Next week (on Tuesday 14th April at 11am) we’re pleased to be hosting a free online training event to help people learn how to develop apps in our low-code / no-code platform agileBase.
If interested, you can sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/agilebase-intro-training-registration-101725178748
But what exactly is low-code / no-code? It’s becoming a common phrase in application development circles, so let’s step back and give a quick roundup of the main talking points and resources relevant to business decision makers.
Traditionally, software is created by developers – that means programmers, also called coders. For larger systems other roles also play a part such as the ‘system architect’ as well as specialists in say databases or user interfaces. Other parts of a team such as domain expert and project manager may also be present, but here we’re only considering the technical roles.
A no-code platform is software that allows people without these skills to create working software by abstracting away and automating the heavy lifting (low-code still requires some technical skills – see below).
It’s worth saying that although platforms are becoming very advanced (certainly ours is!) so no coding skills are necessary, there are still some skills or traits that do help – particularly creativity along with a willingness to think through the detail. We find accountants are often a good fit! It can also be a great career progression for people who do like to think through things in detail but haven’t had any formal programmer training.
We’ll now go through some of the main benefits and potential pitfalls, explain some common terms you may come across then explain where we fit in the ecosystem as a vendor.
If you’d like more detail, we’ll go through some real customer examples and see the technology in action during the session.
For the details, a good starting point is always Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-code_development_platform
Some key quotes are
‘A common benefit is that a wider range of people can contribute to the application’s development—not only those with formal programming skills. LCDPs can also lower the initial cost of setup, training, deployment and maintenance.’
‘Low-code development’s market growth can be attributed to its flexibility and ease.’
Other resources say
‘In a survey of Quick Base users, 68% said the main reason they create no-code apps is because they fit their organization’s needs better than other solutions, and 61% said it was so they can make changes more quickly to apps as their workloads and requirements change.’
That certainly rings true.
In our personal experience here at agileBase, we’ve found there is an emotional as well as a practical result. Customers who develop apps themselves feel more ownership of their systems, so find the ‘development’ experience enjoyable. Applications are friendly and easy to use and staff find that their input quickly results in improvements resulting in greater trust in the process.
That’s as opposed to the traditional outsourced model of bespoke software development, which can have a reputation for being slow, frustrating and in quite a large number of cases, just unsuccessful full stop.
There are criticisms of this model. Again Wikipedia lists the most common:
‘Some IT professionals question whether low-code development platforms are suitable for large-scale and mission-critical enterprise applications. Others have questioned whether these platforms actually make development cheaper or easier. Additionally, some CIOs have expressed concern that adopting low-code development platforms internally could lead to an increase in unsupported applications built by shadow IT.’
Of course we try to tackle all of these objections. It’s not the subject of this article, but our Platform Vision for 2020 addresses many.
Some common terms
When reading about low-code / no-code, you may come across some terms commonly used.
- ‘Low-code / no-code’. Firstly, this term itself. What’s the difference between no code and low code? Some applications describe themselves as low code environments, others as no code.
It is just what it sounds like – low code environments still require or allow a small amount of programming whereas with no-code platforms, everything is done with the graphical drag-and-drop interface.
No code is becoming more common and if you’ve decided to buy a tool, it’s worth researching the pros and cons of each but at the conceptual level, we don’t think it’s a particularly important distinction.
- ‘Citizen developer’. This term refers to an employee or member of the public who is not a coder, but who through the use of a low-code / no-code platform, is empowered to develop applications.
- ‘Shadow IT’. The idea of a shadow government is a conspiracy theory that actual power lies not with elected representatives but with another group acting behind the scenes, sacrificing democracy.
Shadow IT is not a conspiracy! But it does represent the belief that if the central IT department doesn’t control software development, consistency, security and governability are sacrificed.
The shadow IT concern is legitimate and this is an area of much discussion. However it’s not necessarily a win-lose situation for either side. Hopefully all stakeholders can come to a shared understanding of how to manage low-code / no-code development in a way that benefits all, raising IT’s role to governance, strategy and process management.
The software itself should address these concerns head on. For example, roles and privileges can determine exactly who can do what. Reporting and automated alerts can highlight which people are using the system how and when.
agileBase as a low-code / no-code platform
There are an increasing number of tools and platforms in the market, a web search will bring up handfuls.
What sets us apart as a vendor?
Our strength is in building web based ‘back offices’ for businesses. Other tools focus on consumer-facing or native mobile applications.
Our USP is, simply put, we can scale with the growth of an organisation. We sometimes say “from startup to scale-up without screwing up”.
Many tools are aimed at one size of company or another. There are those for startups and one-man bands to quickly build tools to suit their specific needs. Then at the other end of the scale, those for large businesses which are often more complex to comprehend.
agileBase is fast, friendly and flexible when getting started at a small scale, but as our platform is based on a powerful enterprise-class database and other open source software, we can scale to support high-throughput scenarios and many users.
Built in security features such as mandated 2FA and fine-grained control over data exports support large scale use.
The powerful API allows close connections with third party software such as finance or ERP systems, with agileBase acting as the engine to power all the data.