What is No-code

“Software is eating the world”
Marc Andreessen


When entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen famously said, “software is eating the world,” he was referring to how certain emerging innovators like Netflix, Amazon, Pixar, Spotify, and Pandora were quickly transforming whole industries. These disruptive software companies were leveraging the power of software to completely rewire business models, establish new rules for competitive landscapes, and fundamentally change how customers think about consuming goods and services. Think about the societal impact of on-demand video streaming, same-day/next-day package delivery, or anywhere/anytime music streaming. These software pioneers were disrupting and forever changing customer expectations about daily life.

Yet, when we look at today’s business landscape, the impact of software has expanded far beyond Andreessen’s earliest predictions. Now, it’s recognized that software isn’t restricted to a few special disruptive startups — with many firmly believing that every business is a software business. This democratized view is embraced by businesses of all sizes and across all industries and sectors. Organizations, big and small, are using software to enable sweeping digital transformation initiatives. They’ve been able to put software at the heart of their business strategy because of dramatic advances in cloud computing, which has significantly lowered the barriers and costs of adopting software-enabled innovation.

The cloud has enabled an explosion of applications and services, with some predictions estimating that there will soon be as many digital apps and services created with cloud-native approaches as developed in the last 40 years combined. The majority of these new apps will address industry-specific digital transformation scenarios and result in new competitive requirements being defined. This increased appetite for apps takes IT well past its breaking point — it’s just not possible to simply “work harder” and expect IT to deliver independently on these many requests for apps. So, it’s no surprise that the trend toward DIY software development (as discussed in the last chapter) has emerged in response to these demands.

The Journey Toward No-code

In many ways, the trend toward DIY software development began as part of the rapid expansion of Software as a Service (SaaS) over the past decade. The popularity of SaaS is clear within the business function as a way to realize faster access and use of applications. Unlike traditional custom software development, with SaaS, you can instantly and immediately provision software on-demand. Furthermore, it removes the complexity and risk of hosting, managing, and updating your software. That complexity is still there, but it’s now the responsibility of the SaaS provider to take care of these details and ensure the continued reliability of the app. For many businesses, this value proposition is compelling and has led to the rapid explosion of SaaS to address the needs of nearly every business process or industry vertical.

However, while compelling in terms of speed, availability, and maintainability, packaged SaaS may not always be the appropriate answer as your business may not be satisfied with shrink-wrapped, “off-the-shelf ” solutions. To compete, the business function often finds that it needs more highly customized and tailored business processes. In those instances, a SaaS application may be insufficient (just as everyone may not want to live in a cookie- cutter house identical to their neighbors). Every business that deploys SaaS apps will look pretty much the same to their customers, so businesses that are seeking to differentiate themselves are usually focused on finding new sources of technology innovation.

Think of no-code in many ways as offering the “best of both worlds” between SaaS and custom software development. It provides a balanced approach offering the speed and simplicity of SaaS applications but with the ability to customize with many of the same benefits of custom-built software.

Defining No-code

So, what exactly is no-code? Simply put, no-code platforms allow nondevelopers to participate in the application development process through visual drag-and-drop tools. Users can visually compose the forms, workflows, and data needed to build an application without understanding a programming language or having formal software development training. This has the potential to vastly expand the supply of talent by enabling millions of nondevelopers with the ability to address application backlogs. It still requires deep knowledge of the business process or domain as well as the ability to think analytically and logically about problem-solving, but no-code development does not require formal training in software development.

Now, we should acknowledge that it’s a bit of a misnomer to say there’s no code — a lot of code had to be written to build the no-code platform! However, it’s the responsibility of the no-code platform vendor to write and maintain this code and to keep up with the latest trends in innovation. This is much like the responsibility of the SaaS provider to maintain all of the software they host and manage for you “as a service.”

Finally, as we define no-code, it’s important to note that we will focus on using no-code for developing enterprise applications. While the techniques of no-code abstractions can apply to a wide variety of areas — including building marketing websites, setting up e-commerce sites, defining business intelligence (BI)/business analytics dashboards, or training machine learning (ML) models — those types of solutions are not the focus of this Playbook. We’ve focused instead on the use and benefits that no-code provides to meet the application backlog needs of the enterprise. This addresses many of the most common enterprise use cases ranging from back-office applications, customer-facing applications, workflow apps, digital forms, employee collaboration apps, and more.

Benefits of No-code

So, let’s dive into some of the benefits of no-code. As it turns out, there are many reasons to be excited about its use:

Faster to start

As noted earlier, by taking ownership of parts or all of the development, the business can avoid some of the usual delays when waiting for IT development resources to be assigned. This allows projects to be started more quickly.

Faster to finish

Once you’ve started your project, the productivity advantage of visual assembly also results in faster development cycles. In a recent study, some 71% of respondents cited faster app development as one of the major reasons for choosing no-code tools11. No Code Census 2020.

Improved alignment

It’s common for IT to spend months or years working on a development project without realizing that the goals or market conditions may have changed. Shorter development cycles and visual language of no-code development enable easier and continuous collaboration and alignment between the business function and IT.

Increased agility

The business function can also respond to change more readily, whether it be to react to new competition or capture new opportunities in the market. Furthermore, the business function can also pivot its strategy quickly because of the flexibility no-code development provides for ideating innovations. You will have the agility to rapidly introduce new strategies, new products, or new services.

Debunking the No-code Myths

Myth #1 No-code is merely vendor hype and isn’t new

Myth #2 No-code is going to put software developers out of work and reduce software jobs

Myth #3 Low-code and no-code are simply variations of the same approach

Myth #4 No-code will get out of control (promoting shadow it) and should be stopped

Myth #5 No-code is only for simplistic apps, you need software developers for mission-critical apps

Myth #6 No-code projects follow the same approach as traditional software development

Myth #7 No-code projects can’t be Combined with traditional software development

Final Takeaways

If you don’t find innovative ways to leverage software to enable your business processes, you’re at a significant competitive disadvantage against those who will.

There is a lot of hype about no-code development in the industry, but the benefits are real. Understanding the reality of no-code is essential to ensuring successful outcomes and return on investment.

Regardless of the hype, the opportunities that no-code development presents are exciting! Before we dive in, though, let’s discuss some of the essential principles of no-code development that every practitioner should understand.