At Intellyx we gravitate toward disruption, and the burgeoning Low-Code/No-Code space has sucked us in like a black hole.
We’ve spoken with numerous vendors in this multifaceted market, and we work with several of them – and yet, every one has a different value proposition.
The big analyst firms can’t make heads or tails of this mess. Gartner has concocted the High-Productivity Application Platform-as-a-Service mouthful, or what hapless vendors call HPaPaaS – as though anyone would want to buy the low-productivity alternative.
Forrester divides the world into Low-Code Development and Mobile Low-Code Development, missing the entire No-Code part of the story, and failing to recognize that every vendor has a mobile angle to their offering.
But even the Low-Code and No-Code terminology is itself misleading, as the distinction isn’t about whether people need to code or not. The distinction is more about the types of people using these platforms to build applications.
In the No-Code corner are the ‘citizen developers’ – business users who can build functional but generally limited apps without having to write a line of code. The Low-Code corner, in contrast, centers on professional developers, streamlining and simplifying their work – delivering enterprise-class applications with little or no hand-coding.
So far so good. Confusing, yes – but focusing on personas rather than coding provides a useful frame of reference.
Only one problem: even this emerging model of the Low-Code/No-Code marketplace is itself ripe for its own disruption. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.
In fact, there are two fundamental trends that are both bringing new disruption to the already disruptive Low-Code/No-Code story.
First, continued innovations with the model-driven, declarative approach at the core of Software-Defined Everything (SDX) are bringing unprecedented levels of usability and power to these platforms. (See part one of this article for the background).
Today, vendors are implementing such capabilities piecemeal across a variety of disparate products – but the trend is clear: before we know it, the distinction between tools simple enough for citizen developers and powerful enough for professional development teams will disappear.
At that point, Low-Code and No-Code will merge into a single market segment – both ‘enterprise-class’ powerful and ‘citizen developer’ easy to use, at the same time.
The second trend is even more disruptive: artificial intelligence (AI). Some vendors are already incorporating AI into their Low-Code/No-Code platforms for a variety of purposes. For example, AI can help with the knottier challenges of integrating with semi-structured and unstructured data sources.
AI can also provide ‘next best action’ advice for various workflow scenarios, essentially giving application creators an autocomplete-like capability for building quite complex process logic.
Some vendors even build out branching conditions, exception handling, and many other situations that have heretofore required seasoned professionals to hand-code.
And we’ve only scratched the surface of how AI can help enterprises build great software quickly.
You might be wondering at this point why we haven’t already seen more innovation in this market. After all, declarative and model-driven approaches aren’t new, and AI is moving forward at an increasingly rapid pace. So, what’s keeping the vendors from innovating more quickly?
The answer: such innovations are too disruptive – so disruptive, in fact, that many different constituencies are resisting, each one sticking its thumb in the dike, hoping to hold back the ocean.
Who, then, is threatened by giving every knowledge worker in every organization the ability to create powerful enterprise applications?
If we take a traditional enterprise app that might require, say, six months, a dozen people, and two million dollars to build and deploy, and reduce those figures to two weeks, three people, and fifty thousand dollars – and end up with a faster, higher quality, more flexible app to boot – then who suffers?
Consultants, to be sure – especially the big system integrators, whose business model depends upon keeping throngs of junior developers busy and billable. Low-Code/No-Code is poised to completely disrupt this ‘school bus’ business model.
IT departments are also pushing back, often with a vengeance. Not only do the various denizens in IT fear for their jobs, but Low-Code/No-Code also threatens their credibility.
After all, IT has been telling business stakeholders for years that the six month/million dollar plan is the only way to build enterprise software. Now it turns out they aren’t just wrong, but not even in the right ballpark.
The third group is the most surprising of all: enterprise DevOps teams. You would think that because DevOps is all about delivering quality software rapidly that DevOps folks would be all over Low-Code/No-Code.
On the contrary: peel back the layers of any DevOps effort and at the center you’ll find software. Hand-coded software. And yet, the more mature Low-Code/No-Code becomes, the less hand-coding will ever be necessary.
Sure, building software will be faster and easier than ever before, but coders want to code.
As today’s enterprises undergo digital transformation, they become software-driven organizations – and thus having developers on staff who can hand-code software has become an increasingly strategic necessity. After all, this need has been driving the rise of enterprise DevOps across all industries.
Low-Code/No-Code will disrupt this entire pattern, as enterprises realize they can be even more successful with their digital transformations if they do away with hand-coding altogether, adopting Low-Code/No-Code across their organizations instead.
If you’re a coder who loves to code, all is not lost – but as this trend takes hold, there is less likely to be a place for you on an enterprise development team. Instead, you are more likely to find a home at a vendor.
There will always be a need for hand coding after all – since someone has to create the Low-Code/No-Code platforms and tools. Over time, therefore, enterprise software development will focus almost exclusively on AI-supported, model-driven, declarative application construction, while vendors will remain relevant by focusing on underlying platforms and tools that maximize affordances.
Enterprises can expect ongoing disruption as well, because Low-Code/No-Code doesn’t simply enable enterprises to build applications faster, better, and less expensively. It empowers them to build more applications, and to make them more dynamic than they could have any other way, even with a finely tuned DevOps culture in place.
The long-term result: enterprise software efforts that focus increasingly on strategic priorities as opposed to tactical ones, thus breaking out of the ‘IT Doesn’t Matter’ conundrum that has dogged the industry since its inception – a trend that I discussed recently in my last Cortex newsletter.
Remember, no application will give you a strategic advantage for long, and the timeframes are growing ever shorter. The secret to strategic advantage – the key to innovation in the digital age more broadly – is the ability to support changing application capabilities that keep you one step ahead of your competition.
On a final note: will enterprise DevOps efforts diminish as the need for hand-coding goes away?
Absolutely not – but DevOps will complete its transformation into an enterprisewide cultural shift, bringing greater collaboration, self-organization, and business agility to the organization as a whole, software-empowered throughout, but laser-focused on ever-changing customer needs and desires.
Welcome to the digital enterprise.
Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers.