Are we entering a developer-free future? How this could add value to customers

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The relentless momentum of digital has many organizations gasping for breath as they try to deliver digital experiences that not only meet but exceed customer expectations. As the demands on in-house and external development resource rise in line with software development costs, low-code and no-code development has been heralded as the savior, accelerating time to market for applications and distributing responsibility for application development across organizations to non-technical users.

Gartner, Forrester, IDC and more have been quick to highlight the growth of this approach to development across the next few years, but will these approaches be a key trend for 2022?

The power of no-code and low-code

According to Gartner, by 2024 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low-code development tools for both internal and external application development. It’s not hard to see why. The need to accelerate digital transformation is driving organizations to seek out ways to get applications out to ‘market’ quickly and efficiently while faced with constant pressure on precious IT resource.

Alongside the demands of digital transformation, organizations are wrestling with technical debt because of aging legacy systems, expensive upgrades, ‘Shadow IT’ applications and more. Another report by Gartner has highlighted that new technical debt will continue to compound on top of existing technical debt, consuming more than 40% of current IT budgets.

While no-code and low-code approaches can help to combat this technical debt and support accelerated digital transformation, they alone are not the solution. I believe that these approaches must be underpinned by a move toward composable architectures and key changes within organization culture.

Getting the foundations right

No-code and low-code development are focused on delivering applications quickly and iterating. However, without boundaries and governance, they can quickly contribute to your technical debt problem, creating inconsistencies in brand, experience and data – a problem that becomes more noticeable to your end users who engage with you across channels.

We need to provide developers and non-technical users with the data, services and components they need to produce these applications quickly, but maintain that connection to the wider digital vision and experience.

Yes, you can work with monolithic architectures, but there’s tactical workarounds to consider and you start to lose some of the agility that comes with it.

Composable architectures are the future – the idea of breaking apart your digital ecosystem into building blocks that can work together seamlessly and be evolved and replaced without wide-scale refactoring or redevelopment. The concept stretches beyond the world of composable DXP and down into the roots of the digital ecosystem.

By doing this, we’re building agility throughout the technical stack, empowering both traditional software development and parallel no-code and low-code programs.

My expectation is that organizations are going to invest in these composable architectures. Whole-sale replacement of monolithic systems is unlikely, and we’ll see iterative transformation programs, focused on key areas of value (effectively vertical slices of functionality) to accelerate delivery of applications.

Getting the culture right

A key attraction of low-code and no-code development is the reduction of reliance on development and IT resource. Staff from non-technical backgrounds can become ‘citizen developers,’ spinning up applications rapidly with little or zero coding. In an age where digital is fast becoming a key component of your competitive advantage, the allure of such an approach is undeniable.

However, while the non-technical users are rejoicing, developers and IT are often struck by the icy cold fingers of dread. The fear of rising technical debt, security weaknesses and escalating maintenance costs can often lead to a stalemate.

It’s clear that something needs to change. We’re already seeing increased collaboration between technical and non-technical departments, but I believe we’ll see a continued evolution of this dynamic as both sides formulate more efficient working models. There’s already examples of businesses that have made this work – from Mazda and Suez to Zurich Insurance, BT and beyond.

While the technical departments invest in composable architectures that will make data, functions and services available, we’ll see increased adoption of flexible security and governance models (retaining the necessary security without impeding the freedom or creativity of ‘citizen developers’), collaboration between technical and non-technical on software evaluation and procurement, the implementation of low-code/no-code development processes and best practices, the initiation of upskilling programs and the establishment of Centres of Excellence.

A few parting words

Low-code and no-code adoption will continue to grow, of that we can be certain. But their continued adoption across 2022 will be as part of larger organizational changes – both in technology and culture.

What it won’t mean is the death of traditional software development. There’s still a place for this in DXP and complex application development. Instead, these approaches will augment the capabilities of organizations to deliver value to customers rapidly for the benefit of all.

Rick Madigan, digital strategist at UNRVLD.