Time for an 80% solution for low-code and no-code

No matter how much low and no-code exists across the enterprises, it will still take professional developers to lay and maintain the foundation.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

How involved should professional developers get with citizen developer applications? Developers have known for a long time that many operating systems and applications -- particularly from the open-source space -- are 80% complete, with all the necessary supporting pieces in place. It was up to them to fill in the missing 20% with customization. The same principle needs to be applied to low-code and no-code platforms, some industry advocates urge. 

Photo: Joe McKendrick

This tasks IT teams with the design of rudimentary applications on which end-users can embellish. This will help reduce the time business users may spend attempting to build apps and not enough time on their businesses. Business users "may not consider all the different factors required in order to map the software to their requirements," says Michael Larner, principal analyst at ABI Research. "And you don't want staff duplicating effort when they should be focusing on their core tasks." 

One way of achieving this, Larner recommends, would be "a centralized marketplace with templates for low code apps that have already been developed and approved by IT. End-users would not be permitted to create their own without first referring to the marketplace. Furthermore, users should be incentivized and recognized for providing tailored apps to the marketplace."

A critical piece of the 80% that professional developers and IT managers employ are guardrails that need to be put in place. "Clearly defined guardrails and automation are allowing low and no-code applications to run with enterprise-grade scalability, performance, and resilience so that they can adhere to privacy, security, and compliance mandates," says Josh Kahn, senior vice president at ServiceNow. "This allows IT to take a step back and not have to oversee every step of the app development process."

An example of a guardrail IT professionals can set up involves "setting up automated security reviews helps enterprises maintain governance standards and provide risk-based assessments before adopting the application to the overall enterprise system," Kahn adds. "Making sure you have the right guardrails and processes in place before you ramp up low and no-code application development via citizen developer programs is key," he adds, urging greater engagement in the process at all levels. "Enterprises should set standards by implementing training programs for citizen developers, automated code reviews, established checkpoints, and more."

It's one thing for a business user to "create and deploy a new integrated application that correctly expresses the capability they had in mind," says Eitan Reich, chief architect at Broadway Technology. "However, ensuring the system continues to behave well across all scenarios is something that still requires heavy IT involvement today." While there is an impressive array of tools and platforms now available to boost user-driven design, "we see major challenges lying in the realm of system reliability, quality assurance and test automation as we look to more complex capabilities that involve high amounts of system integration or hybrid human/automated workflow," he adds.

Low-code and no-code approaches have demonstrated their value in an era marked by the scattering of organizations due to the Covid crisis, as well as unrelenting pressure to compete in the advancing digital economy. "Within the past year, we've seen how use cases have expanded across departments and industries," says Kahn. "For example, hospitals quickly transitioned from paper signatures to digital signatures using low and no-code. Also, HR departments have used these apps to face an avalanche of operational challenges, including managing an increased volume of service requests and processing paid leave requests, or executing remote employee onboarding."

Again, this demands engagement by IT professionals at the foundational level. "Low-code and no-code approaches are taking hold in the area of software supporting manufacturing operations," says Larner. "Manufacturers want staff to have the best available tools at their disposal but don't want to be paying to recruit data scientists." In response, he adds, "vendors are developing applications, such as for simulation software, that have different interfaces; one for experts and another for users where simulation is of interest but not core to their role. The platforms can be customized for or by the end user but still perform analytics on the same data sets and to the same level of detail regardless of interface."

The bottom line is no matter how much low and no-code exists across the enterprises, it will still take professional developers to make it all work. 

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