It should come as no surprise that low code was instrumental in facilitating the large-scale changes many companies had to undergo last year, and continues to be an important part of many organizations’ strategies moving forward.

In fact, an upcoming survey by IT company ServiceNow and Radar Media shows that 45% of respondents have adopted low-code platforms and that 79% say now is an optimal time to invest in low code. 

According to John Bratincevic, senior analyst at research firm Forrester, there were two major use cases for low code and no code in the past year: building new apps or adding onto existing ones. Examples of new apps developed using low code include medical clinics needing to build an app to route patients to different parts of a building based on COVID rules, or vendors making apps for distributing PPP loans, he explained. 

“One vendor wrote a solution in 48 hours and sold it to like 25 regional banks. So they themselves got into a whole new business line overnight, well, in two days. And then the banks of course could adopt the solution. Lots of people self-served and made their own using the platforms,” he said. 

2021: The year of low code
Businesses in 2021 think high for low-code

Adding onto or changing existing apps was also very easy using low-code platforms. For example, Bratincevic recalled a retailer that had to get into the delivery business quickly and because they’d already used low code to build their important applications, it was as simple as adding a new module on top of that application to handle delivery and transportation management. 

“You can build stuff faster, you can change stuff faster and easier, and more people can do it,” said Bratincevic. “In the context of the current need — COVID was a very desperate need. Just in general the sheer amount of software that needed to be made and changed, if you look at the numbers, it’s just ridiculous. It’s just the right thing at the right time at the right level of maturity, and the economic and social factors all kind of colliding.”

Changing needs require development speed 

One of the key benefits of low-code development is speed. Traditional software takes a long time to deliver, and sometimes by the time it actually has been delivered, requirements have changed.

ServiceNow and Radar Media’s survey found that low code cut development time at least in half. Forty-two percent of respondents had a 2x reduction in development time and 43% saw reductions of 3x. 

In addition to being able to build solutions faster, low code also provides the ability to make changes quickly, without compromising on quality, Bratincevic explained. “There’s a lot of quality checks in these platforms, so like if you’re going to delete a field in a database it’ll stop and go ‘hold it, if you do that it’ll break these hundred other things. Here’s how it fits into the architecture.’ There’s a lot of quality checks that are built into the products that make it so that, in addition to being able to develop quickly, you can change quickly with a certain level of quality maintained,” he said.

Bratincevic added that it would be nearly impossible to build and change software at the scale and speed that’s needed using only traditional methods, in the traditional working pattern of developers only doing software and business people only doing business work. “To me that’s the kind of big thing, it’s sort of the technology key for many firms to really transform,” he said. 

The pandemic has made companies more wary of something like this happening again and how they could respond. “A lot of people had systems that couldn’t change to respond to whatever the different needs of COVID were and that was a huge problem,” said Bratincevic. “So people I think are changing their approach to say ‘what do we do when this happens again? How do we build that concrete ability to change into the systems?’”

For example, when people started working from home and not driving their cars, insurance companies needed to have a way to change their billing systems quickly to be able to issue billions of dollars in refunds. “That’s a fast big change to really core systems that theoretically aren’t supposed to change very much. That paradigm of there being these systems that don’t change very much so we can kind of leave those be, but maybe there’s some kind of narrow set of systems that need to change or are very unique, that kind of broke. You realize for everything you need to be able to plan for change and be able to do it quickly, or make new stuff,” said Bratincevic. 

Younger workers adopting low code

Hari Subramanian, founder of no-code tool provider Appify, believes the generational change in the workforce and their customer bases—both shifting younger—is also contributing to low code’s success. 

Younger workers tend to be very tech-savvy, having lived most of their lives surrounded by technology. Younger workers with no development experience might be able to leverage that knowledge to go into a low-code or no-code platform and create an application from scratch. 

At the same time, younger customers are expecting modern digital experiences, Subramanian explained. “They want to be able to at the click of a button get a $14 pizza and track it until it reaches their door …  If I’m going to meet a salesperson, I need that same modern digital experience. Things need to be available at my fingertips. I need rapid access to rich information. I need to be able to engage in a very rich way and that demand is being placed on businesses as well. And it kind of comes back to no-code/low-code platforms as a way for businesses to accelerate and deliver to that need,” he said.

In addition to the age of workers, the age of the company also plays a role in adoption. According to Jinen Dedhia, co-founder of low-code platform DronaHQ, new companies are able to adopt low code without a ton of baggage. He compared the low-code movement to the introduction of the Ford motor car. “You always want to go from A to B the fastest and you have horse carts, which can take you there (horse carts in our world are developers and tooling), but tools like low code/no code are like the Ford motor car. You get to do things extremely fast. And the proof of the pudding, the ones who experience it would definitely not look at anything else.”

Larger, more established companies might have some experiences with low code, however. For example, a company with a Microsoft ecosystem could get started using Microsoft PowerApps. “But you won’t see a lot of adoption because a lot of people won’t do it unless you are a power user or somebody who will do very well with SharePoint and so and so. Large enterprises are going for the citizen developers and in smaller companies they are basically making full-fledged systems, mission-critical applications,” said Dedhia. 

IT still key to low-code success

Low code may have been a popular choice this year, but a few years ago reception among developers and architects was mixed. A 2018 Progress survey of 5,565 developers revealed that 28% of developers and 20% of managers had a positive opinion on low code. The rest fell into categories such as “skeptical” (37% of developers and managers combined), “negative” (21%), “customization and flexibility seen as shortcoming” (17%), and “good for simple apps and prototyping but not suitable for complex ones” (16%). 

The increasing push to adopt low-code/no-code tools might have developers and IT teams worried, but the need for those technical roles isn’t going away any time soon, Dedhia explained. These solutions enable you to build faster, but technical expertise is still needed. 

“You definitely need engineering skill sets. It’s just that without these tools a typical engineer would take 10 days and with these tools an engineer could go about building it in a day’s time,” said Dedhia.

Even after an application is built, those skill sets are still needed. Once applications are live, they need to be maintained long-term. “Even if they start off with building their applications they have to move at some point in time to IT for maintenance,” said Dedhia. “You need IT to maintain and you need IT to do governance.” 

In addition, there are some limitations to these tools that require users to turn to their development or IT teams. Dedhia gave the example of a low-code platform not allowing you to create an API endpoint for accessing the data. 

“Even if you do not have an out-of-the-box way of doing it on the platform, there will always be workarounds,” said Dedhia. “And there will always be ways and means in which you can accomplish and get things done. I think IT companies who are taking up low code/no code should have clarity on their expectations and the willingness that if they’re adopting low code/no code, they might encounter scenarios where they might have to look beyond augmenting the low-code capabilities.”