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Low code is democratising IT; but are vendors missing out?

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

You will most likely have heard the words “low-code” or “no-code” banded about recently. More than mere buzz words, organisations around the world are leveraging low-code/no-code platforms to bring their digital transformation strategies to life. Low-code/no-code refers to the ability for organisations to develop and configure IT solutions without writing much, or very little, code. In the era of digital transformation – where every IT vendor and solutions provider is keen to show you the extent to which their offering will transform the organisation – low-code has become an important differentiator. By allowing anyone in the business to develop and build processes themselves without expensive developers or extensive training, low code has become the Holy Grail of digitisation. Low code democratises IT because it empowers non-technical users to contribute to digital transformation too. This accelerates innovation, improves technology adoption and reduces the time-to-market for new solutions. With digital transformation no longer the preserve of those with technical training, it can be unleashed across the business. But what is low-code/no-code, what are the benefits, and are all “low-code” offerings made equal?

Low-code vs no-code

While the terms “low-code” and “no-code” are often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between them. No-code (sometimes referred to as “codeless”) is literally just that – no code at all. It is mostly targeted to so-called ‘citizen developers’ – those employees who need to build functional but generally limited apps without having to write a single line of code.

Low code is mostly aimed at streamlining and simplifying the workloads of professional developers, but it is certainly not limited to those who write code for a living. This is because these functions must be reliable and stable, but being “low-code”, they still have the ability for a skilled developer to go in and make more low-level changes.

It is worth acknowledging that while there are differences in their approach, low-code and no-code share a common goal – to allow organisations to be more agile by reducing the amount of development time or expertise required to build applications. Most businesses will therefore choose to adopt a combination of low-code and no-code applications to fulfil a range of different tasks. There are also many similarities between both approaches – they both use visual development environments where no hand coding is required, and they both automate a lot of manual processes. The main difference is the extent to which developers can get under the hood.

How low can you go?

Given the hype around no-code and its links to digital transformation, there is a growing tendency for vendors to promote their platforms as low-code or no-code, even when their credentials might not fit with your own view of “low-code”. Unfortunately, there is no industry-wide definition for how much coding is required before an application can no longer be considered as “low-code”. For example, is having a visual IDE enough to say your platform is low code if you still need developers for integration and testing? I would argue that this is not a low-code platform.

Will low-code and no-code combine?

There is a growing view that as low-code and no-code tools become more powerful and sophisticated, there will soon be no distinction between them. They will merge into a single market segment – combining the ‘enterprise-class’ power and stability of today’s “low-code” with the ease-of-use and ‘no experience necessary’ of “no-code.” This trend is already happening within our own platform, where Cherwell has adopted a combination of no-code and low-code elements; no-code in so far as the ITSM architecture is entirely codeless and can be configured without writing a single line of code, and low-code where specific functions or applications can be developed with minimal coding. Eventually however, we see the distinction between low-code and no-code disappearing within our own solution and foresee other vendors following the same path as they build out the functionality of their no-code platforms.

A no-code future?

The no-code trend will continue to gather pace over the next few years as more and more organisations see it as a critical component for delivering their digital transformation strategies. In turn, vendors will seek to capitalise on this trend by ensuring their applications offer as much no-code functionality as possible. Just be sure your definition of low-code/no-code matches with theirs!

Low-code has a bright future ahead of it - it allows organisations to rapidly develop low-cost, specialised solutions that support their teams and their organisation’s goals. It reduces dependency on developers, accelerates the adoption of new processes and services, improves innovation and can even reduce the time-to-market of new products and services. It is also worth remembering that low code should not be limited to the user experience. Low-code/no-code capabilities should be present on every level of service management, from the creation of automation workflows, building reports, dashboards and analytics, and most importantly, to integrating into core business systems.

Pierre-André Aeschlimann, Cherwell