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Low-code and no-code in the real world: Five steps for success

It is easy to understand the intense hype surrounding low-code and no-code development tools. These platforms promise to simplify traditional software development to the point that anyone with ordinary computer skills can build an app or service with no programming or other technical expertise required.

That is highly attractive for information technology and business executives who have struggled to recruit and retain software-engineering talent. Even the largest organizations with the deepest resources still have challenges in determining the best ways to deploy their development teams. Now factor in more recent economic headwinds, skill shortages, and slowing hiring at some of the biggest companies in the world and it’s clear to see why there’s so much sustained buzz about low-code/no-code.

Organizations can hardly afford to slow, much less pause, their digital transformation initiatives or other critical priorities even as macro conditions change. The ability to extend development capabilities—once the exclusive purview of the IT department—throughout your organization can give you more flexibility and scalability and enable more agility and speed to deliver the right services at the right time.

Analysts are publishing jaw-dropping predictions about low-code/no-code. Verified Market Research estimates that the low-code development platform market will be worth more than $233 billion in 2028. Gartner has predicted that 65% of application development will be driven by low-code by 2024. Most astonishing of all is Gartner’s related prediction that 80% of technology products and services will be created by people who are not technology professionals within the next two years.

For this to happen, however, I believe leaders and teams need to ground themselves in a practical plan for implementing low-code/no-code in ways that will deliver real impact. Here are five ways to think about how to turn the hype into real-world impact.

 

1. Build the understanding that low-code/no-code is about more than software development

It is true that low-code/no-code tools can put development capabilities in the hands of non-developers. But that is just a practical piece of a much larger revolution in how organizations get work done.

I believe to truly embrace low-code/no-code is to bring IT and the business closer together, eliminate digital silos, become more agile, and enable better end-to-end governance. This can advance the digital agenda across an enterprise. In other words, low-code/no-code tools are best used not as point solutions (that are joining a patchwork of other one-off tools), but rather supported by underlying enterprise data models, architecture, and organizational-change best practices.

 

2. Do your homework

Research, research, research—I believe that is the best advice anyone can give or receive about selecting a low-code/no-code platform.

The analyst community is actively covering these platforms, for starters. Ask peers for candid feedback about the tools they use and solicit recommendations from team members who may have experience with different platforms. Also, consider where you have already made investments. 

The low-code/no-code ecosystem is vast and includes some of the biggest names in enterprise technology to a full range of smaller companies and specific use cases. Do not let the choices overwhelm you; make informed, intentional decisions about the right platforms and tools. Also, go beyond technical features and specifications and consider your ongoing enablement and governance needs in this process.

 

3. Develop a well-defined business case

This is where the big-picture understanding (no. 1 above) gets translated into organization-specific goals and requirements. Why are you using low-code/no-code? What business value will doing so create or enable? “We need more developers” might sound like a justifiable reason, but it is not a business case.

What will you do when you extend developer capabilities out into the business? Are you moving to a new enterprise platform? Are you retiring something like a departmental email, spreadsheet, or Sharepoint? All have different abilities to generate a return on investment, both hard and soft, but you may not achieve that ROI if you have not defined the business case.

 

4. Invest in new skills and knowledge for citizen developers

 The legitimate excitement about low-code/no-code becomes too much hype when vendors and others make it seem like you just drop these tools into your existing organization and—voila—you have an army of citizen developers churning out fantastic new digital products and services.

Once a platform is selected, the real work begins to enable your citizen developers—potentially anyone in the business—with the skills needed to launch and operate new digital products and services. This can be hard—it requires IT and the business to interoperate more seamlessly together, which can be a significant shift.

For example, citizen developers should be well-versed in various pieces of application lifecycle management, from testing to integration to change management to governance. The latter category includes critical requirements like security, regulatory compliance, data protection, and end-of-life decisions.

Skill sets like UI/UX, product development, product management, and project management all play a role in low-code/no-code success as well.

 

5. Ensure appropriate application lifecycle management

This is important enough that it deserves a full mention—not just as a skill development area, but as a crucial success factor that gets overlooked amid the rising enthusiasm about low-code/no-code.

It is as important as ever—more so since application development can now be democratized and decentralized within the organization. Doing this right requires appropriate guardrails and management practices from idea to end-of-life and everything in between. Applications should be maintained, version-controlled, and life-cycled—low-code/no-code does not relieve the organization of those responsibilities.

International Data Corporation has forecasted that 750 million net new applications will be created between 2023 and 2025. A low-code/no-code-first strategy can help you not only address demand but also bridge the gaps between IT and your business. With that, your business can also better integrate and align to the digital-first demands of the 21st-century enterprise. To achieve this, IT organizations should extend best practices from business case development, enablement, governance, and lifecycle management beyond IT and develop an even tighter alignment to the business.

This article was originally published by The Fast Company Executive Board on 11/9/2022

Jason Wojahn is the Chief Executive Officer at Thirdera and has more than 25 years of experience working with customers to develop strategies for digital transformation and IT innovation. As a thought leader in the ServiceNow space, Jason is committed to making Thirdera the top value enabler of the platform for our clients.