There is likely no tech buzzword gaining more adoption in 2020 than “low code.”
The suddenly popular term refers to a development platform that allows user to create application using an easy graphical interface instead of requiring software coding skills. The main advantage? A low code environment enables staffers with limited tech skills to build and enhance software.
The net result is a company infrastructure that is far more nimble and robust than it would be if skilled developers had to make every tweak and build-out.
In truth, the trendy concept is not new. In one form of another, "low code" has been around for more than twenty years (think WYWSIG web development in the 1990s). Low code has gained new – and urgent – credence circa 2020 because the need to respond to a rapidly changing market requires companies to be more agile than ever before.
To provide insight into the future of this key technology, I’ll speak with three leading expert:
Myles Suer, Head of Global Marketing, Dell Boomi
Dion Hinchcliffe, Principal Analyst, Constellation Research
Isaac Sacolick, President, StarCIO
James Maguire, Managing Editor, Datamation – moderator
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Top quotes from the full interview:
What is Low Code?
Hinchcliffe: Low code is the ability to create a software solution with little or no programming. There's even no-code. And you can drag and drop solutions and create some basic functionality. But increasingly, you can wire together systems, integrate them, create sophisticated solutions for thousands of users, and do it by your lonesome without knowing anything about really about programming.
What’s Driving Low Code Adoption
Suer: The other thing that's really driving low code is digital transformation. So suddenly, IT is now not just making a great back office, not just building an operational backroom, it's building how we make money. And the variety in ways that you want to interact become enormous. All of those things together are saying, “I'm gonna have to do a lot more work in order to succeed, and I better have different ways of doing this, so that I can move much more quickly.”
Sacolick: I think CIOs woke up in March and realized they had to digitize their environments, that they had to provide workflows that were being done in the office by moving paper or having discussions and meetings between people. All of a sudden, they need to put up safety applications, they need to put information resources for people finding help and getting some more automation in their service desks.
And they realized, "We've done so much work over the last few years moving to the cloud and using Agile and putting DevOps in, and now we can do applications in six months." Well, that's not going to work, right? I’ve got to do applications now in weeks.
Suer: I think COVID is a huge pusher on [driving low code]. There are several groups that I'm aware of, one is a university in Australia that didn't have any concept of remote work. And suddenly they had to get all these laptops deployed with VPNs, and they knew they couldn't do it in regular coding, they had to build something fast in days, and so they used low code to do that.
Will professional developers be put out of business or will the universe of code simply get that much bigger?
Hinchcliffe: We need to tap into a much larger base, and there's something like 26 times more non-coders than there are coders, and many of them are knowledge workers. They're either system thinkers, they're gonna adapt these logical tools and begin building solutions, so we need to tap into them.
And I don't think it's gonna be business analysts, it's gonna be power users, knowledge workers that are very comfortable using IT, that will be creating a lot of these apps. And then IT will be finishing them and making them secure and making sure the data governance is there and rolling them out. IT needs a lot of help.
Gartner estimates that by 2024, 65% of application will be built with the Low-code methodology. Do you agree?
Suer: And so I think in addition to the fact that some things may just always be Low-code, there may be something out of the fact that you can get business users to really conceive what they really need, and then you put a serious developer on it, if it's gonna be a mass application kind of thing. I think the model, and Dion was kind poking at this, the model should be a hybrid development model. And CIOs need to help their organizations realize that this is adding to what they can do rather than taking job security away.
Is anything standing in the way of the low code juggernaut?
Saccolick: I think this is a matter of more people becoming aware of it. Over the last 10 years for digital transformation, the message to organizations is, "You gotta invest in data, you gotta invest in technology, in mobile and social, you gotta have great customer experiences."
And so what do we do? We could go SaaS and get mostly out-of-the box functionality and configure it and integrate it, but when we needed something to go truly be innovative, truly be customer-facing, we had to go hire developers. And now all of a sudden every technology, every company has to become a technology company.
Hinchcliffe: We're seeing everyone's kind of becoming a digital artisan. Digital tools and IT are becoming very malleable in a way that almost anyone can configure and shape, and low code is part of that continuum. And so I think it's gonna take time, but we can really speed up the effort by building those skills, and then creating the right infrastructure program internally to shorten that pipeline.
Is there a parallel between Shadow IT and Low-code? Will low code bring more of the action inside the walls of the enterprise?
Suer: Most CIOs that we've talked to in our group [view low code as] a good thing. It will limit shadow IT from occurring, because if I can keep them well-behaved and I know what they're building and doing and how it connects and that it's secure, it's better than them buying some rogue application out there. So it's better to keep them in the walls than outside the walls as much as possible.
Hinchcliffe: It totally can be a strategy to hold your users closer and say, "Look, we are gonna help you by helping you to help yourself. We're gonna give you tools that will allow you to create exactly the right solution and we'll support you in any part of that process that you need.”
Saccolick: And so now you start having this conversation about What's the appetite for the organization to take ownership of some of the technology that they're building?
And so we know it exists and there's interest there because they're already doing it with shadow IT. They were already doing it with Excel, as an example. And so now the tools are different, we've raised the bar in terms of capability, we also have to raise the bar in terms of governance. But you start out with small teams, small groups of people who have both the willingness to learn and the willingness to participate in some good business cases.
What advice would you give to management if they want to move forward with low code?
Suer: This is really about driving the transformation of the company forward, and so the smart CIOs are enabling teams of teams and then they're doing one other thing: they're creating charters.
They're saying, "Okay, you can build this, but here are some constraints, it needs to be secure, you need to talk to the enterprise architect if you're doing something like this or that." And then allowing them to go off and innovate the company with a charter. "Here, go make this part of what we do easier or better." And I think the CIOs who put it all together are going to create organizations that can disrupt and transform.
Hinchcliffe: Well, there's a famous saying in the IT business, it's, "People, process and technology." So it's not about just getting the low code technology and acquiring that. It's really capability, it's an enablement, it says, "We can make a lot more out of IT than we are today, we can make much more use of our data, much more use of our assets and our innovation, but we don't have a vehicle to extract that."
Low code is that vehicle, it says, You can pick people with great ideas or people with major pain points who wouldn't be able to create things by themselves and get them a lot, probably down that road, a lot quicker. And so build the capability for rapid application delivery.