Everyone loves low-code/no-code development, but not all are ready for it

Technology leaders are nervous about the ability of low-code and no-code applications to solve key business challenges.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

 The low-code and no-code movement has been catalyzed by technical skills shortages.

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How much software development work can be safely pushed outside of the IT department? This is still an unanswered question. Everyone loves the concept of low-code and no-code development -- even IT. Especially IT. In the process of offloading work from IT, low- and no-code provides end users a chance to exercise their own initiatives. But everyone needs to proceed with caution, as low-code and no-code may not work in all settings.

Also: Low and no-code paradox: Freeing up tech pros' time, but creating new entanglements

A recent survey finds 85% of organizations are interested in moving forward with low-code and no-code IT solutions, and just over half are comfortable with employees outside of IT using low-code application-building platforms. The survey, published by Jitterbit, finds that IT leaders are still nervous about low-code's ability to solve key business challenges and, to a lesser extent, data security and accessibility issues.  

At the same time, organizations may have little choice but to move forward with low-code and no-code to overcome prevailing and persistent technology talent shortages. "They can leverage powerful tools to automate tasks for faster, higher quality delivery, all while freeing up time for developers to focus their talents on more complex initiatives,"  says Robin Stein, partner with PwC Labs. Shifting the paradigm on how they think about software development and embracing low code or no code is the key to unlocking capacity by leveraging employees beyond those in the core IT function."

At this stage, organizations are beginning to sort out "what low and no-code platforms can solve and replace, while others do not," says Dominik Rose, VP of platform strategy at LeanIX. "For example, low and no-code solutions work well when combining existing IT solutions, like ERP, with solutions focused on meeting digital customer needs."  However, he continues, "It's not the best approach for building scalable enterprise solutions. You can't solve every customer problem with templated experiences. For this reason, companies have to find better ways to get the most out of existing platforms to reduce the need for boilerplate workarounds."  

Different systems require different means and levels of orchestration, Rose points out. "Low and no-code solutions can definitely be leveraged for smart modernization of application landscapes, but at the end of the day, these platforms alone will not reduce the need for skilled developers."  

Also: Low-code platforms mean anyone can be a developer -- and maybe a data scientist, too

The low-code and no-code movement has been catalyzed by technical skills shortages, "as well as the massive shift to hybrid work," agrees Sudhir Mehta, global vice president of Optra Engineering at Lexmark International.  "It offers an inherent agility to address business outcomes quickly and with less technical overhead -- providing the power to a non-technical employee to address outcomes quickly with limited engineering or IT support."  

One caveat is that digital native environments may be more conducive than established systems to low-code and no-code approaches. "Low-code or no-code is more prevalent among companies with cloud-native and brand-new applications built from the ground up," Mehta observes. "It plays well with cloud-based operations. It is less seen in businesses still running legacy and on-prem applications." Of course, low-code and no-code can be plugged into a presentation or control layer within legacy settings, Mehta adds. 

Still, IT professionals need to remain on standby, as there are risks in a strategy that seeks to push development out to business users. "Tech leaders should approach low-code or no-code strategically with a hybrid model -- leveraging both low-code or no-code tools and full stack technologies," says Stein. Build this environment around a "clear app graduation strategy and boundaries of where to leverage what technology," she adds. "Deploying low-code and no-code technologies will not eliminate the need for a robust IT team."

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A proliferation of low-code and no-code applications also runs the risk of poor performance, Rose cautions. "You want your solution or product to run smoothly for your customers. When you rely on vendors to help bring these products or solutions to reality, you ultimately rely on their timelines and upgrades to make sure you have a quality product. This could hinder progress on functionality altogether."

Low-code and no-code also limits creativity, Rose says. "Development is not an isolated, technical activity. Building products that serve customers well is a craft -- and one that a lot of the times requires a skilled developer."

In most cases, "IT professionals should not need to intervene," says Stein. "With the proper governance procedures in place, citizens should be able to develop and leverage their low-code apps, while monitoring solutions behind the scenes to help mitigate risk and ensure adherence to policy." For example, "application usage can be monitored and as an application begins to gain popularity, IT professionals can then step in to help ensure the app is built to scale and can be supported across the organization, ensuring their time is being spent in areas of greater potential impact."

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Automation in a vacuum is not the answer to everything, Mehta points out. "You must take into account the entire chain these applications connect with. If an action is triggered, but the overall process is broken, then low-code and no-code is not going to address the gap. This is why business process and architects are still critical as they can look beyond individual apps to ensure that the overall architecture remains applicable and addresses overall digital transformation."  

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