Low-code/no-code yields solutions that fit

The demand for applications far outstrips the supply of commercial software and talented developers. Low-code/no-code tools are bridging the gap.

With more than 20,000 pages of content and a global network of freelancers, Small Business Trends has some complex workflow challenges.

When it went looking for solutions to manage the creation and publishing of content, it found that commercial packages “could have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” according to Executive Editor Shawn Hessinger. So the editorial team built its own application using Zoho Creator, which is one of a rapidly growing number of “low-code/no-code” development tools that enable people without a background in programming to create software that automates work processes.

“It took maybe a week and a half for our search engine optimization manager and tech editor to create the app with input from our content team,” Hessinger said. The company’s in-house technology officer estimates it would have taken about four times that long to build a similar system from scratch. Updates and modifications are handled by the editors, and “everything is covered under the cost of our existing Zoho subscription,” he said.

Hypergrowth for low-code/no-code

Hessinger is part of a DIY wave. A recent Gartner report made the rather startling prediction that 80% of technology products and services will be built by people outside of technology fields by 2024. Most will be software, and many will be constructed with the rapidly proliferating crop of low-code and no-code development tools that give ordinary people with little or no technology training the ability to stitch together remarkably sophisticated applications.

The growth forecasts for the low-code/no-code market are jaw-dropping. Gartner expects the tools to account for 65% of new applications by 2024. Verified Market Research expects the market to grow more than 44% annually through 2026.

Salesforce.com claims its low-code ecosystem has spawned more than 1 million jobs, most involving some aspect of software development and nearly all filled by people from business backgrounds. Hundreds of other software providers are working to duplicate Salesforce’s success.

The rise of the citizen programmer has been ongoing for decades. Spreadsheet macros turned millions of financial professionals into amateur programmers in the 1980s. Visual Basic and PowerBuilder won legions of business-side fans 20 years ago. Application program interfaces (APIs) have more recently spawned services like IFTTT and Zapier that let people stitch together web services in unique ways.

This phenomenon will only gather steam as artificial intelligence torques the sophistication of software that users create themselves and a new breed of tech-empowered employees moves into the workplace. 

The connected generation

The workforce factor is important. For people over 40, their first computing experience was most likely a standalone desktop machine. But there is “an entire generation coming into the workforce that assumes that the world is fully connected,” says Rajesh Kandaswamy, chief of research for Gartner. This cohort has already given birth to radical new concepts like decentralized finance and the crowdsourced investing campaign that drove up the shares of retailer GameStop nearly tenfold in two weeks earlier this year. A connected generation has no qualms about building solutions to its problems.

How should we prepare for this wave? First, take a moment to celebrate. The status quo, in which people sit on their hands waiting for a central IT organization to outfit them with the tools they need to work, is crumbling. There is no way that model will scale to support the 500 million software apps and services that IDC expects businesses will deploy over the next two years.

Then think about your own skills and aspirations, as well as those of the people you manage and mentor. Low-code/no-code tools will open a host of new career opportunities for those willing to venture a bit outside their comfort zone. What could you and your organization build to advance the business and your own visibility?

Finally, get chummy with the IT leaders in your company. It will be their job to figure out the guidelines and guardrails for who gets to use these tools and how. Believe me, most will be more than happy to give up the small projects that siphon away resources so they can focus on higher-impact stuff. They’ll welcome your advice.

Citizen development will change today’s enterprises no less than electric motors transformed factories a century ago. The winners, Kandaswamy said, will be those who think of technology as a vessel of invention. “Think of how Walmart has invested in the internet versus Amazon,” he said. “Amazon looks at how technology enables new business models. Walmart looked at the business model as a given.” Guess who’s winning?

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