Allen Bernard | 19 Sep, 2020
Over the past few years, a quiet revolution in business process automation has been steadily gaining ground with business users and IT: low-code and no-code development platforms. These platforms give businesspeople the power to change business processes without knowing how to code. Although less scalable and extensible, no-code platforms are 100% drag and drop so almost anyone can update a workflow or create a net-new ones.
While these low-code/no-code platforms have been around for years, the reason they are gaining traction today is simple: Even with Agile, DevOps, and CIOs awareness that they need to accelerate project rollouts to meet customers demand for updates and new services, traditional IT is not set up for fast project turnaround times. A chronic lack of developers, software engineers, and programmers also is driving the adoption of these platforms. That's why, even before COVID-19 forced companies to reimagine their customer journey from start to finish, the use of low-code/no-code was growing at a robust clip.
"The primary selling point of low-code, especially in the context of larger teams, is the ease and speed to develop and test new applications," said IT consultant Viputheshwar "Vip" Sitaraman. "Non-technical users in many organizations leverage tools like Zapier and WebFlow on a day-to-day basis to edit web applications and automations for core business processes such as CRM integrations—previously an unthinkable task for somebody with no coding background."
Even so, the impact on business processes may actually be negligible. This is because a business process is strategic. The purpose of processes like order-to-bill, procure-to-pay, or order fulfillment don't change very much. People need to get paid. Orders need to be shipped. But how the pieces of a process come together, the individual workflows that make up a business process, those do.
Low-code/no-code is already having a major impact on workflows. Over the past three years, for example, a billion mortgage lender has used low-code to automate and integrate most of its back office loan closing functions. They opted for low-code because IT was focused elsewhere and commercial software did not meet their needs. With low-code, they were able to automate previously spreadsheet-based, manual workflows exactly how they wanted, removing bottlenecks and instituting checks and balances. In the process, they saved hundreds of thousands of dollars while reducing error and loan defect rates by 80%.
At VPNRanks.com, Abdul Rehman, a senior cyber-sec editor and a full stack developer and his team have relied on low-code to revamp their workflows to cope with COVID-19.
"Low-code will be widely adopted even after the pandemic," he said. "But not for challenging tasks. That being said, if we talk about rather simple tasks, low-code developments is the best solution out there. Just a couple of weeks ago, we created from scratch a new web-based system to monitor and track employee login and logouts."
Low-code also can help accelerate DX efforts. Because DX and business workflows are very closely aligned. Digitizing one workflow can lead to changes in others. In the past, "going digital" often meant simply automating existing business processes end-to-end to make them more efficient. Today, it can mean integrating once-siloed systems such ERP and supply chain management while also bringing in net-new tech like the internet of things (IoT) sensors, AI, and robotic process automation platforms. Business processes that once had a handful of inputs and steps, now span multiple lines of business within the organization as well as the systems of partners, vendors, and suppliers.
The impact of all this on IT will likely depend on the observer's point of view. From the outside looking in, low-code/no-code is a boon to business managers who need to get things done. From IT's point of view, however, if not controlled and managed properly, these platforms and the workflows create just another management and security headache.
"The ease of access comes with one unforeseen drawback," said Sitaraman, "IT adoption, especially in larger teams, has been flipped on its head. Before, the IT department mostly controlled what software and tech stack was used within an organization. Now, internal users are able to try, adopt, and implement new no- and low-code tech stacks entirely on their own, without needing assistance from IT professionals. This could certainly lead to an increasingly fragmented tech stack and associated logistical challenges for IT departments in the future."
But this is nothing new for IT. Shadow IT has been a long-standing issue in every company and it has only gotten worse with the rise of cloud and SaaS. Low-code/no-code development is typically done on a vendor's SaaS platform. So, in many respects, if IT can sign off on the vendor beforehand, then it could allow IT to manage the relationship, ensure security, and reap the benefits of cutting their software development back-log.
"I think the net-positive will be agility—speed to minimum-viable application and iteration thereafter—for non-IT and less tech-savvy team members," said Sitaraman. "But the net-negative will be fragmentation and disorganization of the organization's tech stack, which will definitely increase IT overhead trying to manage shadow IT and unregulated apps."
While these are definitely issues that must be resolved, according to a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey sponsored by low-code vendor QuickBase, "CIOs steeped in rapid-cycle innovation say these concerns can be overcome with a plan that includes a formal governance framework for ensuring compliance with corporate policies."
Even with these and the many other challenges such as vendor lock-in that exist when introducing such a powerful software development platform into an organization, the need to speed innovations to market and update business processes on the fly will continue to drive the adoption of low-code/no-code platforms.
“Low-code applications are here to stay," said Bill Galusha, senior director of Product Marketing at ABBYY, a provider of business process intelligence software and consulting. "The reason it’s here to stay is because the easier things are to set up and use, the wider the user base becomes, and the less there is a dependency on internal or external IT services."
Allen Bernard is a veteran freelance technology journalist and former managing editor. Since 1998, Bernard has written, assigned, and edited thousands of articles that focus on intersection of technology and business. As well as book development and content creation for some of the world’s best known brands, he has written for TechRepublic.com, CIO.com, the Economist Intelligence Unit, NetworkWorld.com, and other high-quality publications. Originally from the Boston area, Bernard now calls Columbus, Ohio home. He can be reached at 614-937-2316 or email@example.com.
We publish new articles every week