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No-code/low-code app development evolves from loathed to loved

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Here's why low-code/no-code software development isn't a fad

Developers, meet your new teammates: citizen developers. Here's how low-code/no-code platforms are changing the way companies of all sizes develop software.

Former Major League Baseball player Pete Tucci's custom bat business was about as low-tech as you can get. Each...

order was written on a piece of paper, which followed each bat from station to station until shipment. It worked, unless the paper order got lost. And then, the only way Tucci Lumber Bat Co., based in Norwalk, Conn., knew it hadn't shipped that bat was when an angry phone call came in.

Things needed to change, but founder and CEO Tucci didn't have the time, money or inclination to hire IT staff or teach himself to code. His solution was a low-code/no-code platform from FileMaker -- and, now, lost orders are a thing of the past.

Tucci's low-code, minimalist solution is hardly a one-off. Low-code/no-code platforms are popping up in companies of all sizes and for a wide variety of reasons. Some companies can't hire -- or afford -- software developers, who are in short supply worldwide. Others don't want to wait for IT to get around to their project, or they have business people with good ideas and an eagerness to try something new. No matter the reasons, the so-called citizen developer on a low-code/no-code platform is here, and it's part of a sweeping change in how software is developed.

"We're seeing the citizen developer capable of leveraging IT and going outside of it happening everywhere," said Robert Stroud, a principal analyst for Forrester Research. Not only does Stroud see low-code/no-code platforms allowing business people to extend the reach of popular services like SAP or PeopleSoft, but he said he also envisions a time when these citizen developers will have a role alongside "real" developers. "It's all about business driving the tech agenda more and more," he said. "In a BizDevOps world, we're going to see devs and low-code people next to each other, and business people continuing to push forward with products that add value directly to the bottom line."

And it's not like there will be a gradual transition, either. "Business will want you to continue to change, and the amount of time they give you will continue to shrink," said Mike Hughes, director of product marketing at low-code/no-code platform developer OutSystems, based in Atlanta, during a recent webinar. And that's the reason low code/no code is gaining traction.

In his webinar, Hughes gave an example of two OutSystems customers with substantial low-code/no-code ROI. The first, Ricoh Systems in Singapore, needed a faster mobile and web app delivery process. The company had a 253% return on investment using the OutSystems platform, he said. The second customer, Worcestershire County Council, needed a way to deliver services to its constituents quickly and inexpensively. The group reported a 442% ROI and said they were able to share the apps they had developed with other county council groups in England, Hughes explained. "This is a way organizations can transform their businesses fast," he said. 

Tucci, who played for the Mets, Padres and Blue Jays, would certainly agree with that. He needed a system that would accommodate the many options for customization the company offers, but that wasn't too complex or offered unnecessary features. Unable to find a commercial fit, FileMaker offered the option to create exactly what Tucci Lumber Bat needed. "With FileMaker, everything is customizable and it's kind of like this living, breathing thing that we can constantly tweak or change as our needs change," he said. And it's simple enough that Tucci, not a coder, can make tweaks or changes himself. Now, each station in the bat-making process is outfitted with an iPad, and tracking the process and the progress is seamless. "This really did streamline the back end of our manufacturing process," Tucci said.

At the end of the day, what's driving low-code/no-code platforms is the immense need business people have to solve problems quickly, said Ann Monroe, vice president of worldwide marketing for FileMaker. "It's easy to use, but you have to have a vision in mind," she said. "The people who are successful with FileMaker have a plan in mind of the problem they're trying to solve, and that's really the hardest part."

Next Steps

Where is DevOps 2.0 going to take you?

Why low code/no code isn't going away

The lowdown on low-code dev tools

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Essential Guide

No-code/low-code app development evolves from loathed to loved

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How would citizen developers fit into your development organization?
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That is an easy one, they don't fit.  This isn't new, Access has been used in these ways many, many times.  I was the IT Manager of a company with 2 locations/systems due to us buying our most important vendor.  They had no programmers at the 2nd location, and users built systems in Access.  The biggest hurdle was they didn't talk to the other systems.  The owners of these databases would sit in meetings and fight over who's reports were right, and in the end - we would prove they were all wrong and the core system was right.  It is much more helpful to have developers who know how to integrate or extend your core applications then to have tons of stove pipe silos of information that are not correct.  It is really a silly question to anyhow who has seen it.  But in the case of a company with a paper system, this no-code system was their core application - for very simple businesses, it works.  I am the President of the Home Owners Association where I live and I used Access to build a descent system to track payments and Accounts Receivable.

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I work for a bank, and there is no place for amateur developers. These are not systems, they are applications which suit a purpose. However, important customer data should not be held in FileMaker, Access, Excel or other similar products. What about resilience, data protection, and interfaces to other systems? All the important factors that the IT department will consider.
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