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Richard Hay | Oct 20, 2021
Low-code/no-code platforms are graphical tools used by business users and application developers to create software applications and automation workflows using drag-and-drop functions and with little to no knowledge of coding or programming languages.
They provide knowledge workers, those extremely familiar with workflows in an organization, the ability to automate and streamline their daily work so that it’s more efficient.
Low-code/no-code platforms quickly integrate with existing cloud services and products in use by an organization to streamline connections to existing data. This allows citizen developers to build solutions without the need for traditional developers or development cycles.
In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of low-code/no-code platforms, the different options available to organizations when implementing low-code programming, and other low-code/no-code tools that are currently being offered.
Low-code/no-code platforms and capabilities are now being provided by a wide range of providers including startups trying to fill various niches in the technology all the way up to the large enterprise products and services companies.
We have covered the low-code/no-code options that are available with Microsoft, Google and Amazon previously. While there is plenty of crossover ability to connect to the other companies’ products and services, Amazon is the only one that lacks any ability to tie into data that might be hosted on the other two low-code/no-code platforms.
Choosing a low-code/no-code platform will likely be impacted by where an organization has its data located. Just like other services offered by these big three companies, it is much easier to work within the same ecosystem rather than mixing and matching across low-code/no-code tools.
Once that decision is made, the work of building out those first low-code tools for an organization should be fairly straightforward.
Low-code/no-code development intentionally targets knowledge workers who have familiarity with the processes and workflows within their business unit, department or division but do not necessarily have any coding experience.
Those who have no coding experience will be able to use the more simplified approach to these tools, while those who may have some level of coding background can dive deeper into the underlying code in their project.
An additional option that can be considered is to pair a citizen developer with an experienced developer. The citizen developer can layout the basic elements of the app or automation and then the experienced developer can make any necessary adjustment to the underlying code to prepare the low-code app for use in an organization. This type of approach will significantly speed up any development projects compared with the approach of sourcing an app that is needed, providing the specifications and capabilities, and then building that app in-house or contracting a third party to do the work.
Most low-code and no-code platforms use a graphical user interface to put together the app or automation workflow. By connecting each of these building blocks between other services such as cloud storage, email accounts or collaboration platforms, the citizen developer is able to incorporate important data as part of the low-code or no-code development process.
The goal of low-code and no-code platforms is to drive the creation and curation of both in-house and publicly facing workflow interfaces (apps) and automations to the lowest possible level.
Low-code and no-code platforms can also be used as a baseline for a new app or workflow automation and then developers can take that underlying code and finalize the app for production use and release.
Despite what their names suggest, all low-code and no-code platforms are used to build solutions that are based on code. Whether that code is completely obscured from the person creating the app or if small amounts of code must be provided or tweaked depends on the platform and the approach taken for its development.
The no-code vs. low-code discussion is more closely aligned to the capabilities of the individual building out the app or workflow automation.
Citizen developers — those individuals with no training or experience writing or developing code — will be more suited to use no-code platforms, although in some circumstances, a low-code platform can be used by a citizen developer to build a solution. Not every low-code platform requires work within the actual code.
Individuals who have written code, understand coding principles and have worked within those programming languages — what you would call a coder or developer — could easily use either no-code or low-code tools to build an app or workflow automation.
When doing a low-code platform comparison, the names low code and no code do indicate a difference in the skill level required. However, a citizen developer who has dabbled in coding or learned a little bit about it can certainly be capable of tweaking the underlying code successfully, whether they are using a low-code or a no-code platform.
One of the most significant benefits of low-code development platforms is the the fact that the app or automation workflow is created by a citizen developer who understands the workflow. There is no need to go through a lengthy scope-of-work process to identify what the app or automation should do, how it should be laid out and how the expense can be justified.
Instead, all the decision-making is done in the same place as where the work will be done. This results in a much lower-cost investment in building the app and does not require the involvement of other employees outside of the department developing the new workflow or automation — especially for low-code solutions.
This reinforces the advantages of low-code or no-code development platforms: to break out of the old ways of sourcing and building an app and drive that creation to the lowest level of the organization possible. Low-code and no-code tools are accessible to most any employee who has the ability to follow straightforward instructions and has the information to connect the needed data services/sources in the project.
Despite the benefits of low-code and no-code tools, not every project coming out of a low-code or no-code development platform is going to be easy.
The reality is that there are drawbacks for low-code and no-code development.
Using these platforms to build an app or automation workflow requires someone who not only understands the intended purpose of the app being built but also someone with critical thinking skills to reason through the process as they ensure the right elements are being used, etc.
Unlike platforms like IFTTT, Zapier or even Microsoft’s Power Automate, which utilize the most basic building-block-style low-code/no-code tools, some low-code/no-code services require a more nuanced approach. This is where someone with some coding experience can be a great asset to the process of developing solutions with these low-code/no-code platforms.
For some projects, more experienced developers might be involved alongside citizen developers, which means a more advanced low-code development platform can be utilized to build out a workflow automation or an app for a particular business process.
When you review the low-code development platform examples below, it is important to remember that there is a tremendous amount of flexibility with most of these low-code platforms to go beyond the basic building blocks and connections to build out a robust app-based solution.
That additional flexibility will vary depending on the product and service provider so that should be an important consideration when evaluating these and other low-code development platforms for organizational use.
One other area to be aware of when deciding on which low-code development platform to use is the ability to access your data where it resides; sometimes that access is restricted to data stored in the provider’s cloud.
Examples of low-code tools:
One of the benefits of using a no-code development platform such as the ones listed below is their ability to support entry-level work for those just starting to use these types of services.
Each of these no-code development platforms work from a building-block perspective.
Select a service and choose a trigger event to kick off the automation or workflow and then select the action to be taken after the trigger event. Workflows and automations with these services typically support just one trigger event per instance.
For example, searching Twitter for a certain keyword (like a company name) and then sending an email to a specified recipient (for instance, the social media manager) when that keyword is found in a tweet or tweets. This would enable faster responses to potential customer service inquiries on social media rather than constantly monitoring the social media service.
Examples of no-code tools:
Very rarely, if ever, is there any need to modify the underlying code with these no-code development platforms.
As mentioned above, low-code and no-code tools have been around well before the COVID-19 pandemic forced workers to move into a fully remote work environment.
But the pandemic spurred expansion of the capabilities of no-code/low-code platforms. Just like collaboration tools have grown because of the unique circumstances of the pandemic, low-code and no-code platforms have seen a renewed approach to their usefulness and ability to push workflow and other automation processes down to the knowledge worker’s level. The resulting cost savings that can be realized, by reducing the development process, can be significant.
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