The Computer Weekly Developer Network gets high-brow on low-code and no-code (LC/NC) technologies in an analysis series designed to uncover some of the nuances and particularities of this approach to software application development.
Looking at the core mechanics of the applications, suites, platforms and services in this space, we seek to understand not just how apps are being built this way, but also… what shape, form, function and status these apps exist as… and what the implications are for enterprise software built this way, once it exists in live production environments.
This piece is written by Gary Trimnell in his role as technical director at Great State – a company known for its work as a digital product and service design agency. Trimnell asks whether the race to enhance digital Customer eXperience (CX) will normalise low-code & no-code applications?
Trimnell writes as follows…
Businesses have swivelled to digital transformation and digital-first strategies as both consumer expectation and the pandemic have accelerated the need for digital change. Many companies have struggled to adapt quickly enough but for those that have got their act together, they have seen large gains. By 2023, over 500 million digital apps and services will be developed and deployed using cloud-native approaches. In turn, there is expected to be just over 27 million software developers worldwide who could develop these apps.
This is quite a daunting task, as the intense demand from consumers for a top-notch digital Customer eXperience (CX) has only been heightened in recent years, customers care little about development cycles or legacy issues companies may have. The pressure to enhance CX for both consumer and employee users is creating the need for fast, low-cost development techniques that bypass traditional development cycles and that can be carried out by ‘citizen developers’ – individuals with little or no coding experience.
Could 2022 be the year the concept breaks through to become an integral part of enterprise-level tech strategy?
LC/NC seems like a great solution to address the need for rapid digital innovation, but as consideration and trial increases, issues are cropping up that need to be investigated and solved. From a CX software engineering perspective here are some of the opportunities and challenges.
The pandemic as a staging ground
Covid-19 made something abundantly clear – companies need a stronger digital presence along with the processes and infrastructure that underpin it, whether they can afford to build it or not. This has created a big spike in demand for software engineers, but there is an increasing shortage of people with the skillsets required and many businesses have been hit financially so are seeking out quick ways to make efficiencies and savings where they can. LC/NC has been able to support this on both counts.
This resulted in a plethora of case studies to rise, from Lagan boasting that it was able to build out a digital app in a ‘single day’ to the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation building Covid-19 portals, the pandemic was the perfect staging ground for LC/NC to show its benefits.
The huge change in ways of working, such as remote working and distributed teams, has also meant there is a greater need for the digitalisation of legacy processes. Furthermore, being able to quickly adapt, replace or bolt-on new systems to meet changes to consumer expectations and regulatory compliance means that we will likely see LC/NC form a crucial part of a business’ CX strategy.
Keeping LC/NC under control
For smaller organisations and start-ups, a hybrid approach where LC/NC systems are built, then adjusted on a semi-regular basis, could be the most effective way to build out digital infrastructure and enhance CX quickly.
However, for those operating at a larger scale or with complex business requirements, having tight governance controls in place is crucial. Whilst LC/NC can provide users with the ability to create processes and applications rapidly without any technical knowledge, with no controls in place you’ll find yourself with duplicate processes or workflows created that bypass typical testing regimes that you would undergo if you followed the normal route – leading to inconsistency.
There is certainly a chance that some businesses would have rushed putting these workflows and processes in place, making compromises on the way. They will now be faced with the challenge of reviewing and assessing what they have set up to make it fit for purpose.
The trick will be in striking the balance between ensuring the right level of control is in place without significantly impacting the speed of deploying changes.
The effectiveness of LC at scale
Generic, built-in security protocols cannot currently provide the level of flexibility and control over security that many organisations require to operate at scale.
On some level there will always be complex requirements and additional customisation required to meet business needs. This will likely mean that there will be a greater separation between LC/NC for different use cases – NC will simply be a way to optimise costs when creating prototypes or simple, standardised workflows in a more cost-efficient manner.
Refinement by a software team will still be needed in most cases and we will see LC used more by engineering teams to accelerate the development cycle and provide the foundations for more sophisticated systems to be engineered around, at scale.
Ultimately LC/NC in the future will be able to get business and engineering teams 60-70% of the way there, but the rest will need to be coded by skilled software engineers.
However, as AI becomes more advanced and integrated into these tools, then the ability to create far more complex workflows and software will be possible and soon it may genuinely be the beginning of the end for software engineering on the scale that we see today.