A shortage of tech talent, the mainstream adoption of AI and automation, and a push for digital transformation have put low-code/no-code (LC/NC) tools on the map. A type of software development that uses templates, automation and drag-and-drop features to create software applications, LC/NC requires little to no coding knowledge. It allows anyone to build digital applications through visual interfaces and plug-and-play modules.
Low-code versus no-code
The future of software development is moving towards assembly and integration. While low-code (LC) reduces the need for traditional coding, no-code (NC) completely eliminates it. Low-code is aimed at professional developers looking to streamline repetitive coding tasks and optimise efficiency. No-code is for non-technical business people, sometimes known as ‘citizen developers’.
How is no-code evolving in 2023?
The increasing use of no-code in product development and user experience (UX) is an exciting trend. Last year, Gartner coined the term Digital Experience Composition (DXC) to refer to “the tools and the processes used to provide API connectivity to headless services like CMS, search or commerce”. By embracing DXC, companies can create “no-code digital experiences that give non-technical teams the ability to create and launch campaigns as well as make updates at any time without involving IT”, says commercetools. People without coding knowledge can use no-code solutions to create, experiment and refine consumer experiences by changing user interfaces (UI), content, personalisation, data analytics and marketing automation.
“By creating DXC products, vendors like Occtoo, Uniform and builder.io are making composable commerce much easier for business users to consume”. They specialise in building consumer experiences with no-code solutions that break silos by moving tech responsibilities outside IT departments. Product experts and marketers - who often rely heavily on developers - can now execute campaigns, launch new features, and make quick updates.
What can you do with no-code?
While developers use low code to streamline repetitive tasks, the wider organisation can use no-code solutions to:
Build software features such as websites, apps, databases, client portals and more.
Create quick frontend executions, such as landing pages and new product releases.
Curate seamless customer experiences and publish them on multiple channels instantly.
Test an idea before getting developers involved - if at all.
What are the benefits of low-code/no-code?
It lifts the burden on developers
Digital transformation and new releases put pressure on IT departments to deliver new features and applications. With new technologies emerging every day and a need to meet audiences where they are, developers can need help to keep up. Low-code solutions help developers streamline repetitive tasks, while no-code solutions enable organisations to share development responsibilities.
It increases the speed-to-release
Change can happen in an instant, and companies must adapt quickly. No-code solutions allow faster development cycles by enabling non-technical business specialists to act on ideas quickly, test early and iterate as new opportunities emerge.
Low-code/no-code solutions require fewer resources and less infrastructure and maintenance, making it possible for smaller teams to release competitively while giving developers the tools to streamline repetitive coding tasks - improving efficiency. For companies that struggle to recruit developers, it relieves the burden on existing tech teams and improves retention.
What are the risks?
While low-code has some handholding by developers, who can add code where needed, no-code is completely hands-off. For citizen developers who lack knowledge of application security and compliance, they could unknowingly make applications more vulnerable to attack. No-code also relies on plug-and-play apps, which can be a security risk if those apps aren’t maintained properly.
If you’re giving non-technical employees access to no-code tools, it’s important to govern them properly. People without a programming background may not know how to document their work to ensure others can change or update it if they leave the company. There’s also a risk of ‘shadow IT’, where citizen developers ‘hand off’ an undocumented project to IT when it doesn’t work as expected - overloading the IT team. Organisations must train managers on the technology while defining a system where IT maintains control over what’s released - checking it and polishing it to ensure it’s up to standard.
Expressiveness versus usability/safety
“You will generally find a trade-off between a streamlined low-code experience versus expressiveness of the platform itself”, says Rene, IONA’s Director of Technology. “If an LC/NC platform tries to do too many things, if it tries to include too many features, it will be cluttered and hard to work with. It might even be unstable and hard to bug fix. The best LC/NC does just one or few things well, and provide sane defaults for everything else it won't let you control.”
“Raw code is powerful because you can express a lot of complex functionality relatively straightforwardly. Placing a layer of LC/NC on top of the raw code removes some of that expressiveness and ability to make it do exactly what you want”.
It’s a trade-off between expressiveness vs usability/safety. “The more stable and safe the platform is, the more constraints it will impose on the user, and the less the platform will be able to do”. Rene points out this trade-off doesn’t just apply to LC/NC solutions. “It exists within code as well. When you adopt a framework, such as NextJS, or a library, such as React, that framework will take away some of your ability to write the code in the exact way you want. In exchange, it gives you an easier time writing code for your most common use case, which is why you adopt the framework in the first place”.
Low-code/No-code; the future of frontend?
As Gartner predicts, most organisations will have these tools in place by 2025. But it’s not without risks. Traditional developers are needed to ensure consistency, maintain security, and handle the development of complex custom applications. But organisations need the right governance models, such as the 80-20 model, where non-technical creators are responsible for 80% of the work and a developer does the final 20%.
“Those thinking of adopting LC/NC tools should ask which option has more business value”, says Rene, Director of Technology at IONA. “If you don't have a lot of developers and you always need them to be working on something else, and the business users need to be able to create their own frontends, LC/NC makes sense. But if you have the time and developer resources, and the need to create something truly custom-built, perhaps raw code is the way to go”.
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