No code, low-code and AI
What does the future hold for the developer profession?
What is no code and low-code?
A no-code platform offers the ability to create an application without writing a single line of code. On a low-code platform, the user can edit part of the source code. At the beginning of the Internet, WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") web development tools were already using low-code principles without using the name. Over time, these tools have been perfected and democratized, allowing a large audience to create websites and mobile applications, manage databases or automate tasks.
Many no-code and low-code tools adopt a “freemium” business model. Basic, small-scale or temporary use is free; advanced, larger scale or long-term use becomes chargeable. This strategy greatly facilitates adoption and is helping this sector grow.
According to a December 2022 study by Gartner, the global developer technology market is expected to reach $26.9 billion in 2023, an increase of 19.6% from 2022. By 2025, 70% of new applications developed by companies will use these technologies, compared to less than 25% in 2020.
A technology with mass appeal
No-code and low-code applications are attractive even in large companies, especially for the digitization of specific business processes.Due to a lack of time and resources, IT departments are sometimes unable to absorb the many application projects requested by the business departments. Either the business must curb its digital ambitions (an impossibility in the post-COVID era) or they must make up for the shortage of IT resources by developing their own micro-applications to meet their specific needs. Thus, the rise of the “citizen developers” —business teams not trained in development, who create programs and applications via no-code.
This does not necessarily mean they are circumventing corporate IT policy. Microsoft's Power Platform, for example, combined with the Office 365 suite, makes it possible to create databases, automate actions or implement predefined artificial intelligence models to analyze text or recognize an object in an image. Yet, even if no-code platforms don’t require developer skills, they often require a solid understanding of usability and user experience, or some database skills.
Business users love the speed and agility that these tools provide when it comes to testing new ways of doing things, but it can be a headache for CIOs. With everyone now able to create systems, it's easy to lose control. Since no-code is here to stay, it is important to define appropriate policies to prevent it from becoming the new “shadow IT.”
To make a lasting difference, IS and business management must agree on appropriate integration, governance, audit and security processes.
How low-code serves developers
No-code platforms show their limit when creating complex applications that require more advanced architecture, reusable assets, well-defined APIs and interoperability. No-code excels in scenarios where the business problem can be solved by a single person (or a very small team) using a single system or application.
In contrast, low-code is a better answer to more ambitious issues. By integrating low-code platforms into their portfolio of services, IT teams can quickly develop a proof of concept or model — in order to test the response to business needs before considering more substantial developments. This has a strong budgetary benefit of course, but also allows developers to focus on how they really add value.
A properly chosen and deployed low-code tool can transform a development team's productivity from less than 1,000 lines of code per developer per month to millions of lines per developer per month. Simple prototypes can be deployed in hours instead of weeks.
Jobs for tomorrow’s developers
No-code and low-code applications can play a major role in optimizing the time of IT teams — but does that mean that we will soon no longer need developers? It’s an age-old question and the answer is clearly, “No.”
These sorts of platforms are not new in the history of software development. New accelerators have regularly emerged, like Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools, open-source libraries, or intelligent Integrated Development Environments (IDEs). In every case, developers persisted — despite the dire predictions of pundits.
Gartner predicts that by 2026, 80% of low code users will be non-IT developers, up from 60% in 2021. If HTML, Java or PHP programmers or security experts still have bright days ahead of them within IS departments, we should see the emergence of hybrid profiles, between technical and business. They will master no and low-code platforms, databases, UX design — and will be able to bring flexibility to both business and IT departments.
The next developer: AI?
In recent years, we have also seen the arrival of co-developers, AI-powered systems that take over some of the developer's work. ChatGPT already knows how to write computer code, which is just as promising for the development of applications as it is worrying should it be applied to spreading malware or ransomware.
Current research in this area is very active, both to support more complex use cases by optimizing the algorithms, and to allow developers to better understand the results and better guide the system. Co-development tools are intended to strengthen IT teams, not to give the entire organization the means to create applications entirely without code. All these platforms and innovations can give the false impression of destabilizing the work of IT teams. But this new ecosystem between AI, platforms and experts, reducing costs and delays is the ideal foundation to accelerate the digital transformation of many companies.