Low and no-code software may soon test the limits of IT hand-holding

IT departments may need to continually intervene to clean up messes, while business users may become hopelessly entangled in managing their software.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
no code concept
Getty Images/Andrei Metelev

There's no stopping the wave of low-code and no-code activities sweeping many companies -- used by both citizen and professional developers alike. The capabilities delivered by these tools keep expanding. It's only a question of how deep and wide low and no-code development can go in the enterprise -- whether it's still more suitable for smaller, less-scalable applications, or is ready for a greater enterprise reach.

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Gartner, for one, says low-code tools will be enterprise-ready within a year's time (not mentioning no-code in this instance). By then, developers outside of IT departments will account for at least 80% of the user base for low-code tools -- up from 60% in 2021, Gartner analyst Mark Driver predicts. The nature of low-code platforms is evolving rapidly, with "hyperautomation functionality" to be featured in low-code tools over the next few years, he adds. Plus, there will be tight integration between low-code tools and packaged business capabilities. 

Thanks to digital initiatives, things keep changing and progressing so fast that overworked and under-budgeted IT departments can't keep up. "Both IT organizations and external service providers struggle to keep up with the agility and diversity that digital solutions demand," says Driver. "Low code has emerged in the last five years as one potential tool in both enabling business transformation and scaling these initiatives cost-effectively over time."

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Not everyone sees enterprise scale for low-code and no-code solutions on the horizon quite yet. These tools are still best suited for smaller-scale initiatives, says Steve Jones, DevOps advocate at Redgate Software. Low and no-code "is a good way to build small things as an initial way to set up smaller apps that are focused on one thing," he says. "For example, someone might want to gather all vacation days in a calendar and display that to ensure there aren't too many people gone at one time. They might also want to build dashboards for tracking progress towards some goal."

Plus, professional developers or IT departments still need to keep close tabs on how low and no-code solutions are used. "While no code and low code can be simple to use, it's only as good as its supporting structure," says Margaret Lee, senior vice president and general manager at BMC.  "For low code to be successful, there should be governance in place with some supervision from professionals to ensure the best customer experience."    

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In other words, without proper guidance and guardrails up front, IT might have to intervene to clean up a mess, while business users may become hopelessly entangled in managing their software. Low and no code is "useful in limited scopes, for small audiences," says Jones. "However, IT ought to be prepared to take over these applications if they become important to the organization and require additional coding or rewriting," says Jones. "These apps may or may not scale, they also become a distraction for business users. If an analyst is too involved in maintaining their low-code app, they are not doing their analyst duties as much. We saw this in the '90s with VisualBasic, where many business users built small apps that they then had to support and maintain."  

Low-code and no-code approaches may see entrée into the enterprise when adopted by professional developers themselves. As a quick deployment tool for IT professionals, "it is possible to create very complex business processes elegantly with no code," Lee maintains. It can, for instance, be a great way to introduce or improve DevOps practices, removing some of the low-value toil and encouraging agility, experimentation, and teamwork. This allows process owners to own their own process, while developers can focus their skills on augmenting out-of-the-box blocks with high value custom ones tailored to the organization's needs."  

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The nature of direct IT involvement in building low and no-code apps depends on the complexity of the job. Citizen developers can independently build and worry about "quick, focused app on one purpose," says Jones. "These might be built on something like Salesforce, using an API to get data, or a Power Platform app gathering data and storing in a company database." IT help is required "if they use internal infrastructure or internally controlled infrastructure, like a company cloud subscription. They also might require database, network, or other changes to work. They likely require the permission to install some sort of tooling on workstations as well."  

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