5 Low Code Technologies and the promise of Citizen Developers

Low Code / No Code makes software technology accessible to people with limited or no technical knowledge aka Citizen developers
diego navia digital operations

By Diego A. Navia

Low Code / No Code is driven by a simple idea: software technology increasingly accessible to people with limited or no technical knowledge

Idea is not new, options are

For decades, companies worldwide have adopted software to automate and streamline operations. What started as a focused effort to automate repetitive back-office tasks, now permeates all areas of an enterprise and has become critical to delivering agile customer responses and enterprise value. In this context, Low Code No Code emerged as key terms behind a simple idea: making software technology solutions increasingly accessible to people with limited or no technical knowledge -also called Citizen developers these days by the likes of Gartner and Forrester.

This concept is far from new and has been almost an obsession for decades. Starting in the 90’s, tools like Visual Basic Macros in Excel or Microsoft Access provided automation, data manipulation and powerful insights at the user workstation. On the enterprise/server side, Case tools for mid to large servers as well as Workflow tools were used to generate custom code and applications empowering users with limited coding knowledge

The irruption of Enterprise Software (ERP) in the 1970’s, provided by companies like SAP, Oracle, Peoplesoft and Siebel enabled the largest corporations, running costly mainframes, to migrate and run standard software across the enterprise. The modern version of this software today runs in cloud software environments, becoming both accessible and cost-effective for very small organizations. This type of software introduced the idea of configuration and common data architectures.

Super-Users evolved

ERP Software enabled so-called super users, individuals that went through training to adjust parameters so a piece of standard software could execute different types of processes for different companies (i.e. two-way vs three-way invoice match, tax jurisdiction codes, etc) without knowing anything about coding. This saw AP clerks, accountants, Warehouse operators, Sales administrators and others become expert configurators defining how an organization would run, without ever touching a line of code. Of course, behind the scenes much more had to be done to ensure these individuals could do their job insulated from technical details and data handoff complexities.

5 Types of Low Code/ No Code Technology

 

These days, the market for Low code applications has exploded and while new to most, it tends to be associated with the ability to develop custom applications without the need to know coding or have any technical background. However, the options are even broader. This is why it is important to consider the different tiers of software included under the Low Code/ No Code umbrella, all of which target non-technical users developing/using software for business purposes. These are five tiers likely to expand,with separation lines likely to blur, number of players likely to increase, consolidation likely to occur and business volume likely to explode. They include:

Configurable End-to-End Applications: Cloud ERP’s

This complex software includes “standard” code that automates and integrates most functional areas of an enterprise (e.g. Finance, HR, Sales, Analytics, Payroll, Production) sharing a common data model, technical architecture and development tools. While coding is possible and required most of the time, the key characteristic of this software is you pick the functionality you need and configure logic without coding. Key players include SAP, Salesforce, Oracle, Workday, Zoho, etc.

Technically, software offerings have evolved from development in proprietary languages (i.e. ABAP) running on expensive mainframes, to 3-tier client-server architectures to in-memory processing. Along the way, each of the key players has acquired numerous competitors (i.e. Oracle buying Peoplesoft, Ariba and Siebel) consolidating a more robust product or simply “buying market share”; this is also happening right now in hot areas such as Analytics, AI and RPA (i.e. SAP with Qualtrics and contextor RPA, ServiceNow with Passage AI,  Workday with Skipflag ML).

Process Automation: RPA/ IPA

This software category provides a graphical user interface and runtime servers that allow business people to automate processes currently performed manually by an employee (i.e. re-typing email content into a spreadsheet, keying spreadsheet data into an enterprise system; scanning physical documents, digitizing the data and input invoices, payments or any other piece of info into an enterprise system. 

There are several sub-segments in this space including automating/ mimicking onscreen cursor movements, digitizing documents, connecting data across apps via screen scrapping etc. Key players in this area include Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Kofax, Pega, etc. Some of these players have incorporated Ai given the hype in the market and are trying to build end-to-end platforms with pre-built bots that can be built and sold across organizations.

This Segment of the market includes numerous entrants as well as a never ending set of acronyms that have evolved over time as each vendor tries to gain more market share and communicate to the market an ever-increasing value proposition, with mixed results. Enter Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Intelligent Automation (IA), Hyper-automation, to name just a few. Given the relative ease to develop tools in this space, offerings are growing, including several open source projects. This market is likely to consolidate which is why many late entrants with strong market positions: SAP, Microsoft Power Automate, Oracle, etc are well positioned to corner the market. 

Custom Applications: LowCode/ NoCode platforms, including BPM

These software suites typically provide a graphical user interface that allows users to model processes in a graphical workflow, adding data fields, roles, validations, etc. while the software manages the generation of screens and data architecture in the background. For decades, most players in this category (e.g. Appian, Pegasystems, Bizagi, IBM BPM, Microsoft PowerApps) scaled by developing custom enterprise apps not provided by traditional ERP’s. Recently some of them (i.e. Pega) have aligned themselves with RPA while others (i.e. Appian) are riding the low code wave.

These traditional players have seen a new wave of low code platforms entrants (e.g. Bubble, Appsheet, Ionic, WordPress ecosystem ) focused on startup founders wanting to build MVP’s and full-fledged companies without hiring large groups of technical staff -many of them mobile-first. They are also competing with similar tools provided by Cloud-based ERP vendors such as Salesforce, Oracle, ServiceNow, Zoho, that leverage their technical architecture to compete in this space

Data connectors: API's

Wouldn’t it be great if you typed information just once and it will then disseminate to all the places it needs to go without further action or data manipulation? let’s say you want to write a document in Word and post directly to your blog without knowing WordPress, or you you built a worksheet in Excel you want to share in Slack without logging in, not to mention creating an invoice that goes to a vendor AP system, your own data lake, a banking system of open PO’s, an audit function, etc. 

This challenge has traditionally been tackled “throwing people at the problem” to re-enter and massage data, while also creating endless “versions of the truth” – and discussions to reconcile them. It has also been tackled via custom built software interfaces that require deep technical skill and are too static for the world we live in. 

Taking advantage of a world converging around standard software, companies like Zappier and Workato, have built graphical user interfaces and signed up thousands of companies so they can make it easy to transfer data across systems with little or no coding, leveraging API’s. While the focus today is connecting hundreds of end-user applications, much can be achieved by connecting commerce and commercial grade enterprise applications and the companies behind them.

Insights: Analytics and BI Platforms

Getting insights to drive action has historically been complex, having to combine databases, statistical models, predictive models, statistical visualization packages, custom built dashboards, etc. Combining all of these to render timely, visually appealing insights required programmers, DBA’s, statisticians, web designers, etc.

Enter companies like Tableau, Qlik and next generation products from incumbents like Microsoft (i.e. Power BI), MicrosStrategy, Oracle and SAP. These powerful tools allow end users to build visually appealing dashboards, connect and clean disperse data, provide drill-down real-time data analysis, layer statistical models and share across an organization with a single powerful, subscription-based tool that drastically reduces the need for technical knowledge.

Of course there is a broad set of offerings to make life easier for developers by combining existing AI, ML and other standard open source libraries provided by the likes of Google and Microsoft, for those that know Python basics. This processing combined with standard charting libraries such as chart.js, plotly, d3.js create powerful alternatives for those moderately fluent on programming. All of this enabled by cheap and interoperable hardware hosting and a strong developer ecosystem around GIT.

Moving Forward

Learn more about enterprise digitization, unlocking Enterprise Value and the role Low Code/ No Code technologies play in the big transformation picture and its journey, by exploring Digitixe.com or simply contact us.

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