Businesses unable to hire developers are increasingly using low-code or no-code tools, which allow tech and business professionals with no coding experience to build apps and potentially fill talent gaps in their organization. Forrester predicts that the market for low-code tools will grow to $15 billion by 2020.
Nearly 60% of all custom apps are now built outside the IT department, according to a recent report from 451 Research and FileMaker, Inc. Of those, 30% are built by employees with either limited or no technical development skills.
"Low-code platforms are one of several strategies that firms can employ to increase the amount of solutions or applications they're developing to widen their skills base," Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond told TechRepublic. "If a company doesn't have a deep pool of development talent, low-code tools are one way they can account for that."
Here are 10 tips for working with low-code platforms.
1. Start small
"Start off with the simplest, least intimidating low-code platform before introducing more complex platforms," said Stewart Small, founder of Kttp. "Staff will be far more likely to use and stick with these platforms if their first encounters with the low-code platforms are successful."
Similarly, you should start off with the easiest applications, such as form submissions, Small said, so as not to overwhelm employees. Workers can also take advantage of some of the pre-built applications provided by some of these platforms as a starting point, to help users better understand the functionality.
Established paper-based, email, and file sharing processes between two or more people are perfect to put into no-code platforms to add process control, transparency, and 24/7 use, said Michael Wacht, vice president of Operations at Helm Inc.
2. Spread the word
"The more people in an organization who know about the platform and its capabilities, the more people can use it to innovate and create new solutions," said Phillip Dennis, principal at Watkyn LLC.
Once a foundation is set and the first early applications are launched or in use, companies should work to involve more people in the application development process, said Marshall Worster, senior director of solution architecture at Mendix. If more people outside of IT are encouraged to contribute, it leads to more tech innovation, he added.
3. Don't skimp on training
To get the most out of low-code or no-code tools, it's key to invest in training your staff, and allowing them time to experiment and try new things, Dennis said.
While these platforms may be easy to use, a training class can demonstrate the proper way to use the tool, and how to use features that employees may not find on their own, said Steve Hansen, web designer and marketer at michaels, ross & cole, ltd. "In terms of lost productivity and effectiveness, I'd say that skipping training is actually more expensive than taking a training class at the start," Hansen added.
4. Don't impose traditional IT governance protocols on citizen developers
For citizen developers working with low-code or no-code platforms to be effective, it's important not to hold their work to traditional IT governance protocols, Wacht said.
This requires striking a balance between planning and doing, Dennis said. "Traditional software development has a long planning cycle up front, but low-code platforms make it easy to make a working application or prototype in hours or days," Dennis said. "Rather than impose a development methodology from on high, allow individual app builders or teams to discover their own balance between planning and executing appropriate to their project."
5. That said, don't leave IT and professional developers out
While low-code and no-code platforms can take the place of specific development tasks, they are not meant to replace a development team, and should not be implemented as shadow IT, said Leonie McGloin, program marketing manager of mobile platforms at Red Hat. "Successful low code implementations bring users—the citizen developers—closer to IT," McGloin said. "Ultimately, low-code is about enabling the organization to be more nimble and better able to respond to change, and is best accomplished with IT and business teams work collaboratively."
Without IT oversight, organizations run the risk of deploying conflicting applications, or creating application silos, said Jenny Victor, senior director of BPM product marketing at OpenText. But allowing professional developers to use these platforms as well can help them better engage business users and speed time-to-market for certain applications, Victor said.
6. Understand the data you are working with
To be successful within a development platform, you must understand your data, in terms of where it is located within the database, and the database structure, Hansen said.
You may need to work with your IT team to determine what data citizen developers are authorized to access, and how to authenticate, said Mike Duensing, CTO and executive vice president of engineering at Skuid.
7. Question vendors
To avoid vendor-lock in, it's key for CIOs and other leaders to ask the following questions before purchasing a platform: Can the applications run outside of the platform itself? Can you maintain the application outside of the platform? Is it generating easily-readable, industry-standard code?
"You don't want to choose a tool that will render your applications useless if you ever stop using it," Hansen said.
SEE: Managing vendor relationships: Time commitment, benefits, and pain points (Tech Pro Research)
8. Identify a business leader
Organizations that find success with low-code platforms typically identify a champion who is involved in the business, and is able to articulate the business needs into visual models or pseudo-code, Worster said. "Low-code application development often resonates well with technical analysts and/or tech-savvy business analysts who can use low-code to drive business impact," he added.
9. Understand the limits
Low-code and no-code platforms are not suitable for all use cases, McGloin said.
"Do not be fooled into thinking that the business can build and manage apps without the need for developer and operations skills," McGloin said. While low-code tools can be a powerful asset during proof-of-concept phases of development, and can simplify some UI/UX issues to get an app running faster, "there is still a considerable need for developer skills to customize the project, create back-end APIs, and manage infrastructure deployment," she added.
Building apps at scale places considerations on infrastructure, scaling, and lifecycle management, which generally are not achieved with low-code tools, McGloin said.
10. Join the community
When diving into the low-code/no-code world, it may be helpful for businesses to join a community associated with your platform of choice, to see what other members are accomplishing and to learn best practices, Small said.
- Report: Citizen developers growing in number and delivering faster results (TechRepublic)
- How to learn programming: 3 languages to get you started (TechRepublic)
- Software development is broken and low-code is here to fix it (ZDNet)
- Learn these 3 languages now if you want to become a data scientist (TechRepublic)
- Software developers: We're on board with low-code (or even no-code) tools (ZDNet)
- The Complete Learn to Code Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.