What happens when businesspeople start to build no-code workflow innovations?

Profile picture for user Chris Pope By Chris Pope July 22, 2019
Summary:
Chris Pope, VP Innovation at ServiceNow, explains how no-code software can help evolve and improve the DNA of all the software used by an enterprise.

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Software application developers come in many shapes and sizes. Some are hard-core programmers who like to keep their nose in the code 24x7. Some are more focused on systems architecture and integration. Others are slightly less technical and have special skills in project management and team workflow issues. But they are all about to be impacted by the development of low-code environments. 

Despite the growth of ubiquitous mobile and the birth of cloud computing, we have come to know a core group of professionals in this space. Most of the developer world’s social cohorts have remained relatively unchanged over the last couple of decades, if not longer. 

That standard is about to change. As noted above, one of the new factors driving this evolution is the emergence of low-code and no-code software. New platforms are being built to ‘abstract away’ some of the algorithmic logic and compute functions that would have previously taken low-level ‘command line’ coding.

Low-code vs. no-code

But let’s first distinguish between low-code and no-code software.

Low-code still requires coding and so is meant to provide a means of shortcutting common functions that a developer might need to create many times over. Why would you develop a calculator or a currency exchange tool (for want of two basic examples) every time you build an app? These are the kinds of functions that can be boxed up and tweaked with some minimal level of custom alignment where necessary.

Low-code platforms are already evolving rapidly and we are seeing use cases for specific Line of Business (LoB) functions now being increasingly codified, ‘templated’ and refined.

Essentially then, low-code is still meant for developers.

No-code, on the other hand, does what it says on the tin, i.e. it offers a means of creating software without needing to touch the code. No-code tools are often presented with drag-and-drop visual interfaces for users to simply pull around, so that the software functions the way they want it to.

If a user has a spreadsheet, then he or she can ‘point’ no-code software at it so that it becomes the source of data. From there the user can build an application that has digital workflow functions and the range of options and outputs required for the business use case in hand.

No-code can be used by developers for experimentation purposes and some shortcutting, but it is essentially meant for commercial businesspeople, analysts, consultants and other non-technical staff… if perhaps not quite for your grandparent. 

Productivity booster

If we look at how employees use productivity apps, this is where the benefit of low-code and no-code really comes into play. We can take all the unstructured data in the business, like email, voice recordings and more, and bring them all together with dashboards to present new levels of insight which were previously not achievable.

No-code tools can also be used by businesspeople to create forms-based applications that will gather new information streams from the business.

Suddenly we start to get more information about business workflows in a captured, managed and monitored way. This in turn helps the hard-core developer function know more about the operational data needs of the business.

Virtuous circles

A virtuous circle starts to develop where low-code and no-code actually help refine and evolve the DNA of all the software code in the business. Businesspeople can start to create one central portal for all services, be it for on-boarding, ordering stationery, booking training or vacations, and more. The next cycle of applications coming out of the IT department can tap into these efficiencies and a further level of productivity is achieved.

Software built in no-code (and some low-code) environments will typically be ring-fenced in order to ensure that the apps work independently of an organisation’s central IT stack. Once the data housed in no-code apps is proven, it can be integrated into central database repositories as and when needed.

Although there is that segmentation through ring-fencing in no-code (and some low-code), the apps themselves will be automatically upgraded when the platform goes through an upgrade.

New features might include enhanced mobile optimisation, sophisticated language translation services and augmentations that take the apps closer to the emerging advantages of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and connections to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Win-win situation

The benefits of both no-code and low-code software are manifold. Users get more of what they want, developers get potentially fewer ‘requirements’ requests from the business function (something they traditionally dread) and the business itself attains a higher level of digital workflows built upon a richer information feed that the no-coders have helped drive.

If we engineer more low-code intelligence into our applications using building blocks and business logic that has been proven to work in other work environments, then system security is also improved. This is because we are moving specialist functions to the core of the IT stack so that identity and access controls are compartmentalised. This means we are able to increase consistency and security as a direct result.

A 'shift left'

This movement is a classic case of ‘shift left’ development; that is of back office skills being brought forward to less technical employees so that they learn to problem-solve and answer more difficult questions for themselves.

The final virtuous circle is created when businesspeople start to share digital workflow innovations that they have helped create with other businesspeople. Application data can be appropriately anonymised so that one use case can be used as reference architecture for another use case, perhaps in another company.

It’s almost as if the open source community contribution model has stepped out of the techie’s domain and become a common practice among the business function. In areas such as employee safety, wellbeing and inclusivity, this kind of free exchange of thought could make all the difference.

Low-code and no-code software can help evolve and improve the DNA of all the software we use at every level, and that has to be an evolutionary step forward.

ServiceNow will offer its Guided App Creator low-code software as part of the forthcoming New York release of the Now Platform.