Low-code is not a cure for overworked IT departments just yet

Survey says low-code and no-code platforms haven't quite made a dent yet in relieving overworked development shops. But that's no reason not to look at the long-term benefits of this approach.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
Image: Getty/VioletaStoimenova

Using low-code and no-code platforms is supposed to provide relief to overworked development shops, right? Well, a new survey says it hasn't quite made a dent yet. But that's no reason not to look at the long-term benefits of this approach. 

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Thirty-nine percent of 319 project managers responding to a survey by Capterra finds those managers who use low-code/no-code approaches for software development say their top challenge is the lack of talent to effectively perform the changes (39%). At the same time, those who aren't using low-code/no-code approaches say their top reason is a lack of personnel/talent to effectively perform the changes (39%).   

The bottom line, the survey's authors suggest, is that some systems are better-suited than others for low-code/no-code approaches. At least 31% of managers say the limited customization capabilities of their current software is a top challenge for using low-code/no-code.   

Interestingly, while low-code/no-code are seen as the tool of citizen developers, its primary users are IT professionals, the Capterra survey also shows. Sixty percent of these tools are employed by IT teams, followed by 42% also used by business analysts, and 41% by line-of-business managers. "The low-code/no-code method is still new and many companies are hesitant to allow non-IT resources to make changes to software systems," says Olivia Montgomery, associate principal analyst at Capterra and author of the study. "In fact, of the businesses not using a low-code/no-code approach, 23% cite a fear of risks and mismanagement of functionality not built and tested by IT as the reason why they don't use it."  

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While generally bullish on the benefits low-code/no-code offer to stressed-out organizations, industry observers also caution that there are limitations to these approaches, which often may be short-term fixes. "Low-code will not be used for 'applications' as such," says Mike Loukides, vice president of emerging tech content at O'Reilly Media. "Instead, it will be used to solve specific problems by workers in fields where data is available, but where traditional programming is a barrier to using it effectively. When traditional programming stops being a barrier, people can create software to answer questions as they come up, and discard that software when it has served its purpose."

It's not that low-code/no-code approaches aren't delivering ROI. A majority of projects employing these approaches show time and money savings. A majority of project managers, 69%, say they use a low-code/no-code approach to save time, and 63% save at least one week in their last project. Another 62% use it to save money, and 39% saved at least $10,000 in their last project. And 60% see higher productivity, and 50% report decreasing costs by using the approach. 

Industry leaders also caution that highly complex environments often do not lend themselves to these approaches. "As systems grow more robust, their development, system functionality, data security, and data management become increasingly difficult in a low-code environment," says Prashanth Samudrala, vice president at AutoRABIT. "The introduction of new permissions, settings, or objects creates metadata. Over time, this technical debt will build up, resulting in the deterioration of speed and performance." 

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To get more out of low-code/no-code platforms, industry observers offer some recommendations:

  • Offer training. "Train business analysts, or someone with a similar function, and department system administrators on the low-code/no-code capabilities of the tools their teams primarily use so they can perform the work," Montgomery advices. "Even though a business analyst won't typically have deep technical knowledge or coding experience, what they do have is actually much more important for low-code/no-code work: they're business process experts."
  • Trust the automation. "There are a variety of automated tools that help DevOps teams achieve success in their growing low-code environments," Samudrala says. "Static code analysis, CI/CD and data backups are critical to support data management and proper oversight of your development pipeline." 
  • Lay the technology foundation. "IT will need to create and manage APIs for self-service data -- but that's not a trivial problem," says Loukides. "It involves prying data out of departmental silos, establishing rules, and writing APIs that enforce rules, that allow people to access only the data that they're allowed to see, and ensuring that the data is used appropriately. Data governance will become a much bigger part of IT's job."
  • Re-orient the roles of professional developers. "They can play the role of player-coach in a low-code environment. This means they step in to customize low-code apps with traditional coding as needed," says Samudrala. "Career aspirations of professional developers often remain the same whether they're leading a team of low-code developers or traditional developers. Tasks still need to be delegated, code still needs to be written and tested, branches still need to be cloned and merged, and stability still needs to be maintained."
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