An IT talent crunch -- exacerbated by last year's great corporate dispersal -- has pushed more application responsibility to end users. Now, it's time to take a look at the long-term implications of the low-code and no-code movement as we move into the resurgent '20s. In this Q&A, Brad Freitag, CEO of Claris International, explains what to watch for in the months and years ahead.
Q: There's been talk of "low code" for decades now. How are things different nowadays for the low-code movement?
Freitag: "Low code is dramatically different than a decade ago, even a year or two ago because of Covid-19, and it's trending at a feverish pitch right now. It's really a confluence of long-brewing trends. In the midst of the digital transformation trend, we saw an increase in low-code adoption because of the widening IT talent gap. As more companies rapidly took on digital initiatives, the demand for IT professionals increased while the supply of computer science graduates still fell short. Then the pandemic hit and all of these methodical, digital transformation initiatives needed to happen immediately -- literally overnight."
"Many companies flocked to low-code solutions due to agility and ability to quickly react to dynamic needs. Low code provided fast relief and offered immediate response to the ever-changing business environments and processes forced by the pandemic. Now, as we move beyond the initial, rapid, and reactive shift, many companies will take a step back and look at the solutions chosen during the pandemic. Over the course of 2021 and beyond, we'll see a significant re-evaluation of tools and platforms. Since the market is currently saturated with various low-code platforms."
Q: IT professionals tend to be skeptical about low-code and no-code solutions - they say the software creates issues to clean up later. How can users and these tools be properly guided?
"If companies invest in a low-code platform that scales across their organization, the platform will grow with them for the long haul. Historically, low code was perceived as enabling shadow IT and data silos, which often didn't comply with security regulations and required developers to clean up issues. However, today's low-code platforms are designed to enable quick, customized app development, while being API-driven and conforming with security and policy standards. These low-code solutions simply become a seamless extension of the overall IT infrastructure, as business users and the IT team support each other more closely to deliver better value faster than ever before."
Q: Do low-code or no-code solutions offer new ways for IT professionals to work as well?
"Of course, low code isn't just about enabling non-tech users to create custom applications. It's also proven to increase developer productivity since IT teams can produce higher quality solutions more quickly with low code. You'll find low code dramatically improves collaboration between IT professionals and business leaders. Often, IT teams struggle when communicating with non-technical leadership, and low code provides a way to invite leaders into the development process."
"I'd strongly encourage developers to embrace the low-code movement and train themselves on the more robust platforms to expand their skill sets and integrate low code seamlessly with their work. Doing so will increase developers' value with their employers and customers. Finally, for trained developers, low code lets them offload much of the busy work to drag-and-drop, freeing up their time to focus on innovation."
Q: What kinds of applications are typically built with low-code platforms?
"We've seen our customers build custom apps for every function, in every industry, in businesses of all sizes - from SMBs to Fortune 500 corporations. There really aren't limits. The solutions we've seen range from rapid deployment of personal protective equipment across major cities during the pandemic, to a record manufacturer completely reinventing their production process. We've also seen construction companies equip their service professionals with custom iPad apps that can work at job sites with zero connectivity."
"Low-code tools are generally used for delivering systems of customer and employee experiences where the work gets done, or lines of businesses within enterprises. Low to mid-scale software deployments can have material business impact even with small budgets and limited timeframes. Additionally, low code is perfect for teams who require software that adapts quickly to ever-changing business or customer needs -- it's tailor-made for urgent response. Even before the pandemic, we've seen our platform used for disaster response. In these situations, customers face unique challenges and usually find there's 'no app for that.' Since immediate solutions are crucial, low code provides the ability to create and customize applications and avoids the need of long development cycles."
Q: What kinds of low-code applications do you see five years from now?
"Low code will have an even larger role to play in the next five years. Of course, all software will become enhanced from app experiences to experiences augmented by machine learning and artificial intelligence. But the future for low code is unique in one important way: it's purposely created to adapt to an unknowable future. This is the very reason why we saw such a low-code boom recently, and there's certainly no going back. No one can predict the needs and technologies of the future, but low code clearly cemented itself as the agile, flexible, and scalable solution."
Q: How has the growth of cloud computing -- and perhaps serverless computing -- accelerated low code?
"Cloud computing helped accelerate the recent low-code explosion since the cloud enables businesses to use less-expensive technology to rapidly deploy their low-code solutions. Most large organizations with legacy applications in the cloud will use external service providers for some portion of tech management and support. Forrester predicts that in 2021, 75% of application development will use low-code platforms. We see these two trends happening in parallel -- cloud computing is the perfect complement to low-code development. If low code is expected to provide higher productivity, lower cost, and faster development, cloud computing essentially delivers the same benefits for deployment, especially for virtual teams. Cloud computing and low code are also made for each other in terms of agility and scalability. If you invest in agility, your requirements probably dictate the need for scalability as well. A modern business strategy simply must include both cloud and low code."
Q: Does the availability of pre-built components in cloud services, APIs and from open-source communities accelerate more involvement from business-side users?
"Yes, absolutely. The growth of low code is, at least in part, heavily dependent on the expansion of cloud services, APIs, and open-source communities. The more sophistication we can provide without requiring the non-technical user to learn sophisticated coding, the more we can make the software more accessible to everyone. Businesses of all sizes can empower employees to use low code to eliminate time-consuming, manual processes and improve efficiency. Templatization of code, cloud services, and API create a better social ecosystem that allows non-technical employees to resolve nagging business problems and allow the IT pros to better focus on tech innovation."
Q: What do you foresee happening with developer jobs and roles as low-code and no-code approaches become more commonplace, as non-technical users are more involved with building their own apps?
"Trained developers will always be in high demand, and they will always be the ones who can unlock new innovations -- whether developers start with a low-code platform or a line of hard code. Low code will never replace an IT team. It simply allows business users to interject their ideas and create custom apps, resolving tedious issues that the IT team may not have dedicated time to fix. Currently, developers often fear losing their jobs because of the increasing use of automation and AI. But that isn't what we are experiencing - there's still a huge IT talent gap and not enough trained professionals to fill vacant jobs. Companies simply need both IT specialists and non-technical generalists for immediate low-code solutions and future digital transformation. Low code offers a significant opportunity for the generalists while enhancing the capabilities of the highly skilled IT specialists."