Dmitry Nikolaev - stock.adobe.co
When it comes to building applications for customers, many software development houses are supplementing traditional code-based work with no-code and low-code approaches. This seems especially to be the case in the Netherlands, where in 2019 alone, 10 development houses partnered with my firm, the no-code platform provider Betty Blocks.
Will no-code catch on here in the UK channel? London-based digital workhouses Holygrow and Tech Rebels are two shops to have come aboard in recent months, in a low-code market that Forrester says is growing at about 50% a year and likely to be worth $21bn by 2022.
A frequently mentioned reason for switching to no-code platforms for application development is speed and ease of use. No-code platforms help firms escape developer skills shortages and meet the pressure to shorten time to market and optimise return on investment. Also, going beyond speed and ease of platform use, a no-code developer can accommodate change much more easily than a developer taking a traditional code-based approach. This means that as users’ ideas and needs evolve, so the no-code developer can re-sculpt the app to suit.
Although no one is saying that coding is dead or that programmers are going to be out of a job soon, there is no denying that the current demand for software far exceeds the supply of coders and that many traditional ways of building applications are complex and time-consuming.
Real-world examples cited by no-code vendors, including ourselves at Betty Blocks, show development houses reducing software delivery times markedly, often by half and sometimes to a quarter of the time the same application would have taken to develop via coding. There is increasing evidence that this ease and speed saves money, too – the Dutch municipality of Zaanstad expects to save around £2m over four years.
How does no-code work?
A no-code platform requires no knowledge of coding from a developer. Instead of requiring traditional programming language skills, no-code platforms enable a developer to build via what is known as visual modelling. You define the logic of your application, then select components for the build (“blocks”) from a library, dragging and dropping them into an on-screen workflow. No-code platforms also allow for the smooth integration of newly built applications – existing web services and application programming interfaces (APIs) – into an organisation’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) architecture.
Frequently mentioned by software houses is that no-code is very well-suited for creating scalable software packages that can also be easily customised for different customers. “Many industries are faced with similar types of problems,” argues Johan Emmen of software house Nafite. “With no-code, you only have to build the solution once. After that, you can deploy it on a large scale, which significantly reduces the costs.”
The speed and flexibility of no-code also makes it possible to thoroughly test the validity of an app first, before going the whole hog, building all the bells and whistles. Crafting working prototypes within days enables the developer’s client to gain support among stakeholders and get feedback at an early stage of development.
This testing ability reduces the chance of building software that is misaligned with the needs and expectations of stakeholders and end-users. Also, it enables development houses to work more closely together with their customers throughout all stages of the development process, allowing them to build trusted relationships.
No-code with an escape hatch
Although the no-code approach might be met with resistance from more experienced programmers who may like the technicalities of hand-coding, many IT professionals prefer not having to code as much as they used to. Still, the no-code platform does offer a hand-coding option or “escape hatch” for these more seasoned developers.
While you can make full, complex business applications with no-code platforms, you can of course include coded customisations. The best platforms provide a fully open API and various standard export, import and integration options (including SOAP/REST web services, CSV import/export, and so on). You can also make custom elements for your application outside of the platform, then connect these back to your application.
Typically, each app that is built on a no-code platform is multi-device-ready. This makes it very suitable for creating mobile business apps, which are much in demand today. Currently, mobile apps still require the most skilled developers because they are dealing with different and ever-changing operating systems. As native mobile development is generally considered to be very complex and cumbersome, no-code presents the means for significant simplification and much heightened productivity.
Another unique selling point for software houses to develop applications for their clients by taking a no-code approach is that applications developed via no-code packages require little manual maintenance. Each application you create within the platform is automatically updated and evolves as the platform evolves. This saves software houses and their clients from spending so much time on debugging or on upgrading applications to run them on new operating systems.
With a no-code platform, you don’t have to perform the same installations, deployments and runtimes that you do with traditional coding. Roll-backs and minor changes are far easier on a no-code platform, and there is no need to actually set up a development environment, because the platform is secure right out of the box. In this way, it also helps to prevent build errors.
The rise of the no-code developer
While no-code is being applied by IT professionals to speed up their development, these platforms open up software development to a world of new potential developers, too. With a relatively gentle learning curve, people with limited exposure to computing can become no-code developers. They just need to be able to grasp the details and logic of the application they need to create.
“We see lots of potential in these types of developers,” says Joost Engel of development house Fizor. “The learning curve to become a professional no-code developer is much less steep. In the end, these developers generate the same results – they just use a different method to get there. The possibility to re-educate people to become no-code developers opens up new opportunities for us.”
Many software houses see no-code as offering them new business opportunities. Being able to recruit people with a knowledge of business processes to work as developers, regardless of any ability to code, means you can use their “inside business” knowledge to innovate and create new software revenue streams.
ICT Group, Enigmatry and Ilionx, for example, have created new departments that specialise in building applications the no-code way. There are others, such as BlockBrains, DailyOps and Aziri, that have scrapped coding altogether, building customer applications entirely via no-code approaches.
Certainly in the Netherlands, the recognition of no-code by renowned software development houses affirms that this new programming method works. The question is, will the UK’s development houses follow the likes of Holygrow and Tech Rebels and climb aboard the no-code journey too?