In 1982, technology visionary James Martin published a book called Application Development Without Programmers. At the time, the future seemed inevitable.
“The number of programmers available per computer is shrinking so fast that most computers in the future must be put to work at least in part without programmers,” he wrote.
The idea would catch on. If you worked in IT in the 1980s or 1990s, chances are someone pitched you a solution that promised to offload much of the demand for new applications to the users themselves. These technologies included so-called fourth-generation programming languages (4GL), computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools, and early rapid application development (RAD) tools.
Ultimately these technologies failed to disrupt traditional application development for several reasons, including:
It wasn’t that the idea was wrong. It’s that the timing was off. Isn’t that always the way?
In fact, demand for technology solutions is at an all-time high. Backlogs are mountains and business is stalled. James Martin’s original prediction is still true. But what are the new solutions, and how are they different?
Enter the modern era. Forrester Research expects the market for low-code and no-code development platforms to grow from $3.8 billion in 2017 to $21.2 billion in 2022.* Forrester characterizes low-code platforms as those “products and/or cloud services for application development that employ visual, declarative techniques instead of programming."
So what’s changed? Why would these new platforms succeed where others have failed?
The answer is in the platform. Rather than offering an interface that simply obscures the actual code generating an app, the new generation of low-code tools are self-contained (yet extensible) platforms that enable people to build within an environment that’s already hospitable to all the unseen components of the app. That eliminates the need to update the platforms or apps due to changes in the code base or infrastructure. In fact, most modern low-code platforms are delivered via the web, meaning users don’t have to worry about any updates at all.
The cloud platform approach also empowers these tools to provide far more security and reliability than ever — making it much easier for organizations to deploy with confidence that they have the right controls in place to meet their security and compliance standards. If the platform itself offers high-level security and compliance controls, the path to deploying platform apps securely is much shorter.
Finally, the user base for these platforms has matured in the past 5-10 years. This has given rise to best practices, a thriving ecosystem of partners and app builders, and a better understanding overall of the capabilities of each platform.
Adding some complexity is the split in the low-code market between two types of platform: Those aimed at helping developers be more productive, and those aimed at providing non-developers a solution to solve their own problems.
Strictly speaking, true low-code platforms focus on elevating the productivity of existing IT development resources by providing a less complex, faster, and more agile way to build. They offer a middle road that lies somewhere between traditional and no-code development. The target use case for this type of app building is one requires some low-level coding to configure such things as integrations with external apps, transaction processing, business process management, or even a customer portal.
At the other end of the spectrum are purely no-code platforms that automatically generate code with, for example, the click of a button or a simple “if/then” statement. That means virtually anyone can use them to easily build, deploy, and update “get work done” apps for themselves and their teams—whether it’s simplifying project management for Marketing, streamlining report generation for Sales, or automating employee onboarding for HR.
Choosing the right platform is not easy, but the journey begins by answering a few key questions:
If your organization chooses to prioritize speed of development with a low-code platform for business developers, be sure to find one that also offers robust data management, reporting and collaboration, and governance and security.
James Martin was ahead of his time. Not only has demand for technology solutions exploded since his prediction in 1982, but the web has empowered a new generation of platforms to meet the needs of the modern workforce.