Speed-to-Value Through Low-code/No-code

Most organisations understand the potential of cloud-computing to increase flexibility and deliver speed-to-value but are prevented from exploiting this potential as quickly as they need to by three things:

  1. Their technical debt and the size of their (digital) backlog
  2. Their continued use, in some cases, of outmoded methods of work
  3. Their inability to hire and retain people with the necessary skills.

Fortunately, the latest generation of low-code/no-code development platforms provide a set of tools to help address these issues by eliminating work and allowing a broader range of people to be involved in tasks that were once deemed outside their skill domain.

To understand the role of low-code/no-code development and how it can unlock value for your business, it’s important first to understand the broader context and trends at play.

The Rise of Cloud Computing

The most fundamental shift is the move away from companies managing their own technology estates towards consuming cloud-based services. This happens, broadly speaking, in three ways:

The first is what is known as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS):

  • This is where the computing resources that used to be found in a company’s datacentre are provided instead by a cloud service provider. These infrastructure services might include processing, storage, networks, firewalls, internet connections, back-up and recovery and other fundamental computing resources. The key point is that companies consume these infrastructure services on a commodity basis and only pay for what they use, scaling up or down as needed.

The second is Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS):

  • This is where the development environments that used to be owned and managed by a company’s IT department are, instead, provided as cloud-based services. This releases software engineers from many of the underlying tasks and frees them up to focus on the value-adding application code itself. Applications can be developed and deployed faster, more consistently and more securely.

The third is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS):

  • This is where the actual applications themselves, including software and data, which used to sit on computers in a company’s datacentre are, instead, provided as a cloud-based service and consumed by organisations via standard API’s. This has many benefits, not least that the software is owned and maintained centrally by the SaaS provider, rather than being deployed on the customer’s own computers with all the version control, maintenance and testing overhead that entails.

These three trends combined are enabling organisations to focus their own scarce resources ever more narrowly on the areas where they can add the most differentiation and value, allowing them to build and deploy new systems faster than ever before.

The Rise of Agile Ways of Working

The other fundamental shift is in the way people work within organisations to build new capabilities and deliver change.

In the past, when it came to developing new technology, companies would start by defining their requirements then pass these to a development team who would build and test the new system against them. This classic “waterfall” approach worked well for relatively simple systems and provided (an illusion of) certainty over scope, cost and timescales.  

However, there were many problems with this approach, not least that requirements were frequently not well enough understood and often changed in-flight, and costs and timescales were frequently underestimated.

The move to more modern, agile ways of working and, indeed the Agile methodology itself, has been driven by the imperative to find a better way to:

  • Increase the pace of change.
  • Embrace a more iterative “test and learn” approach.
  • Empower the business to innovate.

These new ways of working are very much linked to, and enabled by, the shift to cloud-computing. In particular, the speed with which SaaS applications can be accessed lends itself well to rapid, iterative development. For example, a business can stand-up a new sales process very quickly by building it around a SaaS CRM system like Salesforce.

Of course, not every new capability can be instantly enabled in this way and there is often a need to develop some code, for example to integrate with other processes or to develop bespoke elements or deliver a unique and distinctive customer experience. This is where PaaS development environments come into their own.

However, even with PaaS, there is still a great deal of scope to accelerate the application development lifecycle and allow software engineers (and even end users) to build applications faster, more iteratively and more consistently.

This is where low-code/no-code development comes into its own ..

The Rise of Low-code/No-code Development

Low-code/no-code development platforms are the modern incarnation of re-usable code and visual programming languages. They typically provide a visual, graphical user-interface that allows the user, who could be a software engineer or an end-user, to assemble applications from API’s, widgets and other re-usable components.

They facilitate extremely rapid application development and focus time, effort and expertise where it adds the most value – for example, in defining the business logic and the flow and processing of information. And, perhaps most importantly, they vastly increase the range of people who can build applications (as they often require little or no coding skills).

The terms low-code and no-code cover a wide spectrum of platforms ranging from general purpose to highly specialised. Many SaaS applications (e.g. Salesforce and SAP) come with low-code/no-code tools to aid in configuration and integration. And there are low-code/no-code platforms specifically designed to build different types of application (e.g. websites, mobile apps, real-time event-driven applications, robotic process automation etc.).

The distinction between low-code and no-code is one of degree. Essentially, no-code means what it says – no coding is required. Examples of no-code development platforms include some website and mobile app development platforms. However, in practice, even where there is no coding required to build the application, there will still be a need for some professional software engineering skills for deployment and for governance and security.

The real power of low-code/no-code is in the potential to accelerate the agile development of new capabilities, by reducing the time needed for each iteration of the application, and by empowering users to innovate freely and rapidly without taking up valuable software engineering time and resource. It can reduce application development timescales from weeks and months to hours and days!

To bring this to life, I would like to look a little more closely at two examples:

Low-code Example: Vantiq

Vantiq is a low-code platform for development of real time, event driven applications, particularly those involving edge computing. It was developed specifically to handle massive scale processing of real time data from IoT devices.

Typical use-cases include logistics, robotics, asset tracking, field service, digital twins … in fact, anything that requires application logic and data to be distributed to edge-computing platforms.

There are a number of challenges involved in building this type of application, including the need for real time responsiveness, minimal latency, distributed data security, connected and disconnected processing, application deployment to edge devices, scalability and cost implications.

The advantage of using the Vantiq platform is that most of the complexity involved in addressing these challenges has already been handled for you and implemented in the platform. So, you can focus on the application logic itself. This means software engineering teams can develop and iterate these applications rapidly (in weeks rather than months).

Case study: Electric Vehicles Battery Management

New production laws require manufacturers of electric vehicle batteries to take ownership of the whole battery lifecycle, from creation to disposal. One of the goals here is to improve battery longevity. To this end, one manufacturer has deployed edge devices with their batteries, running a Vantiq application, to alert both drivers and the battery manufacturer of any adverse conditions experienced by the batteries.

The advantages of using the Vantiq low-code platform were the edge computing capability, removing the constraint of having to send all the data to the cloud to be processed, and the accelerated development time and ease of deployment, which means new applications can be developed and deployed quickly to the distributed edge devices.

No-code Example: App Rail

App Rail is a no-code development platform for building mobile apps.

It was developed by the leading mobile development company Future Workshops, who have built more than 200 apps for 120 million users, including regulated apps in financial services and health care.

App Rail enables business innovation teams to build high quality, compliant, native mobile apps in days, rather than months, without the need for mobile developers. Because apps can be built and iterated so quickly, it lends itself particularly well to the “test and learn” process that is so critical to innovation and agile development.

The power of App Rail lies in the sheer volume of common components that come out-of-the-box rather than needing to be coded (or re-coded) from scratch every time. The platform encapsulates proven solutions to all the myriad complexities of building native iOS and Android apps for use in enterprise environments.

No-code development is both quicker (hours and days, not weeks and months) and cheaper (a single mobile development team can cost around £0.5m per year).

Case-study: Empowering Employees Through Innovation

One large NHS trust has used App Rail to create the SpeakUp mobile app, which empowers 11,000 employees to raise anonymous concerns about their work environment, with follow-up discussions via in-app messaging.

By using the App Rail no-code platform, the Trust’s innovation team were able to build the app quickly with minimal technical assistance. They were able to focus their time on workshops and ideation sessions, iterating the prototype app on the App Rail platform.

In just a few months, the team went from onboarding with App Rail to prototyping, to development, to internal testing, to pilot and then to full launch.

Conclusion

Cloud-computing, SaaS/PaaS and modern ways of working are the keys to unlocking the value in every organisation’s data and delivering value-at-speed through new capabilities.

However, the biggest challenge faced by CIO’s in accessing these keys is the cost and scarcity of cloud-experienced software engineers.

The most effective way to leverage these scarce resources is to equip them with the best tools for the job – which means low-code/no-code development platforms.

If you would like to learn more about how low-code/no-code can unlock speed-to-value in your organisation, or the specific platforms mentioned in this article, please contact us at innovation@clustre.net

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