Low-Code/No-Code: Empowering Citizen Developers
The demand for software has never been higher in today’s fast-changing environment. Business leaders began 2021 with concerns about talent shortages, and retaining top technology talent is likely the No. 1 priority for many global organizations. Because many technology organizations are struggling to find adequate developers with so many legacy subject matter experts retiring, the enterprise low-code application platform (LCAP) market is growing rapidly. Low code is about applying automation (visual full-stack development and deploy to any touch point) to software delivery and is a natural evolution of rising abstraction levels in application development. TechTarget defines it as “a visual software development environment that allows citizen developers to drag and drop application components, connect them together and create a mobile or web app.”
The low-code development platform market is projected to grow from $13.2 billion to $45.5 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.1%. And Gartner predicts 65% of all software development will take place on low-code platforms by 2024.
Citizen developers are skilled professionals in their own right — financial analysts, business researchers, and many others who need software support for their areas of expertise. Others are general business or administrative personnel who can’t find just the right application that suits their specific needs. So, who better than them — the end user — to design software? None of this would have been possible even a few short years ago, but advanced low-code tools are making citizen development within the reach of most computer-savvy workers.
A recent, real-life low-code example is when Unisys, a partner of the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency in New Zealand, built a new driver licence theory testing system in less than six months, including user testing, market research and business change management. It reduced the time for an agent to administer a test by 20%.
In my professional experience, I’ve seen five-year total cost of ownership (TCO) increase with all the evolving processes. Following SDLC (software development life cycle) levers help reduce TCO by 10%-20%. Meanwhile, other factors that are driving low-code development are:
- Cloud (public or private) infrastructure as a service and platform as a service automation, which accelerates the delivery of infrastructure and application stacks, making environment setup easy to do.
- DevOps/DevSecOps automation speeds the delivery of applications, reducing many tedious manual tasks in code development.
But how do you cut TCO by 50%? Here are some tips to help you get there:
- Create a cross-org “team of teams” development operating model with nontech business subject matter experts (citizen developers) for minor enhancements (e.g., approval workflows) to leverage no-node platforms. Redirect highly skilled technologists to focus on strategic complex projects critical to the business.
- Create low-code solution accelerators (form a no-code-platform as a service center of excellence) to facilitate faster application building. Reduce delivery timelines from months to days. Examples include the NOW platform if you are a ServiceNow shop, Power Apps on Microsoft Azure, Outsystems for other on-prem custom apps.
- Challenge vendors to address the low-code platform’s continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) gap to seamlessly integrate with the existing toolchain for a consistent build once that allows you to deploy to multiple platforms and devices.
It should be clear that low-code comes with challenges. Proper attention needs to be paid to application architecture design, quality control and security measures that are essential to managing the costs of low-code environments in the long run. Here are a few other limitations you should be aware of:
- Custom UI/UX limitations may have vendor lock-in.
- Extremely scalable applications (distributed microservices) still require traditional IT.
- Additional cost.
- Security may have a lack of visibility, data lineage or end-to-end auditing.
- Governance (DevSecOps) may not include continuous integration and deployment with the current custom toolbox.
- Industry verticals have a long way to go for full low-code maturity.
Highly scalable citizen development is changing the way most of the software delivery industry operates. Embrace the technology by establishing a low-code platform workflow decision tree and focus on business friction and pain points. Create an SDLC low-code strategy with enterprise-grade criteria integrated with your current SDLC process before jumping into yet another emerging technology and creating spaghetti code.