think that true no-code tools take more of a ‘building blocks’ approach to software development: dragging and dropping pre-coded and packaged modular functionality and templates, with plenty of support and advice along the way (depending on your choice of platform). Thinking analogously, no-one really starts a PowerPoint presentation with a blank slide!
The term ‘everybody’ is quite underrated here. No-code opens the door to a fresh talent pool of digital builders that aren’t tied down by developers, analysts or IT teams. Imagine a world where a Subject Matter Expert with domain knowledge in procurement and HR processes, privacy laws, GDPR requirements can open a laptop and start converting his / her knowledge into a runnable digital solution. What IT skills shortage?!
It’s the empowerment of everybody that makes no-code platforms really stand out.
SHIFTING THE MINDSET
Having worked both in the customer success and sales side of a no-code vendor, the most frequent critique I hear from prospects and customers alike is – “I don’t think we can build what we need with no-code.’ If I had a dollar every time…
A lot of users in the market believe that a no-code tool doesn’t get them far enough, and they need to roll up their sleeves and code anyway.
Now, it is true that most no-code tools in the market are quite simplistic, and are happy to remain that way. This is because it is extremely difficult to add complex functionality and maintain the simple, design-centred approach to software development. The result of this hurdle is a swathe of tools that let you make decision trees, or automate some documents – but little else.
However, although difficult, it is eminently possible to build a really powerful solution using a no-code tool, without sacrificing simplicity. Going beyond simple decision trees, and making enterprise-ready, database-enabled, integrated, complex tools – without writing a line of code.
We’ll touch on this in latter blogs.
Perhaps more importantly, we also believe there needs to be a fundamental mind shift.
Think about it – is the purpose of low code / no-code platforms really to build large, enterprise-wide solutions (like ERP systems) or is it more to build smaller, business / departmental specific solutions that can integrate seamlessly into larger business solutions? We think it’s the latter and it is the latter that we think buyers of no-code / low code platforms need to keep in mind during the planning, buying and implementation stages.
The modern no-code landscape is young, and its potential is growing all the time. Keep tuned in for the next blog where we’ll seek to dive deeper into the functionalities of no-code platforms.
See you then!