70 percent of enterprise applications will be developed with low-code and no-code platforms by 2025 – a threefold increase compared with 2020. This is the prediction of Milind Govekar, an analyst at US market research institute Gartner, at last year’s Gartner IT Symposium in Barcelona. Low code and no code are becoming increasingly important in everyday business and are set to quickly become the technology of choice for many in the digital workplace. Govekar is not alone in this assessment: Former Github CEO Chris Wanstrath likewise proclaimed back in 2017 that the future of programming would lie in no longer writing any code at all. But, why are low code and no code so popular? What are the limits of the two development approaches? And, how do they influence the role of the trained “traditional” software developer?
What is low code and no code?
Low code and new code are new approaches to software development. Instead of writing applications in code using a programming language, low-code and no-code platforms use a visual interface for moving, linking and correlating application components. No-code platforms allow applications to be created without any code – though the functional scope is limited as a result. Low-code platforms, on the other hand, still offer the possibility of enhancing and personalising compiled applications with manual code – for example to control certain parameters within the application.
The modular approach of low-code and no-code platforms offers advantages for software engineers in just a few scenarios, for example when configuring software or defining workflows. Or perhaps also for quickly building a prototype, which considerably accelerates the pace of development, the deployment of applications and the optimisation of workflows. Users are the big winners with low code and no code. Thanks to its intuitive use via a graphical interface and its modular design, even employees without any programming knowledge can now compile corporate applications that can be used productively. The term often used here is citizen developer, in other words: End users from marketing, product development, production, controlling etc. develop the applications they need for their everyday professional lives themselves with little or no IT experience but simply based on their domain knowledge.
In addition, low-code and no-code platforms offer companies without their own IT expertise the opportunity to extend their business model. This means that design agencies can build and maintain information portals and web shops for their customers without having to hire software engineers themselves or work with development partners.
A fool with a tool is still a fool
As promising as low code and no code might sound, the two development methods also have disadvantages. While they may be suitable for simpler use cases, such as creating websites, web shops or simple mobile apps, they quickly reach their limits when it comes to complex and data-intensive applications. “Often there is a lack of clarity”, explains Patrick Labud, Senior Consultant and Member of the CTO Board at bbv. “From upwards of a certain range of scenarios that require a different response on the part of the application, low-code and no-code platforms can become quite confusing and barely legible. The task of finding and resolving errors is thus extremely cumbersome.”
Integrating the application can also prove difficult under some circumstances. There is no guarantee that the corresponding low- or no-code platform will actually support the APIs required for the integration – which is why citizen developers may again need to call on the help of an experienced developer. And last but not least, (amateur) developers have access to low-code and no-code platforms from a wide variety of providers – some of which vary greatly in terms of the range of functions offered. It is important therefore to evaluate the different offers and be clear about the intended purpose before using low code and no code to develop a business application. “The phrase ‘A fool with a tool is still a fool’ also applies to low code and no code”, says Labud. “If you are not certain about the intended purpose of the application and whether it can actually be implemented with low code or no code, then the two development methods will be of no use to you either.”
Thinking low code and no code
One thing is certain: Low code and no code cannot fully replace the experienced programmer. Professional developers will continue to play a crucial role, especially for complex applications with specific individual requirements. Low-code and no-code platforms ultimately offer them an important tool for developing and deploying applications faster.
But there are also other reasons why they should make use of low code and no code – by enabling end users to make smaller changes to their system themselves. “As developers of individual software, at bbv we try to design solutions in such a way that our customers can adapt them and make changes to a certain extent themselves, without needing to call on us every time”, says Patrick Labud. This requires a very good understanding of the domain and users of the software system. But this also increases the quality of service for customers – one of the few areas where software service providers can still set themselves apart on the market.
Patrick Labud is a Senior Consultant in user experience at bbv. He supports customers in integrating UX into IT projects with the goal of “making users happy”. He is also involved with the topic of user experience in the Swiss ICT expert group on UX.