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Software Futures: 'Get No Code Fit!'
The future of business software could be Low Code and even No Code
Since the advent of computers, businesses have had to choose between building software that is specific to their exacting requirements - a bespoke suit, or buying off the shelf software and modifying their processes to fit - buying an inexpensive, off-the-rack suit.
Just like buying business software - a tailor-made suit takes time, and it’s costly - if your body shape changes the suit is no longer fit for purpose. But an off-the-rack suit can become ill fitting and uncomfortable as you wear it more and more.
To address software’s ill fitting problem, most companies went down the path of purchasing a standard software package, and then customising it to their specific requirements. Many needed large customisation projects and risked cutting themselves off from the roadmap of the core package. They spent millions on consulting fees. There are many horror stories of multi-million, multi-year customisation projects in IT over the years.
The latest trend to address this challenge is the development of Low Code and No Code platforms. The promise of these platforms is for non-technical teams to be able to put together digital solutions for their specific business challenges. - creating their own perfectly fitting suit for any occasion. More Saville Row than Moss Bros.
Leaders in this field include Salesforce, Airtable and Appsheet, amongst others.
I have first hand experience of low code / no code projects. Recently one of our development teams, while fully utilised on our core software, received an urgent new requirement from the customer support team. Such a requirement, in the past, would have been solved by a jerry-rigged mix of excel spreadsheets, email and database extracts. It kind of worked for experienced users, but new staff would often get confused and almost always make mistakes.
Instead we took the opportunity to assess Low Code and No Code platforms. We chose OutSystems to rapidly prototype a possible solution. It impressed us with the speed at which it built a modern user experience connected directly into our databases. But it did not take long before we started to hit a series of roadblocks on the path to low and zero code development. These roadblocks highlighted the need to view the technology architecture as a set of lego blocks that utilises a low code platform to wire the pieces together using standard interfaces.
“The main roadblocks we encountered included”:
User Experience Design
Even with rapid app build, you still need to apply good practice to create great user experiences - focusing on the customer journeys - this product / agile methodology is even more important in the zero code world.
Single Sign On
You will need to implement a single sign on infrastructure, enabling end users and applications to securely authenticate, with a single place to manage access, roles and responsibilities. Also, make sure to adopt standards based methods such as oAuth to enable code to act on its behalf and with the permissions of an end user.
API Front and Centre
Low code and no code platforms really fly when the core functionality of the business is accessible through stable, high performance API's - enabling these building blocks to be rapidly integrated in new ways.
Assume that your systems need to be accessed from anywhere - design virtual private networks and remote access networks to enable your key resources to be accessed from anywhere in a secure manner.
COVID has shown how critical remote access is to the continued operation of an enterprise - but also low code platforms enable features to be provided to partners, customers and suppliers - don't let your network infrastructure hold back the digital transformation.
Focus your developers
Make sure that your costly and limited resource of talented developers are focused on delivering real value to the business - be it ensuring core line of business systems are accessible from low code platforms, or building AI models to drive new business lines.
It is also important that your development methodologies optimise the effective integration with the business, given the speed and creation of functionality that can be so easily added with low code platforms.
As with most things in tech life, to get real productivity benefits from zero code platforms, you will need to get your infrastructure fighting fit - and continue to invest in great user experience design and smart developers who can build the reusable lego blocks.
Most early zero code projects will be either trivial, or will not deliver on the promise of rapid development, because the infrastructure has yet to catch up.
However, once the roadblocks get removed, Gartner are forecasting that 65% of app development could be executed on such platforms by 2024. We might soon be operating much more fluid and fast reacting operations as companies begin to implement low code rapid application development, with its minimal reliance on hard to find and increasingly expensive developers.
The future of corporate software is bright. If the future is no code!
Dave Evans is a leading UK CTO and technology commentator.
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