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If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. A perfect house at an affordable price, a no-hassle job with top-exec perks and salary, or a diet that says you can eat anything you want and still look like a model. This is the stuff of dreams. So, what if we told you it’s possible to develop a software program, web app, or mobile app for your company without hiring a programmer and without spending weeks or months learning to code yourself? What if there is a tool that requires no coding at all?

Think it’s not possible? Well, you’d be wrong. Read on to find out why.

A brief history of computing languages

Let us set the scene. For all you history lovers out there, we’ll start with a quick summary of the development of … well, development itself. Or, at least, of software development. We won’t get into all the nitty gritty, since for the purposes of this post we’re going to focus on the here and now. But here’s the gist. 

You might be surprised to hear that the 1940s brought about the genesis of computing languages. But, back then, it was extremely complicated and inefficient.

In 1954, IBM came along with FORTRAN (FORMula TRANslator). That brought computer programming to people who worked in technical fields outside of strict computing, for instance mathematicians and scientists. Next up was COBOL (COmmon, Business-Oriented Language), which further opened doors. It spread programming to those even outside of science and math.

The next big breakthrough came in the 1970s with the creation of ‘C’. This was a quantum leap forward, because C was written in English syntax and offered more flexibility. That meant it was possible to use it across multiple applications.

The floodgates open

Since then, several other technologies have attempted to align with human languages to allow for conceptualization sans extreme coding. This includes, for example, fourth-generation languages (4GL), computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools, and early rapid application development (RAD) tools.

Andriy Zhylenko, our own PortaOne CEO, received training himself in SQLWindows during his university days in the mid 1990s. SQLWindows is a type of CASE that promised to make the need for programmers obsolete within a few years. But, 25 years on, that is still definitely NOT the case.

As the proverb goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

And on and on through the years came more and larger attempts at creating a comprehensive computer language. But all fell short, whether that was due to high expectations, not following best practices, or increased security threats.

RAD as a starting point for NCDPs and LCDPs

And so we enter the modern era, in which new RAD tools have come into existence. These tools are, thankfully, learning from – and moving past – their predecessors’ mistakes. 

No-code development platforms (NCDPs) and low-code development platforms (LCDPs) are both instruments of RAD. This method is now favored over the previously preferred Waterfall method, which required reengineering each time a new change or update was needed. That meant lots of strict planning, along with a strict adherence to that plan if you wanted it to actually take effect. RAD, however, allows for the quick release of prototypes and iterations with the use of software and user feedback. It relies on building, demonstrating, and refining in multiple successions, until the desired outcome is established.

RAD became popular in the 1990s and the 2000s because it allowed companies to migrate processes from paper to digital in a more streamlined way. Both platforms have since further simplified the process thanks to cloud-based technologies.

But seriously – what does no code and low code mean?

No-code and low-code are platforms that allow non-experts to create software programs, including web apps, mobile apps, and back-office apps. And all with little or no help from your IT department, and no outsourcing to expert developers.  

Those in the know call the laypeople who create these programs “citizen developers.” Why? Because they can be from a whole host of backgrounds, none of which need to be in software development. Basically, the main components of no-code and low-code possess or employ visual modeling, reusability, monitoring, reporting, robust functionality, and cross-platform accessibility. 

One of the easiest examples to understand is the standard CMS platforms that many use to run their websites, such as WordPress, Wix, or Joomla. These platforms were initially created by a team of experienced software developers. It took months, or in some cases years, to create the original prototypes and then get them off the ground and running. 

But when the final product was ready, the end users – the aforementioned citizen developers – now had the power to create their own websites quickly and easily. Today, users can simply create an account, select a customizable template, and use drag-and-drop or point-and-click functions to design their own unique website. None of these non-technical citizens are writing any lines of code, yet they now have nice-looking, functional websites that they created and launched themselves. And they did it in very little time. 

And here’s another example of how these tools are helping people. Say you have kids at home who need something to do. With a tool like Scratch, a wonderful no-code platform created by the MIT Media Lab, you can let your children create their own video games, animations, and videos, all by themselves. And all with the same premise of drag-and-drop functionality. 

The difference between no-code, low-code, and high-code (custom coding)

Custom coding

While the line between NCDP and LCDP is faint, it does exist. The biggest difference is about who is actually doing the application creation. For no-code, it’s possible for any end user in a given business to use the platform to create a working program. 

In the case of low-code, however, this is a little bit trickier for the true layperson. True, you don’t have to be an experienced developer (or even to be fluent in any particular coding language). But you do need to be able to think like one. 

A recent Gartner survey showed that 66% of LCDP users are professional developers from an enterprise IT department. But, really, anyone who has a basic, high-school level computer science knowledge of algorithms and code and can grasp the fundamental concepts of IT, such as what an API is, will be able to successfully work with a low-code platform. 

So a low-code development platform has two benefits over traditional coding. First, it allows a professional developer to produce significantly more results. And, second, it allows people with basic IT knowledge to create a working application they otherwise would not be able to.

Let’s break it down further. Here’s a closer look of all the differences between no-code, low-code, and high-code tools.

Breaking Down No-Code

Accessible to any end user, no-code means anyone on the team can be an app creator! With core design functions based on a model-driven, declarative approach with a drag and drop interface, a NCDP shortens development time and lowers cost. (Particularly so since citizen developers don’t come with the price tag of trained experts.) No-code also works for all platforms: web, mobile, and cloud.

ProsCons
Virtually no chance of coding errors
Easy updating
Speed and ease of development
Saves on time, money by eliminating need for software developers
Security 
Sustainability
Uses:
  • Digitize processes with cloud-based mobile apps
  • Data capture
  • Workflow
  • Integrate enterprise resource planning tools
Examples:
  • Mailchimp’s all-in-one marketing platform
  • Toy Doctor by Voiceflow’s voice app
  • Turtle by Typeform

The Take-Away from No-Code

NCDPs are a great way to save money and time, because companies are no longer reliant on finding professional software developers to create every last line of code. They can also quickly launch new apps and new versions of an app. Another benefit: no-code can be used across multiple platforms at once, which saves time in building web and mobile versions. It also frees up experienced developers for more important tasks, such as automation and security.

Breaking down Low-Code

Low-code requires someone with basic knowledge of coding languages and/or the processes of coding. The core design is based on hard code used to specify core architecture. Typical development time can range from multiple weeks to a few months. And costs are slightly higher than no-code but considerably less than high-code. Low-code works across multiple platforms including web, mobile and cloud, just as no-code does.

ProsCons
Relatively small chance of coding error
Easy updating;
great for prototyping
Accelerates development 
Reduces need for software developers
Reduces costs of setup, training, deployment, and maintenance
Flexible; allows for future customization
Cuts out need for multi-device software creation (comes standard)
Suitability for large-scale applications
Degree of cost-efficiency
Increase in unsupported 
Uses:
  • Customized applications for a company’s individual needs
  • Rapid creation of working applications
Examples:

The Take-Away from Low-Code

Much like no-code, LCDPs save companies time and money. (Perhaps not quite as much as NCDPs, but considerable compared to traditional, customized coding.) LCDPs work across multiple platforms and are much more flexible when future changes are needed. They also allow businesses to create customized applications at a much more rapid pace than high-code.

Breaking down High-Code

High code requires highly experienced software developers with knowledge of one or more languages. The core design is one based on writing complete programs and apps from scratch. Development time can range from several months to upwards of a year or even more in some instances. Due to the need for expert developers and the time involved, high-code comes with high costs. And, generally, each app is developed for one platform.

ProsCons
Open-ended solutions
Can create apps with high levels of specialized interactivity
Allows you to find and fix bugs
Labor intensive, drawing resources from other projects
Cost intensive
Lengthy process
High chance and likelihood of coding errors
Requires additional development and extensive support
Uses:
  • Highly customizable solution needed
  • In-house platform not requiring collaboration with other (external) apps
Examples:

The Take-Away from High-Code

High, or custom coding, is still the way to go for companies that wish to create highly specialized apps for themselves or their customers. It is much more time, and therefore labor, intensive and requires having experienced developers on staff. However, for specialized activities or in-house solutions, this may be the best solution. If, that is, the company can stay on top of future needs regarding updates and maintenance.

Debating the critiques of low-code and no-code

Debating the critiques of low-code and no-code

If you’re worried that NCDPs and LCDPs could potentially make your apps and websites more vulnerable, that’s understandable. Yes, the products of these tools are built by non-technical users. But companies and their customers can rest assured that they are actually even safer.

In reality, custom code actually runs a higher risk of being a security threat down the road than NCDP products do. That’s because these tools have been created and validated across multiple applications. A no-code solution provides a barrier between the platform and what the end user can actually modify. 

While there’s limited integration with low-code and no-code platforms, this should not lead you to an immediate “no” for either of them. For many companies, the gains significantly outweigh the losses when it comes to a bit of customization. 

This is where low-code can edge out over no-code. Bringing back that earlier CMS example, it’s still possible to make changes. You can hire a software developer to help you customize your template so that it fits what you need and has all of the functionalities that might be missing from the standard-issue one. 

Knock-on effects?

Some also claim that NCDPs and LCDPs will make traditional developers obsolete. The worry there is that this will dry up what has become a growing industry and an excellent career for leagues of professional developers around the world. Estimates by DAXX say that the number of developers worldwide has nearly doubled from 2018 to 2021 – from almost 24 million to 45 million. 

But in truth, this is simply another misunderstood fact. Freeing traditional software developers from all the busywork and maintenance their jobs used to require is only going to increase their value as highly skilled workers. Now, developers can spend their time on improving security, advancing technology, and coming up with more complex and innovative solutions. 

Why it even matters

In fact, one of the largest problems currently weighing on companies large and small is the shortage of experienced developers. And with the variety of programming languages now available, this has only gotten worse. For example, if you task a good Python developer with coding in, say, Java, their performance during the learning period (which may take months, if not years!) will be low, and the code quality will be poor. Plus, it is very likely they will complain, or even hate the process so much that they leave.

What does this all translate to? An even tighter shortage of people who have the very specific skill sets needed to create hundreds or thousands of new or enhanced software applications. 

The challenge for us in maintaining AI leadership is the constant struggle to find and retain talent in this high-demand tech space.
– Jeff Reihl, Chief Technology Officer, LexisNexis

Larger, more established corporations that boast of their longevity are the ones suffering the most from this shortage. Their current workflows are full of outdated and legacy systems that require loads of upkeep and maintenance. Without development and digital transformation, organizations will be left in the dust.

Working process

Pre-COVID, the IDC (International Data Corporation) predicted that total global spending on digital transformation (DX) would reach upwards of $2.3 trillion by 2023 – that alone would have accounted for 50% of all ICT (information and communications technology) spending. Just one year later, in the present COVID-reality universe, the IDC released a report forecasting that DX spending will now reach $6.8 trillion in the same timeframe.

That’s a nearly 300% increase in just one year!

Companies are rushing to transform their internal and external facing systems to increase efficiency, encourage innovation, and decrease costs. Gartner reckons that more than 50% of medium to large enterprises will implement an LCDP as one of their strategic application platforms by 2023. They also estimate that, by 2024, nearly 75% of bigger businesses will be using upward of four low-code development tools. And all created by citizen development initiatives

How PortaOne uses low-code and no-code 

PortaOne recognizes the need for our customers to have more agile, less time-consuming, and easier solutions that work for them, rather than against them. We believe that a key answer to this problem is the implementation of low-code solutions. 

Our customers have been asking us for a tool that will integrate our business solutions with other widely used applications – for example, linking PortaBilling with Quickbooks. In particular, they have asked for an easy-to-use UI for data entry for onboarding new cloud PBX clients. 

We heard that request, and our team reacted. To find out more about how PortaOne has innovated our operations to meet our customers’ demands, stay tuned for our next article. We’re going to highlight how we went about doing exactly that (including the story of how one of our presale engineers became a developer of low-code applications for PortaOne iPaaS using Dell Boomi).

In the meantime, if you’re interested in evaluating your integration needs and getting advice on which integration tool will work the best for you, get in touch with us today. 

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