During times of economic uncertainty, and recession, businesses feeling the pinch begin looking for ways to do things differently, whether that involves staffing changes, scaling back expenditure, or adjusting processes.
Development, meanwhile, whether that’s software development or web development – is an essential component of most modern businesses, but having fully-fledged dedicated development resources might not be cost-effective for all organisations, particularly small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
The promises made by those offering alternative low-code or no-code platforms are plenty. Lower costs, easier integration and scalability, decrease hiring pressures, and so on. For many in the industry, including Matrixx Software’s chief technology office (CTO) Marc Price, the rising prevalence of low-code and no-code systems can be linked to a fundamental focus of software developers trying not to have to reinvent the wheel.
“What low-code and no-code is about, to me, is reusability,” he tells IT Pro. “Interestingly, over 30 years, there's been lots of different approaches towards reusability. We, as software developers, either have a blank slate, and you're starting from scratch and you're trying to create something that's of use to somebody; or, ideally, you have some ways to get started with some of the things to help you accomplish your goal faster.”
There’s more to it than that, though, and businesses – SMBs in particular – are increasingly looking to such systems as a viable pathway through times of economic hardship.
Low-code and no-code could be a massive time-saver
One of the main advertised benefits of a low-code or no-code platform is greater efficiency. For Adam Glaser, SVP of engineering for Appian, one of the key ways efficiency manifests is in how it reduces the hiring burden at a time when the market for senior developer talent is highly competitive. At present, tech skills are in huge demand.
“Right now, we’re dealing with a global shortage in high-code developers, and low-code allows a lower barrier to entry for less technical – I wouldn't say completely non-technical people – but far less technical people,” says Glaser.
Couple that with how much faster a low-code or no-code product can respond to your needs, and Glaser says these platforms can prepare businesses for an ever-evolving landscape. For him, the focus is often on the time and cost savings on building in-house tools, where significant value comes from products that can modernise without mountains of red tape.
“It's not just speed to build, [it’s] speed to change, speed to modernise,” he continues. “There's speed to secure right now, there's a huge number of vectors of change that are coming at enterprises, whether it's emerging tech, cyber security, scalability or big data.”
Karli Kalpala, head of business service and design at Digital Workforce, a Finnish firm, agrees that low-code and no-code approaches increase efficiency by reducing the amount of friction that comes with making changes at a large scale. He says these solutions also add value by allowing senior staff to focus on solving revenue problems rather than constantly iterating on in-house solutions for known issues. Businesses can also begin to rely more on their in-house citizen developers, who don’t need the same technical skills.
“Traditionally, the IT developer, senior developers have been focusing on developing their bottom layer, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and they need to focus there,” says Kalpala. “These low-code and no-code capabilities are a way to allow business people that sit in the middle to automate their own jobs or automate the jobs they should be doing if they had more time. The business could then reach the desired business outcomes in a more reliable and more scalable manner.”
Cutting costs with low-code and no-code
Can embracing low-code and no-code lead to significant cost reductions? While most experts wouldn’t quantify savings with a number, the anecdotal consensus is expenditure can be cut in the region of 30% to 50%. For Mark Abolafia, SVP of business development at automation company Intraway, companies need to keep in mind that each use case is different and that the transition from a fully coded solution may not be smooth, initially.
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“The fact is, there's a lot of legacy systems that are all custom coded and, when you make the migration from that world to the new world, obviously, there's a bit of a development tax to be paid on that.” Abolafia says. “So, once you do make that transition, the cost of ownership, maintenance and upkeep, et cetera, decreases significantly.”
Kapalla adds the biggest cost efficiency saving is tied to the speed in which a solution can be implemented. “In some sense, if you would have limitless resources, I tend to agree that building everything from the bottom-up as software, as a proper integration, most likely makes more sense from a scalability point-of-view. But, the speed and the kind of throughput time of those programmes usually take months, or even years, to complete.
The attractiveness of reduced cost also shows itself on the investor side of tech. Alex Mason of FTV Capital – who has two low code/no code platforms within its ranks – says that when looking at the cost savings, what you’re really gauging is risk. This is particularly true when comparing these alternatives against a fully custom solution. “It’s time risk, it's project management risks, it's the cost to go get there,” he explains. “You just open yourself up and the budget [up] into more and more costly ways in which you're trying to configure and contort a software application.”
Implementing low-code and no-code properly
Unsurprisingly, experts who spoke to IT Pro are fairly bullish on low-code and no-code as a model. That said, they do say there are indicators for when a client might not be ready or might benefit from something more high-code. Glaser says high-code can be important for what he calls “the last mile of companies,” the ones that need control over every detail.
He says in order for companies to be able to integrate a low-code or no-code approach, they have to know their ‘why’ rather than just seeing it as something they should have because it’s trendy. As in most cases, before jumping into such a change, businesses need to evaluate their own needs and identify where any material benefits might come from. “Nobody's out there waking up going: ‘I’d like a no-code platform today’,” he continues. “People are out there trying to solve problems, and so you have to know the problem you're trying to solve.”
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John Loeppky is a British-Canadian disabled freelance writer based in Regina, Saskatchewan. His work has appeared for the CBC, FiveThirtyEight, Defector, and a multitude of others. John most often writes about disability, sport, media, technology, and art. His goal in life is to have an entertaining obituary to read.