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Can citizen coding help businesses against Covid-19?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels)

No-code, low-code, visual programming, PWTC. Search for any of these terms on Google and you’ll end up with thousands of results offering app-building tutorials, software, courses, and opinion pieces praising the benefits of building apps without using code.

And that's what citizen coding is: creating simple software with user-friendly tools that require little to no programming knowledge. Think of it as having dozens of prebuilt algorithms that you can customize to your needs, like the menu of a fast-food restaurant.  

The rise in web content related to citizen coding isn’t just a fad. Business interest in easier approaches for app building is growing. Forrester’s latest report predicts that in the next few years we will see continuous growth in low-coding markets, as potential clients look for faster implementations to solve low-level issues.

No-code solutions aren’t the philosopher’s stone of programming. As of yet, these options are still very limited in comparison to outsourcing/nearshoring IT services, QA outsourcing, and professional development. For large scale or complex projects, nothing beats hiring an IT business partner dedicated like BairesDev.

Still, there are benefits to opting for a citizen development solution for specific problems. What’s more - some of those benefits are quite relevant to 2020 as more and more businesses have to adapt to a world where cramped spaces and offices filled with people are a biohazard.

Reducing the workload of IT departments

If we are optimistic, one good thing about having to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that we can finally put to rest the silly belief that people are less productive when they work remotely. Most workers are reporting that they are putting in more hours than they used to.

IT teams aren’t the exception. This pandemic seems to be hitting them harder than other departments. Not only do they have to keep the systems up and running, but they also get saddled with helping less tech-savvy employees adapt to a virtual office environment.

With a citizen-coding culture, each department can develop their solutions. IT can focus on bigger or more complex projects, and also, each department gets to build a tool that fits the idiosyncrasies of their group.

This way, departments become more independent as they only have to rely on IT when something goes wrong. Contrary to what many critics believe, no-coding solutions will not put IT experts on the street, since it rather helps refocus their talents on high-level tasks. Even an IT unit can greatly benefit from low-code solutions, as they can use the same tools as civil developers to deal with trivial but time-consuming tasks.

Faster response and implementation

Independent departments also mean that solutions get deployed quicker. One of the biggest problems of a centralized IT unit is that ticket queues can quickly become overwhelming. Even priority queues can collapse during peak times, and that’s a frustration no one likes to deal with.

In contrast, each department in civil coding environments is trained to deal with its process, placing a ticket for IT assistance as a last resort. Each employee has the tools at their disposal to do basic troubleshooting and deploy solutions.

Even if IT is needed, a department can quickly build a bug-free workaround to use in the meantime. Not only are no-code solutions very user-friendly, but they also reduce development time by up to 80 percent.

Building a bridge with virtual clients

While some countries are slowly opening up the economy, there is the always looming threat of the second wave of infection. As such, many businesses are adapting by opening web stores and offering pick up and delivery.

Small businesses that used to be content with using social media to engage their potential customers have to step up their game as more and more competition starts using those same channels. Citizen coding can help them adapt by providing the tools they need to build their web pages and mobile apps.

Take software like WYSIWYG as an example. Any person who even has a passing knowledge of how Microsoft Office works can create a good looking website without writing a single line of HTML or CSS. Granted, the page might lack robust functions, but for a simple and quick storefront with PayPal integration, it’s more than enough.

As for mobile apps, there are dozens of reasons why even a small scale business should seriously think about making their own. For example:

It’s easier to inform clients about offers and discounts.

You can engage directly with the clients and gather business analytics as well as feedback.

Social media integration lets your customer share information related to your business, increasing exposure, and sales.

A long way to go

As I’ve said in the beginning, no-coding is a crazy good solution for small, scale-fast projects, and the result is usually bug-free, professional-looking, and functional. But it will only take you so far.

Maybe we’ll get to a point where AIs will be able to act as co-developers, doing most of the heavy-lifting while the citizen developers just set the dials. But as for now, not even the best software can compare against a good developer with QA & testing services - especially for complex projects.

All in all, it’s great that these tools are out there. It's great that people with basic computing skills can experiment and make apps and web pages that look and feel as if they were done by a pro.

Malcom Ridgers, tech expert, BairesDev