The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated digital transformation, and in the process, pushed more tech-driven work well beyond the bounds of data centers -- into executive suites, marketing departments, human resource offices, and even into the front lines. Business-side professionals with a minimum of development experience -- beyond creating spreadsheets -- suddenly had to become IT departments within their own home offices, not only troubleshooting network issues, but creating or downloading front-end apps and applications to help them in their jobs.
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This new phase we've entered -- low-code and no-code, 2020s style -- shifts the relationship between IT and business professionals. In this Q&A, Sheryl Koenigsberg, head of global product marketing at Mendix, provided her insights on where the low-code and no-code movement has taken and will be taking us.
Q: In this time with most knowledge workers and managers working remotely, are end-users getting the IT support they need? Are end-users essentially on their own when it comes to leveraging IT capabilities? Are the IT professionals they depend on more consumed with remote infrastructure support issues?
Koenigsberg: "I don't envy anyone who is an IT worker right now. You're right, they are consumed with numerous challenges nobody planned for. We do see a rising interest among end-users to take matters into their own hands and solve some of their own digitalization problems. At the same time, IT has less time to help evaluate solutions for the business to use, less time to coach novice developers, and less time to oversee best practice deployment of new technologies. It's a pretty bad Catch-22 for IT teams right now."
Q: What's the professional developer perspective on low-code and no-code through this? Are they proactively urging greater end-user empowerment?
"IT departments are trying to balance two things. On one side, they see a growing interest from business experts to solve their own workgroup-level problems themselves. On the other hand, they want to maintain control and governance over any software created in the organization. It's often the application development managers, struggling with never-ending backlogs and short-staffing who are most bullish on enterprise low-code -- they see a way to address both of these sets of demands. With low-code and no-code, they can give business units skill-appropriate tools to solve some of their own problems, while ensuring that anything they build goes through a centralized process for quality and security - the same process their enterprise software development goes through."
Q. What are the main development tasks that are now within reach for non-technical or non-developer personnel?
"This is an interesting question, because the definition of 'who is a developer' is changing as no- and low-code become more prominent. People who just five years ago would have opened a ticket to request the creation of a dashboards or workflow are now empowered to create those things themselves. People who would have had no visibility into how to connect to a core system like SAP or Oracle can drag-and-drop data sources like that into applications today. People who we would have thought of as just BI data analysts are creating custom software today. Given all this, I'd say it's less about what development tasks are accessible to non-technical people, and more about what capabilities individuals can create on their own through software, and that universe just keeps growing every day."
Q: Historically, only a small percentage of technically skilled people were able to create software - No-Code is changing this drastically. What groups of people do you think are benefiting most from that development?
"We are seeing adoption of low-code across many different job titles, from people with obvious adjacent skill sets like data analysts and electrical engineers to perhaps more surprising roles like attorneys and underwriters. People with this kind of very specific domain expertise can meaningfully contribute to the delivery of software. Not only are they able to create their own workgroup apps for things like forms and simple workflows, but they can also co-create enterprise solutions alongside professional developers. As we discussed previously, our platform's thoughtful governance model allows for this type of work, which is otherwise difficult to foster."
Q: What are the gaps you are seeing in the abilities of organizations to deliver products and services? And how is no-code helping to adapt to these?
"A year ago, the floor was pulled out from under all of us and everything needed to become digital. From paper forms that couldn't be walked over to HR, to scanners that sat idle in darkened offices, to customers who couldn't be greeted in person, everything had to change. What no- and low-code has done in the past year is not just allowed people to replace paper forms with online forms, but enabled organizations to re-think what it means to digitalize, and easily incorporate advanced capabilities like AI, or text-to-speech, into smart solutions."
"Prior to the pandemic, though, there was a different gap organizations were facing, and as we return to some normalcy, this gap will still exist. One of the key reasons software development takes so long, and is the biggest bottleneck in most digital transformation, is that traditionally, business domain experts and professional developers don't communicate very well. Developers get requirements through several layers of bureaucracy, and develop software that, once it's done, is shown to stakeholders who see how their requirements are interpreted and adjust them at that point. With no- and low-code, business domain experts can sit alongside professional developers and share the same visual representation of business logic. This enables organizations to deliver products and services significantly faster, and iterate far more quickly."
Q. What do you see as the future for professional software developers? How will their roles change? Would you advise young people to pursue programming careers?
"This wave of low-code adoption is nothing but good news for traditional software developers. In our customer base, developers get to deliver solutions faster, avoid rework and technical debt, and elevate the problem space they operate in. That is, they get to work on harder, more interesting software problems - say software architecture, or working through the creation of complex logic."
"My advice to young people would be to look for education programs and opportunities that teach them how to think about developing software, a much larger concept than 'programming.' The days of someone's most valuable skill being C++ are dwindling. But schools are finding valuable ways to incorporate software design and architecture concepts into all sorts of different programs, from MIS to applied math to engineering. Students and young professionals who learn how to approach different kinds of problems with software will be in high demand, regardless of how much abstraction low-code and no-code platforms bring to software development."
Q: Do you have data or anecdotal reporting on how end-users working from home are faring with their application needs? Have those who are already using low-code or no-code platforms been able to make the transition in a more seamless way?
"Certainly, employee engagement is a key area of focus in the past year. However, where we're really seeing the power of low- and no-code is in organizations' ability to quickly create digital systems to interact with external users. For example, municipal governments from the City of San Antonio to the City of Dubai to Knowsley Council (UK) to the City of Rotterdam have all used low-code in the past year to digitalize things like parking ticket payments, pandemic aid distribution, real estate taxes, and identity verification. Some of these solutions were up and running in just weeks - making citizens' lives transition to quarantined and locked-down life that much smoother. Furthermore, other customers such as Trane Technologies, Innovapost, and eXp Realty are seeing substantial time and cost savings, some as great at 30%. eXp Realty has seen their agent pool grow from 18,000 to nearly 100,000 since deploying the Mendix architecture."