In the truest sense of the term, “no-code” simply refers to platforms that completely eliminate the need for businesses to perform programming – even writing a single line of code – to build and maintain the enterprise applications that comprise their information management systems.
No-code systems enable users to create applications without direct use or knowledge of any programming language or underlying technologies like database design. These systems provide simple tools that allow users to compose applications by defining and connecting data items and data tables to software design elements like input fields and information dashboards. No-code systems are usually cloud-based and are deployed using a SaaS model.
One way to think about no-code systems is to substitute the term ‘coding’ for ‘code’ in the moniker. Under this idea, ‘no-coding’ systems transfer responsibility for application customization – the reason for most coding performed by business – from the enterprise to the platform vendor. Coding is obviously necessary for vendors to develop and deploy no-code platforms, but coding is never required for enterprise end users to build or modify applications using a no-code system.
When properly engineered, comprehensive no-code application development is incredibly powerful. One of the most important benefits of these systems is removing some of the burden of application development from IT teams and opening the process to other members of the organization. A well-designed no-code system lets subject matter experts, empowered as citizen developers, quickly define, and combine application elements to produce applications tailored to the needs of their business. The IT team is often still involved, but with much less responsibility for ensuring code integrity. No-code applications can be quickly revised at any time by subject matter experts as business needs evolve. With application development no longer solely dependent on IT teams, applications can be developed and maintained more easily, and IT resources can be redeployed to address larger, more complex business challenges.
Writing code, in any quantity, is problematic, costly, and risky, for any private or public organization. The rapid adoption of no-code development platforms has been driven by several business outcomes that lower barriers to innovation, reduce risk and costs, and increase agility. True enterprise no-code platforms offer many advantages over traditional and low-code software by enabling organizations to:
Achieve sustainable customization
Because enterprise systems are so complex, it is accepted that virtually all business must customize their enterprise applications to some degree. This has always presented an inherent and natural conflict when enterprise applications are selected and deployed.
Vendors of enterprise applications typically deliver solutions around a common denominator that they believe is optimized for an industry or business category. Yet, every business is different, and applications must be customized to align operations to the differentiators that drive competitive advantages.
While necessary, application customization has been a burden on the business because it creates friction between operations and IT functions that may have different ideas of how to solve a problem or what is a priority. And it is expensive. Complex customizations often involve a large number of IT staff, management, and consultants who must be engaged over development cycles that can last weeks or months.
To make matters worse, once customizations are complete, businesses are just waiting for the upgrade shoe to drop. When the base out-of-the-box software is updated or upgraded, customizations are often impacted and, in some cases, can stop working altogether. This leaves the business in a precarious position where they are forced to choose between upgrading, which requires a sizable added investment to rework their customizations, or maintaining the status quo and continuing to use older, often cumbersome solutions. Neither is ideal.
With a true no-code applications platform, businesses are no longer forced to choose. By removing the coding requirements for customizations, applications customized using no-code platforms are not affected by upgrades to the base software. In this sense, customizations become ‘sustainable’ because they can be sustained across upgrade cycles to the base software without needing to be reworked. Customizations move forward regardless of any changes in programming languages or other technologies used by the base software.
The practice of sustainable customization represents a major shift in how companies will conceive of and invest in their enterprise systems in the future. As described below, this leads to several other favorable business outcomes.
Eliminate technical debt
Coined more than 30 years ago, the term technical debt refers to the cost incurred for implementing and later correcting outdated or poor-quality code in common core business systems like ERP, HCM, CRM, MRP, PSA, and others. The reasons organizations accumulate technical debt are many, but the result is always the same: increased cost and risk exposure. Two things that most organizations want to minimize.
In almost all cases, tech debt is both an intentional and an unintended consequence of enterprise application customization. Code (including code for application customization) is often developed and shipped in a less-than-perfect state to increase speed to market. This intentional shortfall creates ‘debt’ that may be acceptable in the short term if the code is promptly made whole. However, most organizations lack the diligence to consolidate or ‘repay’ the debt in every instance. Over time, the debt compounds, and the consequences surface in the form of crippling management costs and/or technological obscurity that can severely limit or even halt an application’s functionality. This is the unintended consequence of taking on technical debt.
True no-code platforms eliminate technical debt for enterprises by transferring the responsibility for coding to the platform developer. No-code platforms allow companies to quickly compose custom applications, workflows, and reports without ever having to produce a line of code, so technical debt is never produced.
It is important to note that some vendors purport to offer no-code platforms but provide ‘trap doors’ that enable end users to modify code. In those cases, the platforms are no-code in name only. No matter how little code is written, it still has dependencies on one or more programming languages that require specific experience and skillsets to modify. That is how technical debt creeps in. Custom code, in any quantity, is problematic, costly, and risky for any organization.
From another perspective, when alternatives like enterprise no-coding platforms are available, coding parallels the common hole-digging analogy: “When in a hole, stop digging.” Along with a seemingly endless list of coding resources and maintenance issues, too many enterprises continue to dig deeper by writing code for enterprise applications which creates an ever-deeper hole of technical debt. It is a viscous cycle for too many companies yet a persistent issue that is solvable with a no-code approach.
Sidestep talent scarcity
From an organizational point of view, no-code platforms offer a way for companies to overcome difficulties associated with hiring skilled people to perform customizations – either as direct IT employees or as technical consultants. As explained above, organizations are being crushed by technical debt and every line of code written for enterprise applications contributes to the problem. The type of highly skilled software engineers required to maintain custom code are in short supply and expensive to engage.
In another twist, there is an endless boneyard of dead and dying programming languages (think COBOL, RPG, and FORTRAN) that have been around for decades and are still used in business applications. With very few people being trained in those languages today, the skilled talent pool available to modify legacy code is dwindling which drives up resource costs, creates uncertainty, and increases risk. This will continue to be an issue for legacy systems until those languages are extinct.
Democratize software development
One of the most attractive aspects of no-code development is the potential to democratize software development. Democratization is accomplished when organizations engage ‘citizen developers’ – select ‘non-IT’ subject matter experts within a company – to compose applications using relatively simple tools on low-code and no-code platforms. The IT team is often still involved, but with much less responsibility for ensuring code integrity. No-code applications can be quickly revised at any time by citizen developers as business needs evolve.
By shifting the burden of application development from the sole responsibility of programming teams to be shared across functions, no-code platforms enable organizations to reallocate resources to maximize the value of IT teams that are perpetually balancing the care of enterprise applications with a wide range of other demands. As citizen developers become more engaged in application development, the business is poised to convert business knowledge and expertise more easily into competitive differentiators that the entire enterprise can leverage. This slashes development time, reduces cost, and can improve quality because citizen developers are typically better equipped to define business problems that can be difficult to effectively impart to IT teams. Nothing is lost in translation.
Free from low-level programming associated with the maintenance and repair of enterprise applications such as fixing logic errors, overcoming bugs, setting up dashboards, and crafting report formats, IT professionals can turn their attention to other types of critical projects facing the organization including the ever-increasing internal and external security issues like staying ahead of cybersecurity threats, the onslaught of spam, aggressive ransomware attempts, and data privacy laws. With fewer resources required to manage the enterprise systems, IT teams can focus on higher-value tasks – even as the definition of “critical” changes and evolves.
Changing the application development model can rightfully raise questions from organizations that have long-standing processes in place. By definition, the enterprise applications that run an enterprise are mission-critical. If they break or fail, there can be significant consequences to the operations. Businesses can be confident in the output quality because no-code platforms enable citizen developers to add business logic, establish workflows, and generate dashboards and reports that all work together as final enterprise applications, just as IT teams do. The application construction process includes automatic testing and verification coupled with self-documentation to ensure quality. All without a single line of code. And without any dependency on any programming language.
At some point, every company needs to ask themselves questions like What is more important for a limited resource IT team – working on enhancing cybersecurity defenses to protect the entire organization or designing and deploying the new month-end close report? No-code platforms hold the potential for ending that debate by bringing citizen developers in to improve business processes while IT teams focus on more technical and critical tasks.
Future-proof Enterprise Capabilities
From an operational perspective, both low-code and no-code platforms provide new ways for businesses to increase agility, lower barriers to innovation, and accelerate digital transformation. They both facilitate faster and cheaper application development, reduce system maintenance costs, and enable rapid prototyping of new ideas, products, and services.
However, there is a hard divide between no-code and low-code methods when it comes to future-proofing core enterprise systems. Because low-code approaches always have an open door to low-level programming languages by definition, those solutions are never going to be immune to the effects of compounding technical debt and the risk of technical obsolescence. In low-code environments, customization is a dirty word that will jeopardize enterprise systems at some point in the future.
True no-code platforms, on the other hand, encourage customization that is sustainable over the long term. The most successful of these platforms separate the applications and all customizations from the underlying technology. This simple but profound shift completely changes the way applications are delivered and maintained over time. If technology changes or a language dies off, the platform can easily be updated or recompiled without impacting the applications themselves. In this way, no-code platforms protect the investments organizations make to customize their enterprise systems and remove the risk of technical obsolescence. This is what it means to be future-proof.
No, low-code and no-code are not the same things. Despite often-used terminology such as “low-code/no-code,” “LC/NC,” and “LCNC” that bonds the two methods together in the vernacular, developing enterprise applications using a low-code approach is not the same as working with no-code systems. Writing any code for a business application – even one line – is a low-code activity. Only systems that do not allow any programming by the enterprise can be considered true no-code platforms. This creates a simple and clear distinction between the two approaches: either coding is allowed or is not allowed. There are no shades of grey to consider.
The tendency to lump low-code and no-code terms together and use them interchangeably has created confusion in the minds of many who are trying to understand how their operations can benefit from these approaches. To make matters worse, most platforms that claim to be no-code leave a ‘trap door’ available to their customers that allows programming. This is not no-code. In essence, those are actually low-code tools that evolved to include a crutch or bandage to resolve deficiencies inherent in an incomplete no-code solution.
With this in mind, it is important to acknowledge the sizeable shift no-code represents. Businesses must adapt to the no-code paradigm by being creative in how applications are composed using no-code tools and not relying solely on internal definitions to drive development direction.
Organizations looking for a true no-code solution that delivers all the advantages of low-code options but without ever allowing technical debt to accrue, then the only solutions to consider are those that meet the simple definition above. No code means zero coding by the enterprise. Ever. No code does not mean low coding.
Yes. Despite the fact that modern no-code solutions have the proven capability to produce enterprise-grade applications, one of the often-misrepresented aspects of no-code platforms is that they are limited in their capability and can’t satisfy the needs of large, complex organizations. This notion is false and is a relic of early and incomplete low-code and no-code attempts. In fact, no-code platforms include options for assigning business logic, integrating other applications and data sources, adding process workflow, and generating analytics and reports – all key capabilities of core enterprise systems.
But it’s easy to understand why the notion persists. Most companies have made substantial investments in business system customization for years or decades and may find it hard to understand how they can integrate the specific, granular requirements of their operations without writing code.
To address this discrepancy, it is important to agree on what enterprise-grade applications are. In a nutshell, enterprise-grade applications can be defined by five key characteristics:
To be effective, no-code platforms must be able to develop applications that meet all of these basic requirements without fail and embrace important constructs involving security, workflow, and reporting. They should also be able to easily leverage all the components that make up any application, like data items, database tables, user interface, and application logic all tied to enterprise-grade capabilities.
Much of this capability is determined from the very beginning. When no-code development systems are designed and deployed from an enterprise perspective from the ground up, they deliver applications that can be used across organizations of every size. This approach requires a no-code system to embrace robust, comprehensive, and proactive enterprise security complete with features like segregation of duties and database table access rules, capabilities to integrate easily with other solutions using modern technologies like REST APIs, enable defined and secure workflows throughout a business, and easily scale up and down as workloads ebb and flow dramatically sand unexpectedly. Simultaneously, as no-code applications collect enterprise data, end users also need real-time capabilities to generate dashboards and reports based on roles and responsibilities tied to enterprise-defined and controlled access security.
This enterprise perspective is often missing from no-code systems which is another reason why coding is required to fill gaps and holes in poorly designed enterprise applications development tools. The lack of a comprehensive enterprise foundation is often why no-code systems are perceived as being limited for enterprise applications and sometimes unfortunately derided as toys for non-IT professionals.
No, it does not eliminate the need for IT professionals. No-code systems free IT professionals from having to engage in monotonous, low-level programming activities associated with maintaining legacy software systems and allow them to engage in more critical enterprise projects like addressing internal and external security issues and staying ahead of cybersecurity threats.
Nextworld was built from the ground up specifically to provide a true no-code enterprise applications platform that supports continuous innovation and provides a clear path to achieving digital transformation goals. Unlike many other cloud SasS platforms, our underlying code is not based on legacy technology. Nextworld was architected from scratch and designed specifically to facilitate cloud-native no-code application development without needing to completely rip and replace your current system – and without coding and without ever being version-locked.