No-Code 101: Everything You Need To Know About The No-Code Movement
February 11, 2023
December 9, 2021
Welcome to the world of no-code. We’re glad you’re here.
What are no-code tools?
No-code tools are platforms that allow users to build applications and workflow solutions without having to write code. They tend to be drag-and-drop, integrated, and visually intuitive. They’re being used to more seamlessly automate processes, reduce the custodial burden on IT teams, and facilitate citizen development. It’s software that’s accessible by and valuable for non-technical personnel—these are the folks no-code turns into “citizen developers.”
They also have the potential to revolutionize both the way we work and the way we leverage software to solve problems.
Consider: fewer than 0.5% of people alive today know how to code. That means that only 0.5% of people know how to use the most powerful change-making tool mankind has ever made. No-code seeks to expand the number of people who are able to leverage software’s change-making power. In time, it’s possible that no-code platforms will empower every person inspired to be technically creative with the ability to be technically creative. It could change everything.
But for all of no-code’s recognized potential, about the technology, there still swirl veritable storms of misinformation. Ask any 10 people about what purpose no-code serves, how it’s best used, what it is—and is not—capable of, and you’re liable to get 10 different answers.
Further, there exist many different kinds of no-code tools and no-code platform providers. A monolithic technology category no-code is not.
Where, then, are readers who want to learn the truth about no-code software to start?
That’s why we’re here. At Tonkean, we believe sincerely in this technology’s transformative potential. We’re versed in the history of the no-code movement. And we know the ins and outs of implementation—that there’s a wrong way to go about introducing no-code technology into your operations, and a right way.
We’ve written extensively about all this, and given how no-code only continues to explode in popularity, we wanted to compile everything we know and have to offer about the technology—its history, instructions for implementation, and where no-code fits into larger technology movements, such as the shift towards the Composable Enterprise—in one place.
Here is everything you need to know about no-code.
The first major misconception about no-code that needs to be debunked is that it’s the same thing as low-code. Now, both no-code and low-code solutions will play big roles in manifesting a better, more effective future of work. They both have roles to play in manifesting the composable enterprise. But there’s real risk in combining low-code technology and no-code technology into the same catch-all term — implying they’re functionally equivalent.
Simply put, low-code solutions and no-code solutions are very much not the same things.
To start, using low-code platforms effectively still requires a significant amount of technical firepower. In any organization, to benefit from low-code application builders, for example, you’ll need lots of IT support, both in training, implementation, and troubleshooting. If you’re not an engineer, to either build an app using a low-code app builder or to make more significant changes to such an app, you’ll need to jump through the same hoops — reaching out to IT or to an internal developer, waiting for the problem to be addressed, undergoing intensive training yourself — as when you need help using or fixing any other intricate piece of technology.
No-code software, on the other hand, is software that’s actually accessible by and valuable for non-technical personnel. To use them to create value, users don’t need to know how to write code.
We break down the differences between the two technologies—along with how each should be used in accordance with those differences—here.
History of no-code
Low-code/no-code is everywhere today. The market for it is projected to hit $45.5 billion by 2025. But how did we get here? It’s a familiar story, really. The history of no-code is the history, in a way, of computer accessibility. Speaking at the Gartner IT Symposium earlier this week, Gartner analyst Milind Govekar told the assembled that he believes application development is moving to “low code or no code” in general—and that, come 2025, most internal business applications will be developed via low-code or no-code builders by the people who use them.
But how did we get here?
Turns out, the history of the no-code movement runs parallel, in many ways, to the history of programming more generally.
Though it may not seem that way, the science of software development has always revolved around this effort of trying to make computers easier to use. Every new generation of programming language has worked to this end: assembly language replaced machine code, then more high-level programming languages replaced assembly code.
The history of no-code is the history, in this sense, of computer accessibility.
We break down every chapter in the ongoing story of the push towards true no-code—from spreadsheets to Mailchimp to Tonkean—here.
The true value of no-code
Enterprises all over the world are embracing these tools. 95% of businesses surveyed by Tonkean say they have already adopted or will soon adopt no-code or low-code platforms.
Why is this?
There are a few reasons. For one thing, no-code enables non-technical business users to create software solutions and automate workflows through visual interfaces, instead of via traditional means—such as relying on IT to code such tools for them—increasing the pie of who can be hands on in delivering software. And by enabling non-developers to build and manage their own software solutions, no-code not only increases the innovative and productive capacity of non-developers, but helps IT scale, in that it allows IT to spend less time building and maintaining tactical solutions, and more time focusing on higher-level, strategic priorities.
Speaking of IT, as hinted at above, no-code is not merely a tool for non developers. It provides arguably even more value to IT.
Now, IT tends to be skeptical of no-code, and for fully legitimate reasons.
Outside of the fact that some IT professionals see no-code initiatives as but thinly veiled, shortsighted attempts to replace enterprise developers, enterprise no-code deployments can create more hidden costs than the promised value. Sometimes business teams use this tech to go “behind IT’s back,” which creates security and governance risks, and ends up creating more custodial work for IT than if they’d been the ones to custom build tools for the business in the first place—because the business always needs IT to fix the issues that inevitably arise when implementing technology.
But IT’s skepticism of no-code in such instances is really a skepticism of bad use of the tech—not of the technology itself. No-code is not a vehicle for replacing developers. It’s not a vehicle for going around IT’s back, either. In fact, when used correctly, no-code can:
Scale automation initiatives by giving non-developers more agency to be hands-on (while maintaining governance).
Elevate IT from custodians of technological implementation to architects of technological strategy—freeing developers to spend exponentially more time and energy on initiatives that make fuller, more efficient use of their unique talents and abilities.
When it’s used the right way, IT should love no-code. Here’s why.
No-code, used right, proves a solution to many of the enterprise’s most stubborn and perilous challenges, including the fact that it remains endemically inefficient.
For most enterprise companies, many elements of their inefficiency problems can be traced back to certain paradoxical limitations imposed upon the department chiefly responsible for increasing efficiency, maintaining operational flexibility, and helping companies generally stay competitive: IT.
IT has a very important job.
IT needs to enable the business to operate efficiently and creatively across functions and processes. IT needs to preserve the integrity (and compliance) of the tech stack and of company data. And IT is also tasked with creating new technological and process-oriented solutions to meet agreed upon service level agreements (SLAs). The problem is, IT does not have what they need to do all this: enable the business while simultaneously governing the tech stack and driving innovation in the product. Consider the resources at their disposal to this end of business enablement. When the business needs a solution to a business problem, IT has two options: either 1) Buy packaged, task-specific apps for the business; or 2) Develop custom solutions themselves.
Both options are costly, and often inadequate. Custom solutions can take 6–9 months (or more) to build, and require long-term maintenance after deployment — which, all told, is a massive expenditure of IT time and energy. Purchased apps, meanwhile, don’t always solve process challenges or increase efficiency, either, at least not in a manner that doesn’t compromise IT’s governance over the tech stack. They’re too functionally specific. This is why enterprises use so many apps today — they need at least one app for every problem.
At the same time, the business lacks the resources they need to innovate or problem solve on their own — at least not in a manner that doesn’t compromise IT’s governance over the tech stack. Business teams, as a result, are forced to cobble together processes across an ever-expanding ecosystem of functionally imperfect apps and manual tasks.
What we have, then, is a situation where the business ends up having to sacrifice agility and innovation precisely when agility and technological innovation are every day becoming more vital to staying adaptive and competitive. But IT doesn’t have a way to enable the business adequately, either. Ironically, their abilities of business enablement — not to mention their ability to govern their company’s data — diminish further the more complex and multi-faceted the tech stack becomes.
This is why the inefficiency problem has proven so difficult to solve: it’s a paradox. But no-code promises a way out. It amounts to a third option for safe, effective business enablement — and, in turn, to bridge the steadily growing gap between business and IT.
What are the different kinds of no-code tools available?
No-code platforms are hardly a monolithic technology category. Further, not all are created equal.
So what are the different uses for no-code?
And what are the limitations and best uses for each category of tool?
App builders should be used for different purposes, for example, than automation tools. And speaking of automation, only process orchestration platforms are capable of doing what many think all no-code automation tools are capable of, which is automating processes end-to-end.
(Here’s an image of Tonkean, a no-code process orchestration platform, doing precisely that.)
There’s a lot to keep in mind. From web development to app builders, task automation to process orchestration, we break it down.
What’s next for no-code? Composability
Where will this movement go from here? Well, by empowering non-developers to build increasingly complex software solutions, further liberating business users from their dependency on IT, no-code will break down silos and replace the strictly hierarchical operating structures popular inside the modern enterprise with something different: infrastructure that’s composable.
This will allow what’s called the Composable Enterprise.
The Composable Enterprise is an enterprise in which previously siloed technology and data environments are connected, and in which the ability to be technologically creative is democratized. This is done by equipping non-developers with technological capabilities—or “building blocks”—with which to compose complex software programs, without having to rely on or bother IT. This is similar, in a way, to the way developers build programs mixing and matching components from open source libraries today.
If embraced, composability could increase by an order of magnitude the enterprise’s capacity for:
Perhaps the most important step you can take as you prepare to join this movement is finding a platform partner that understands the true purpose of the technology: how it is not a means of replacing developers; that it is not a silver bullet; that it is but one piece of a larger operational puzzle. Further, it’s important a no-code platform works in service not just of business users, but of IT, and provides holistic, strategic value for the entire organization.
Tonkean is one such platform. If you’d like to learn about what sets us apart, let’s talk.
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