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How the pandemic has reignited the use of low-code development tools among software developers

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

The term ‘low-code’ was first coined by industry analyst group Forrester in 2014, used to describe development platforms that focused on ease of use and development simplicity. The idea behind low-code was that it allowed users of all skill levels – not just developers - to code applications and bring them to market, involving business users and not just technical teams.

While low-code development tools have undoubtedly made it easier for business users to get involved in coding apps and solutions, such tasks are still mostly carried out by software developers. What low-code has made possible however, is make software development much quicker and more agile, allowing organizations to bring products to market faster and better meet customer expectations.

The use of low-code has steadily increased over the past six years but the events of 2020 have brought about a major spike in its use. What is behind this increase and what does the use of low-code development tools mean for both businesses and software developers?

The impact of Covid-19

The phrase ‘events of 2020’ refers mostly to Covid-19. The pandemic has disrupted entire markets and normal business practices. As continuing waves of the pandemic compound the impact of the original lockdowns and cement more permanent changes to the way the world works, organizations have found that they now have no choice but to reinvent their established practices and client services.

Some companies have already lost a great deal - revenue, customers, market position - because they weren’t ready or didn’t have a plan B when circumstances called for it. That new digital service, channel, or app they were devising: if it wasn’t primed to go live, it is likely to have been put on pause as businesses redirected energy and resources to fire-fighting and trying to survive the immediate crisis.

It is in this context that low-code development platforms have risen up the business agenda. Low-code tooling makes developers more efficient, by allowing them to re-use existing components and templates to speed up application delivery. In the context of content-based applications, it introduces the ability to create a new digital customer or supply-chain experience with a very rapid turnaround. In short, low-code allows IT teams to make smarter and more efficient use of their time and skills, accelerating the delivery of new user experiences.

Low-code tool usage on the rise

In November 2020 Nuxeo released new research with 200 UK software developers to understand the growing prominence of low-code environments and their perceived - and experienced - benefits. It is no coincidence that the profile of, and interest in, low-code is rising. Close to a half (45 percent) of software developers said they already used low-code development tools occasionally (once a week or less), and almost two-thirds (64 percent) reported that their use of low-code tools had increased in 2020 (since the initial global lockdown).

Demand is coming from their employers too, as low-code’s benefits become more widely appreciated. 55 percent of developers in the survey said they were being encouraged by the business to use low-code development tools. A strong majority (60 percent) reported that they use these tools specifically to create content-based applications. Furthermore, the use of low-code remains on a sharp upward trajectory. More than six in 10 software developers predicted that up to half of their organization’s app development would make use of low-code by 2022.

However, against the backdrop of Covid-19, almost one half of developers said they lacked the tools to build applications and products quickly enough to meet deadlines. A similar proportion (43 percent) said it took more than three months to complete a typical content-based application in their organization, and 44 percent admitted that their employer had abandoned application projects because they were taking or were going to take too long.

The competitive advantage of using low-code

It is clear from the research that organizations across most sectors are facing similar pressures to accelerate digital transformation to cope with the pandemic and its pervasive disruption to business-as-usual and to the global economy. This intensified pressure to deliver quickly, in response to immediate market conditions, has magnified the already long understood limitations of traditional approaches to IT project delivery.

The pandemic provided a real-world stress test for low-code development, especially in spinning out new digital experiences that harness and unlock the value of company content assets. In our research, developers listed the benefits of low-code development tools to the business. The principal benefits included simplifying the development process (cited by 35 percent); accelerating digital transformation (by 25 percent) and boosting innovation (also cited by 25 percent).

Tools that speed the development process are hugely impactful in terms of helping companies transform and innovate, which has a knock-on effect in improving the customer experience. This all helps make a business more competitive - always important but especially so in this current period of uncertainty.

There were also many benefits for the developers themselves cited in the research as a result of using low-code development tools. 40 percent pointed to the importance of harnessing and keeping pace with the latest development tools, while 35 percent said it made more effective use of their time. It’s clear that low-code development tools are beneficial to both employer and employee, delivering value in different ways across the company.

The importance of agility

The year 2020 has challenged long-held assumptions about what makes an organization successful, stirring businesses from their inertia and forcing them to be more agile, bolder and more decisive. If the latest coronavirus pandemic has taught the world little else, it has reminded even the most powerful global brands that the future is unpredictable and that companies’ once-assumed stability and security is more precarious than many had once believed.

Now, more than ever, the responsiveness of a business to its evolving surroundings is a matter of survival – and no organization, however large or long-standing, is safe. But the use of low-code tools points to an encouraging future. 41 percent of software developers in our research wanted more than half of their organization’s app development to be delivered using low-code by 2022 – a sign that businesses are moving in the right direction to secure their futures, whatever lies ahead.

Chris McLaughlin, chief product and marketing officer, Nuxeo (opens in new tab)

Chris McLaughlin is chief product and marketing officer at Nuxeo, a provider of content services and digital asset management solutions for large firms including Banque de France, Verizon and Electronic Arts.