In my previous Quickbase guest post on citizen automation, we discussed the digital transformation imperative, and how important it is to get ‘all hands on deck’ with citizen developers to make this overarching initiative happen.
If you were to assign that digital transformation initiative to a solitary project manager, they might describe their task sardonically: “We just need to align all of the people, processes and technology within our company around customer needs. No big deal.”
It sounds like a digital transformation would certainly involve a lot of complexity, and therefore at least some coding work. If that would mean low-code tools are the best fit, why are we talking about no-code shortcuts now?
No-code, the sibling of low-code
According to my Intellyx colleague Jason Bloomberg, the contrast between low-code and no-code solutions used to be much clearer:
“Low-code targeted professional developers, simplifying their work by taking ‘plumbing’ tasks off their plate, while also facilitating collaboration with business stakeholders.
No-code, in contrast, was for business users, aka ‘citizen developers,’ who could build rudimentary applications via nothing but the wizards and drag-and-drop capabilities of the tools, with no coding more complicated than Excel formulas.”
More functionality has evolved into no-code and low-code products, so that today the two spaces overlap in many cases.
Low-code solutions gained some no-code drag-and-drop features, and no-code solutions opened some aspects of their platforms for developer adaptation, especially when integration and custom data handling is required. For the sake of this article, let’s go forward with the idea that no-code development is the part of the practice that does not require any coding.
Shortcut 1: Structural partnership between IT and business.
The first shortcut to no-code productivity isn’t a shortcut at all – it’s an organizational unification both IT and citizen development should agree upon.
Business leaders may turn to low-code because they are frustrated with the time and budget required to get IT to deliver the functionality they need. Conversely, IT leadership is stymied by instances of ‘Rogue IT’ where business teams spend resources on technology that was never specified by IT.
Good governance means getting both sides of the house working together, ideally using a Center of Excellence methodology. Business and IT can regularly review functional needs and projects, use project collaboration tools, and prioritize the joint development agenda to divide up functionality.
Which projects are ideal for no-code alone, which projects need a bit of IT support or adaptation help, and which ones should remain under the support of IT? Avoid unproductive conflict and redundant work, and high-value features get delivered faster.
Shortcut 2: Apply architectural principles and design-driven tactics.
Architecture was never a coding exercise anyway, and in a sense, no-code development lays architecture bare as part of a design process.
Architecture starts with relating the entities involved in any system, the human business stakeholders and partners, the builders and users, to their intended work processes and the systems and data that support those processes.
Capturing as-is versus to-be processes and mapping the flow of data and decisions through services and infrastructure – according to a visual workflow and connection flowchart – is an ideal starting point for no-code development.
Architecture accelerates design considerations as well – including user requirements and application behaviors – but there’s a lot more to it.
Visually the design or arrangement of actions and on-screen controls and displays delivers both halves of the user experience:
- The ability of a user to see the data they need and execute a functional process (i.e., ‘the goods’)
- An intuitive user experience with aesthetic appeal that adds speed and clarity to the process (i.e., ‘the wrapper’)
No-code makes user journeys much easier to define, track and model, so applying architectural and design-first thinking can only improve the quality and delivery speed of software functionality.
Shortcut 3: Think like a citizen development organization.
No-code development can bring in employees who are much closer to the stakeholder and customer than IT – not just in configuring, selling, and supporting revenue-producing goods and services – but in managing and strengthening the whole customer relationship.
In a citizen development org, every customer touchpoint, and every task flowing from each interaction, is a discovery process. Teams should establish the practice of logging and measuring their everyday work activity and capturing any incidents or delays that occur.
Citizen development teams can bring these discoveries into a regular cadence of scrums and standup meetings like Agile teams, except likely much less frequent, due to the fact that everyone has jobs to do outside of development.
Shortcut 4: Integration without infrastructure-as-code.
No-code faces healthy IT skepticism about its technical depth. “There’s no way this no-code solution can integrate with all of these systems and deploy production-ready apps without a coder involved.”
The scope and complexity of today’s distributed systems supports such objections to no-code. Developers must integrate functionality with dozens of services, while understanding IT Ops so they can code their own Infrastructure-as-Code definitions.
Fortunately, the standardization of trends such as API gateways and protocols, containerization, and elastic cloud infrastructure allows today’s no-code development solutions to encapsulate the deployment of more modern back-ends right out of the box.
No-code tools themselves have also grown in sophistication, with connection wizards, dozens of prebuilt product integrations to most enterprise SaaS collaboration tools and systems of record, and orchestration engines to help manage workflows across services in a high-performance multitenant environment.
A few custom integrations will only add to better utilization of the no-code tool, as the once bespoke integrations will largely become drag-and-drop-easy elements to include in the future.
The Intellyx Take
No-code can reduce the time required to retire technical debt, as well as the time needed to deliver new, disruptive customer-facing functionality.
To get there faster than your competition, you need everyone pulling in the same direction – aligning people, process and the entire extended technology stack entirely around delivering for customer needs. No-code’s ease of use and sophisticated modern integration hooks can make every member of your organization a meaningful collaborator.
Remember, if the big prize of digital transformation seems too daunting, just start somewhere on this journey. No-code apps should be far faster to build, easier to change, and you can even scrap a workflow and start over without massive costs if needed.