A new category of mobile software developers is coming, and, surprise, they're not actually developers. Thanks to a growing number of low-code development platforms, nearly anyone with some enthusiasm and patience can build mobile and web applications today. And they can do it quickly.
These new tools essentially do the hard work developers had to do -- from data management and integration to visual configuration of business logic tools, built-in rules for development and delivery, and emphasis on drag-and-drop elements, according to the Forrester Research Wave report, "Low-Code Development Platforms, Q2 2016." This is a way companies can "bring people in to the development organization and rapidly drive innovation and compete with the unicorns," said Robert Stroud, principal analyst for infrastructure and operations professionals at Forrester. With these new platforms, Stroud said so-called citizen developers are for the first time "really able to leverage IT."
And the timing couldn't be better. A worldwide shortage of software developers has made it difficult to hire -- and keep -- talented software pros, while demand for applications has never been higher, particularly in the mobile arena. Demand for mobile apps is expected to see a 21% compound annual growth rate and be worth $101 billion by 2020, according to an "App Annie Forecast Intelligence" report.
So it may indeed be that low-code/no-code development platforms are coming to the rescue. Here's a look at four different scenarios.
Ordinary people. Referring to issues like user interface, data storage and connectivity, Richard Rabins, CEO of low-code platform developer Alpha Software, said, "Mobile software development is fundamentally much harder than desktop development." His customers not only lack the time and money to develop mobile apps natively, but in many cases, they simply can't hire a hot shot mobile developer. "If you're a 23-year-old developer, are you going to go work for a startup or at a large company in Deerborn, Mich.?" he wondered. Instead of software pros, Rabins said most users of his platform are office administrators and people. "They aren't coders, and they're never going to be coders," he said.
Coming together. But that's not necessarily true for all low-code platform companies. Zudy CEO and co-founder Tom Kennedy said his customers often benefit from having a "younger" developer leading the charge. These companies aren't familiar with the pace of low-code development "and this was disrupting their organizations and making them need to change," Kennedy noted. "Really, we're finding we're spending more time on organizational change management" instead of training on the tools. Ideally, Kennedy recommended pairing a developer and businessperson so they can learn from each other, along the lines of what some think of as BizDevOps.
Best of both worlds. Oracle, which first talked about its low-code development offering at Oracle World 2016, had the nontechnical business user in mind with its cloud-based Project Visual Code but created it in a way developers could get into the code easily, said Bill Pataky, vice president of product management for platform as a service, mobile software and developer tools. "We do expect professional developers to use this and augment the applications with back-end systems and other complex integration," he explained, "but at the end of the day, it's a full-spectrum offering. The reality of no code is there, but you do need a development platform broad enough and flexible enough for developers to get into it if they need to."
Broadening horizons. IT departments are definitely "into" low-code development, according to Appian CTO and chief customer officer Mike Beckley. Whether it's a mobile app or just something for internal use, CIOs like the ease and speed low-code development brings, Beckley said. "You now have the ability to delegate work to the business that should be with the business," he explained. Appian just announced add-ons to its platform designed to work specifically with companies concerned about compliance and other operational risks, he reported. Going forward, "if a low-code platform is going to be relevant beyond the citizen developer," he said, "it needs to be open to working with the enterprise and in a DevOps environment."
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