Time to define the role of citizen developers in low-code and no-code settings

'IT collaboration is still paramount in delivering the complex system-of-systems architectures that enterprise requires.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Are we at the point in which business users can actually build and deploy relatively sophisticated applications without the help of IT? Many industry observers are skeptical, and with good reason. But what kind of role should citizen developers play?

Photo: Michael Krigsman

Nearly half (47%) of companies currently use low-code or no-code in their organizations, a TechRepublic Premium survey of 414 managers finds. . Significantly, only 16% expect no-code and low-code platforms to eliminate professional developers' jobs. And there's good reason why so few expect an impact -- namely, no-code and low-code citizen developers won't be taking on relatively sophisticated application projects anytime soon. (More survey details provided by Melanie Wachsman here.) 

"Traditional IT expertise will continue to be important for applications or services -- APIs -- that will have a long life, are relatively complex, or require more than a handful of developers," says Mike Mason, global head of technology at ThoughtWorks

Most business solutions "are not homogeneous and as such require integrations and interfaces to multiple systems and solutions to provide real business value," agrees Bob Ritchie, VP of software at SAIC. "It is certainly true that low-code and no-code platforms help break down silos between business and IT by, for example, enabling drag-and-drop business process modeling for business owners that translates directly into an executable runtime. However, IT collaboration is still paramount in delivering the complex system-of-systems architectures that enterprise requires."  

So where do citizen developers come in the picture? "AI models, data, agents, and other technical aspects of building AI solutions are still the domain of developers and IT,"  says Mark Rolston, chief creative officer and founder of ArgoDesign. "But these are being used to compose business solutions using new UI concepts such as campaigns that have goals and missions associated with them. These are less technical user interfaces that can be authored by the business. Also the business is getting more involved through reporting, monitoring, and fine tuning running AIs to ensure they are working as intended."

No-code and low-code solutions are instrumental in designing lightweight applications, of which there are three categories being built outside of the IT domain, Mason states. The "sweet spot" for low-code includes "applications that are mostly just a UI on top of newly developed digital platforms or enterprise APIs, or where the business problem to be solved is simple and straightforward," Mason says. Also, low-code works best in situations "where the low-code development team can be small, and doesn't need to coordinate too heavily with other teams."  

Recent advances in low-code/no-code software "means that the business can start to participate in the design and development of solutions, rather than just ordering them from IT and waiting for the solution," Rolston says. "This involvement drives much higher quality solutions and better alignment with business goals since they are actively involved in the solutions."   

At the same time, "I would challenge the idea that any applications are being built outside of the IT domain," says Ritchie. "However, application classes that have benefited the most from low-code and no-code, in my opinion, are case and business process management systems, enterprise resource planning systems, HR, IT service management, and customer relationship management. Picking the right tools for the right job, inclusive of low-code and no-code platforms, has always been one of the foremost responsibilities of IT experts and therefore IT expertise will always be required."

It also needs to be said that professional developers are also embracing low-code and no-code solutions in a big way. "Developers are always on the lookout for ways to improve efficiency and more directly express what software should do," says Mason. "For example developers might use a business rules engine or a domain-specific language to codify often-changed behavior in a system, or even to allow non-developers to change system behavior within certain ranges. Low-code can offer another option for this kind of extensibility and configurability." The developers and engineers "that view low-code and no-code as additional tools in their tool belts are certainly benefiting by having a wider aperture of the art of the possible when it comes to composing and choreographing robust IT solutions," Ritchie says.   

Successful use of low-code "requires a partnership between IT and business, agreement on the kinds of applications that are suitable for low-code, and a constructive relationship where IT can support the use of low code rather than it be yet another silo," Mason says.

"Moving to low code does not excuse the need for good architecture and best practices. Organizations and developers still need to be mindful of the impacts of how they put their solutions together," agrees Jared Ficklin, lead creative technologist for ArgoDesign. 

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