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How No and Low Code Approaches Support Business Users and Professional Developers

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No code approaches aim to support business users in developing and maintaining their own applications, where low code simplifies the developer’s work and makes them more productive. Both approaches enable faster development at lower costs. As the distinction between these approaches is becoming smaller; business users and developers can team up and use them together. CCI has adopted low code and no code for developing applications.

In the Forbes article The Low-Code/No-Code Movement: More Disruptive Than You Realize, Jason Bloomberg describes the distinction between no code and low code as perceived by the industry:

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.

Innovation in model-driven approaches and artificial intelligence will make the distinction between low code and no code disappear, argued Jason Bloomberg. This will lead to "tools simple enough for citizen developers and powerful enough for professional development teams", he said, which will decrease the need for software developers:

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.

Stanley Idesis stated the advantage that developers have when it comes to development with low-code tools in the Dzone article Why Developers Fear Low-Code:

(...) low-code is merely a tool. And a tool’s value is derived from those who wield it. In the unlikely scenario where the majority of software is built on low-code platforms, developers will make the best low-coders. Yes, you can hire Johns and Janes to build low-code apps. But without requisite software fundamentals, their capabilities will only carry them so far.

More importantly, developers understand the fundamentals of software, computer architecture, the web, and more. That knowledge enables them to work faster and optimize the platform leaps beyond the Johns and Janes.

According to App Developer Magazine, the reasons to consider low code development in 2018 are:

  • Saving money by doing development internally, and also have updates done by internal professionals
  • Plugging the skills gap by enabling existing IT staff and non-developers to build mobile apps quickly and easily
  • Shorter development time, making it possible to develop apps almost in parallel with specifying the requirements
  • Minimal training needed as the tools are designed to be simple to be used by internal teams
  • Overcoming platform integration issues as the low code platform enables developing code once for every device and the app will run on mobiles, tablets and desktops

InfoQ spoke with Evan Rice, senior director IT operations, information and analysis services at CCI Systems, about how they adopted low code and no code for developing applications.

InfoQ: What is "no code"?

Evan Rice: No code application development it a term used for development processes that are very UI focused. This allows business users without formal programming or IT skills to develop and support their own applications which relate directly to their specific business processes.

InfoQ: What’s the difference between "no code" and "low code"?

Rice: Low code tends to be the next progression for a no code developer where they have reached the limit of the no code interface and leverage code like javascript and other languages to extend the functionality of the no code tool. Often a no code / low code approach in concert can deliver very comprehensive and complete tool sets without much or sometimes any traditional IT resources.

InfoQ: How are you applying no code at CCI Systems?

Rice: CCI Systems uses a cloud-based no code / low code tool called Quick Base. CCI has created an internal "Citizen Developer" program where business users receive training and become certified "CCI Citizen Developer Ninjas". Once they have received their certification they are allowed to create, develop and maintain applications that support their team’s day to day activities.

CCI’s internal IT department acts as a governing entity ensuring that the applications our Ninjas make are following best practice, performance and security standards. They are also an escalation point for complex requirements or for when someone needs a more low code approach.

This program has allowed us to deliver over 30 cloud-based business applications to our production environment in just over three years, with less than two full time IT resources.

Using no code / low code allows us to deliver impactful applications to the business combined with low development costs. It creates a value proposition that is difficult to rival with traditional development activities.

InfoQ: How did you embed no code into your processes?

Rice: Within some IT departments no code / low code tools have a bad reputation as contributing to rogue or shadow IT. The business users who brought Quick Base to CCI initially made sure to include our IT department from the get go. Doing this allowed IT to build the Ninja program, develop best practices and governance protocols so that while IT isn’t building the applications they are still able to ensure supportability and security of everything delivered into production. I believe that in order to see the true value in a no code / low code approach, there has to be a partnership between the business people developing the applications and centralized IT.

InfoQ: How do developers and testers feel about no code?

Rice: Historically developers and testers have had a less than approving stance when it comes to no code / low code tools. This was often amplified by the shadow IT nature that can accompany tools like this. With our current tool, CCI has seen a complete about face with the developers. The centralized governance enforces standards so that when the developers are called in to troubleshoot or add advanced features, they can rely on a level of consistency and sophistication. Being a SaaS application also means that our system administrators don’t need to worry about "bad code" killing our servers. It also has a full comprehensive Rest API that makes data integration and custom reporting a breeze.

Ultimately the developers appreciate that the tool allows users to create many of their own apps. This allows the dev teams to focus on more traditional programming initiatives that don’t fit the no code / low code mold.

InfoQ: What benefits has no code brought?

Rice: CCI has seen many benefits from embracing no code / low code. The speed of delivery and low cost of development has allowed us to streamline processes and centralize information. CCI’s legacy processes for managing inventory in the field only allowed for an accurate view once a month. These processes were very spreadsheet centric and manual. Using no code / low code to manage the inventory issue and record usage for our trucks allows management and purchasing to track much more accurately and real-time what is in the field. Integrating the no code / low code application’s data into our ERP system has allowed us to track inventory levels, eliminate waste and automate purchasing.

Another good example is the project management application used in CCI’s engineering department. Historically engineering design efforts were tracked in a collection of spreadsheets and MS Access applications. Reporting on project progress and productivity was entirely manual and open to human error. The need for a centralized system was evident. Each project and project manager has to do things just a little differently so finding an out of the box solution for them to all use proved difficult. Our Ninjas were able to take the legacy processes to analyze them and build a single application with enough flexibility to support all the PM’s but with enough structure to enforce data quality and centralize reporting. This tool is now used by several hundred engineering employees daily to track their work. It is integrated into several other systems and saves CCI hundreds of hours of manual data entry and reporting each year.

InfoQ: If people want to learn more about no code, where can they go?

Rice: The internet is your best resource to learn more. Most of the no code / low code companies have trials available. All of our Ninjas utilize Quick Base University. The best part of no code / low code is that the barriers to entry are small and anyone can try it.

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