Low Code/No Code – A New Solution, a Familiar Problem

By Michael Lavoie

Traditionally, organizations looking for information system solutions have had the choice of custom in-house development or using an off-the-shelf software solution from a third party.  The decision to pursue internal development has generally meant longer wait times and higher costs, but much better fit to their specific business and technology requirements.  The approach of buying off-the-shelf software has the benefit of lower costs and better wait times, but organizations struggle to configure these systems to meet their workflows and requirements.  The business is left either changing their business process to suit the new system or to struggle with customizations that increase cost and complexity.

The rise in popularity of an approach called low code/no code (LC/NC) has given organizations a new choice.  Applications built on these platforms provide a right fit to business requirements, can be implemented quickly, and cost much less than in-house built systems.  The LC/NC platforms remove the technical aspects of coding by providing canvases where pre-built containers like drop-down menus and search tools are dragged and dropped.  Typically, low code platforms present work streams as visual flows and most of the programming can be done by business users instead of developers and the IT department.  Companies familiar with robotic process automation (RPA) and chat-bots will find themselves familiar with the low code layouts and interfaces.

Organizations should be aware of a few truths before mass adoption of this new approach.  First, although many LC/NC platforms boast that the development is non-technical, the truth is that your business resources will require some IT support during and after the build.  Business managers are advised to clearly define how the relationship with IT will look prior to selecting a platform and provider.  Further, business managers should plan to keep their development teams small but avoid teams of one.  Business disruptions inevitably arise when the only person who understands how an application was built has left for vacation or is no longer with the company.

Making proper use of LC/NC solutions also means finding an ideal use case.  Work-flows where there is high volume, repetition, routing, or transfers of information from one system to another tend to provide great returns on investment, increase quality through consistency, and reduce administrative time spent on important but mundane tasks.  Other use cases for LC/NC typically fall into the categories of information collection and tracking tools, small-scale automations, repeat analytics, portal, and website development.

Transaction-heavy work-loads are always the best fit for LC/NC because small teams can digitize and automate tasks and processes faster than IT could onboard and assign a resource.  Whereas large enterprise workflows and automations should be performed by professional developers, LC/NC lends itself well to automating workflows on a smaller scale such as reaching into databases, sending updates, providing notifications and emails, updating spreadsheets, or filing items electronically.

Perhaps the biggest downfall with the rise of LC/NC solutions is that it institutionalizes the ‘shadow IT’ problem that has plagued big business for decades.  Business unit managers that develop their own solutions eventually turn to IT when it comes to control, governance, and maintenance.  Further, business developers create applications that function well, but may not scale well.  Finally, the applications churned out by business developers tend to lack the polished look and feel of a professionally developed tool.  It serves to reason that thinking about LC/NC governance, oversight, and controls are required now because this new technology is becoming cheaper and easier to implement.  For those companies that are already experimenting with low code applications, the expectations around IT hand-off, ongoing support, and application documentation are best addressed quickly.  Many of us see similarities with the rise of the micro-application and the resulting information silos that grew like mushrooms in the dark.

In conclusion, organizations are now faced with an interesting third option when it comes to IT solutions.  Low-code/no-code platforms provide an alternative option for business units and their teams to build their own solutions without having to fully rely on IT.  This new technology offers promise to business units whose workflow may never benefit from enterprise automation strategy.  However, this new technology does come with some familiar challenges.  Organizations would be well served to take the recent lessons from the rise of the micro-application forward and decide how to find the right balance between solution autonomy and work process centralization.

Michael Lavoie, Chief Data Officer – Inspiration Digital

Inspiration Digital is a full-service digital consulting company purposefully built for mid-market companies to help them thrive in today’s digital economy.