A busy year ahead in low-code and no-code development

Both citizen and professional developers will have a wealth of low-code and no-code solutions available to them.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Will 2022 be the year the year citizen developers finally take the reigns leading application development across their respective lines of business? It looks likely, thanks to emerging low-code, no-code and serverless solutions. And, importantly, there will also be another "citizen" in the mix -- professional developers themselves, rapidly accelerating their abilities to plan, assemble and maintain increasingly complex enterprise systems.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

Non-developers and developers alike are increasingly seeing greater sophistication in the applications they can build with low or no-code approaches. For example, one of the announcements coming out of AWS' recent re:Invent conference was an enhanced platform offering, Amazon SageMaker Canvas, designed to make AI development accessible to the masses through a visual, no code capability that enables business analysts to build machine learning models and generate accurate predictions without writing code or requiring machine learning expertise. Many other vendors are tacking toward offerings requiring little or no coding knowledge, with much of the backend integration and logic hidden in the background, powered by automation and AI. 

After years of anticipation and letdowns, the age of the unencumbered developer may finally be upon us. Nearly half (47%) of enterprises in a TechRepublic survey now use low-code and no-code in their organizations. One in five of those not adopting at this time said they intend to adopt the technology over the coming year.

"Automation is in the driver's seat for much of this change," says Daniel Dines, CEO and co-founder of UiPath, in a post at Wired. "Up to this point, IT teams or automation centers of excellence have led much of this initial development. In 2022, however, citizen developers will be at the forefront of this acceleration." 

Ideally, low-code and no-code will lead to little or no reliance on IT "to update site with new products, content, or pricing," says Nuno Pedro, general manager and global head of commerce solutions at SAP. "Small retailers, for example, are able to make rapid changes to their online product catalogs without any involvement from IT. It also means a lower total cost of ownership because it offers reusable building blocks."

Professional developers are also joining the ranks of low-code and no-code developers -- IDC estimates that 40% of the population of low-code tool users are professional developers, with another 33% as part-time developers, and the remaining 27% as "non-compensated" developers. "Low-code developers are not solely or even predominantly part-time application developers, who are otherwise known as line of business developers," the firm's analysts point out. 

In addition, full-time developers are no stranger to no-code development platforms: "Salesforce and Microsoft Power Apps, for example, are both used extensively by full-time developers, as are content management platforms that leverage Drupal and Joomla," says IDC analyst Arnal Dayaratna. "The strong penetration of low-code application development tools among full-time developers illustrates how the demographics of developers have already started to change such that developers are no longer defined by their proficiency in coding but are rather defined by their ability to build digital solutions," he adds. 

There's logic to developers embracing low-code and no-code methodologies. "Developers love to code, but what they love more is to create, regardless the language," says Steve Peak, founder of Story.ai. "Developers are always seeking new tools to create faster and with more enjoyment. Once low and no code grows into a tool that developers have more control over what they truly need to get done; they unquestionably will use them. It helps them by getting work done quicker with more enjoyment, examples of this are everywhere and are engrained into most developers. A seek for the next, better thing."

At the same time, there is still much work to be done -- by professional developers, of course -- before true low-code or no-code capabilities are a reality. "Even the most popular tools in the market requite significant API knowledge and most likely JavaScript experience," says Peak. "The products that do not require API or JavaScript experience are limited in  functionality and often resemble that of custom Kanban boards and more media rich spreadsheets wherein information logic is mostly entirely absent."

Marketing and sales are primary areas in which citizen developers are emerging. "Low-code and no-code allows organizations to be agile and experimental in customer experience," says Pedro. "Low-code and no-code also allows brands to be very responsive to the market and to customer responses and needs, driving innovations based on changes as they come. Low-code and no-code becomes a springboard -- an organization can quickly bring an idea to fruition using no code/low code tools, but still with the ability to give it a unique brand signature using customizations which leverage headless APIs. This is beneficial for implementations because services can focus on differentiation in their site, because the standard commerce capabilities are easily achieved out of the box."

Low-code and no-code platforms aren't the only approaches paving the path for professional and citizen developers. A separate analysis out of IDC points to capabilities arising from the serverless computing trend that simplifies the process of building and deploying applications. "There is a growing number of tools and environments supporting the low-code/no-code movement, which abstracts both development and operational procedures and protocols away from both professional and 'citizen' developers. Serverless is a key step supporting the concept of applications build 'LEGO-block' style, easily assembled and disassembled on demand as the business requires, without the need for technical expertise in development or operational methodologies.  (Note: I co-authored this report along with IDC analysts Al Gillen and Larry Carvalho.)  

Some key trends are converging to make low-code and no-code a reality and a necessity. "A dramatic increase in the number of cloud software tools on the market, has led the average enterprise to use more than 1,000 different software tools," says Alistair Russell, co-founder and CTO of Tray.io. "Another trend is the API economy, the new ecosystem of cloud-based software that uses APIs to communicate with each other, and also gives third-party developers the power to quickly build out custom functionality on top of existing services. These two trends have caused significant business pain for IT organizations that service software-heavy, line-of-business teams. Now, seemingly every marketing, sales, support, finance, and HR team needs API integrations between their many software tools."

In response, "low-code integration solutions can conserve resources, reduce technical debt, and refocus valuable resources on the most important priorities," Russell continues. "Low-code platforms give IT organizations the power to stand up integrations instantly and defer most of their future API maintenance work to the platforms themselves."

As low-code and no-code environments proliferate in the year ahead, a challenge will be the way in which information is handled. Chris Bergh, CEO of DataKitchen, says as low-code and no-code gain traction, a practice he calls DataGovOps will take hold. "The double-edged sword of turning people loose on data can create chaos -- a data governance nightmare," he says. DataGovOps offers an alternative to heavy-handed approaches such as "meetings, checklists, sign-offs and nagging -- all taxes upon low-code user productivity," says Bergh. "DataGovOps protects user freedom to innovate with low-code and no-code tools within the framework of a well-governed environment. It looks to turn all of the inefficient, time-consuming and error-prone manual processes associated with governance into code or scripts, and reimagines governance workflows as repeatable, verifiable automated orchestrations. DataGovOps provides a complete toolchain, security access, prepackages datasets, integration with workflow management including an automated path to deployment and governance tracking with respect to policies."  

Ultimately, because of low-code and no-code, the "composable enterprise" concept is emerging. "Instead of taking the outdated approach of relying on limited software tools that can only be improved with developer resources, we're seeing businesses quickly assembling, and reassembling, functional building blocks for their most important processes," says Russell. "In the composable enterprise model, businesses can react to fast-changing market conditions by adapting their tooling and processes, particularly as increasingly savvy line-of-business teams use low-code solutions to self serve. As a result, IT organizations can refocus their efforts on the strategic projects that matter most: digital transformation, security, cloud migrations, and building a world-class customer experience."

(Disclosure:  I am a contract analyst with IDC, mentioned in this report.)

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