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The low-code/no-code explainer for non-technical people, and the risk and reward of using them

You’re here because you’ve heard about no-code and low-code development platforms and want to understand what they do, and if they’re a fit for your business. You’re also here because you don’t want a dump of jargon and complicated technical speak.

So let’s dive in and look at what low-code/no-code platforms are, who they are right for, and what risks are associated with using them.

What the heck is low-code, no-code anyway?

Simply put, low-code/no-code platforms were created to offer non-developers ways to build apps and tools easily. These platforms are easier than building custom software, so many businesses are experimenting with these platforms to push innovation faster, or deploy a needed tool or fix for a process that needs improvement.

What is low-code?

This method allows users to design and develop applications using tools, visual interfaces, and pre-configured templates of functions. Low-code development simplifies the experience so users can start creating apps quickly with plug-and-play functionality. While most low-code platforms come with templates, they also offer the ability for more technical users to tweak functionality or connect things with some basic scripting. A really simple comparison would be a spreadsheet: They allow you to perform basic functions, and if you are familiar with scripting you can add more functionality.

What is no-code?

No-code platforms are similar to low-code platforms in that they let users create apps using tools, but they don’t require any coding knowledge at all. With no-code development platforms, users will typically drag and drop application components in a visual interface to build functionality.

How does low-code/no-code differ from typical programming?

At Vog, our developers write lines of code to build functionality within the software and apps we create. Writing code requires in-depth knowledge of coding languages (there are many), architecture, user experience, different deployment environments, testing, and deployment process.

Low-code/no-code platforms offer visual interfaces and give users containers of features or processes. The actual code is deployed behind the scenes.

When you should consider using a low-code/no-code platform

Speed, ease of use, affordability, and accessibility are the primary drivers of low-code and no-code platforms. They also democratize access and use of technology by removing the need to hire specialists, and they can boost productivity by allowing more people to build applications for business.

If you’re a small business owner, or a finance or business analyst, or leader who wants an app with basic functionality but you don’t have the programming skills needed to build it, low-code/no-code platforms allow you to get started without technical hurdles. Many also offer user-friendly interfaces that allow users to connect to third-party application program interfaces (APIs).

There are many use cases for low-code/no-code, and we can act as an advisor for your business if you aren’t sure where to start.

If you want to deploy low-code/no-code platforms within your organization, we recommend having control and planning oversight reside within the IT department.

Alternatively (or in addition), your business should document how it is using low-code/no-code platforms, which platforms are being used for specific features or use cases, and keep that information with department heads and managers so the knowledge is distributed.

We’ve found that an internal technical team is best suited to select the low-code/no-code tools that the organization will use, and that team should be tapped with documentation so anyone can pick up and understand what is used and why in the future.

And if things go wrong, the IT team is the most likely to be able to resolve issues.

Another tactic to consider from a risk management perspective is allowing teams to try simple basic low-code/no-code platforms, or basic graphic interface tools to share a prototype internally. That prototype can be used to capture intent, and be handed off to a developer who can advance it with low-code options, or take it out of a ready-made platform and into a custom development environment if the business case makes sense.

Low-code/no-code platforms offer a number of advantages for companies trying to ship innovation, or streamline processes. Like most things in business, it just takes planning and it’s important to assess risks and rewards before starting.

When you should avoid low-code/no-code solutions

While there are a number of benefits of using low-code/no-code platforms, there are also a number of cautions. These are some of the things that can go wrong when using low-code/no-code platforms:

Scalability can be limited

One of the biggest challenges of using low-code/no-code platforms is the app or tool you build may not scale well. It may work for a dozen users, or a hundred users, but if your app takes off or is used in ways it wasn’t designed to, you can run into scalability issues which leads to downtime. That said, low-code/no-code platforms are still fairly early days so we expect scalability to improve over time.

Employees who leave the company take knowledge with them

When employees outside of IT develop apps and then leave your company, it leaves the rest of the team unable to support or update functionality. In software development, coding matters but so does documentation. If non-technical people create apps or tools and the rest of the organization is unaware of how they were designed, what they do, or how to fix them, it creates considerable liability when the designer of that tool or solution leaves the company.

Templates can be restrictive

Many basic low-code/no-code platforms come with templates. More complex use cases don’t often fit within a template someone else created.

In addition, drag-and-drop functionality with beautiful user interfaces make it easy to use these platforms, but that ease of use comes with restrictions:

  • The template may not exactly match your use case
  • The template could be missing features
  • The template might be designed for specific environments that limit use
  • The template hasn’t been thoroughly tested for the scenario you have

In any of these cases, the problem of missing features is exacerbated if your team does not realize it until they are well down the path of creating a tool or app.

It can be a very costly endeavour to have an internal person (or team) build something only to find out at the 11th hour that it’s missing a key feature or something will prevent it from being usable. It’s even more costly if that missing feature can’t be simply coded in, thus requiring a total platform change or code rewrite.

You could be limited in where you take your data

If proprietary rights and IP are important to your business, low-code/no-code solutions likely aren’t a fit. Because the platforms were made by someone else, your business won’t own the source code.

In addition, the low-code/no-code platform will often decide where data resides, how it’s accessed and how portable it is. If you don’t have a say in the architecture, you could face future challenges if you need to move your app to another platform.

Security or compliance concerns

If a low-code/no-code platform were to be hacked, guess what that means for the application that you build on that platform? It’s not a good outcome.

In addition, if you work in an industry that has strict or specific compliance regulations, the way you store data in a low-code/no-code platform or the way it functions can become an issue. Laws differ by region, and so a low-code/no-code platform built in Europe may work great for EU laws, but completely miss critical Canadian regulatory requirements, for example.

Short-term gain can mean long-term financial pain

There are many inexpensive low-code/no-code platforms, and that can be a big draw compared to the cost of hiring a developer. But in many cases the cost to maintain low-code/no-code solutions, or the need to replace them if they don’t age well or scale, can far outweigh the cost of bringing in a developer in the first place.

Still have questions? Get in touch and we can discuss your specific use case and if low-code/no-code is the right fit.