The Future of Low-Code: Will Low-Code Replace Developers?
As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series—a collection of articles written by industry thought leaders in maturing software categories—Jason Beres, the SVP of Developer Tools at Infragistics, explains where the future of low-code technology could go and whether or not it could replace developers.
In the era of AI, design-to-code solutions, and other progressive IT innovations, one question keeps coming up: Are programmers becoming obsolete? The simple answer is definitely not. Not now, not in the next 20 years, and not for a very long time. While it’s true that you can’t get away from the constant flow of new low-code and no-code tools flooding the market, as Gartner states in their Low-Code Trend Insight Report, “Low-code tools and platforms are not a panacea for solving every business or IT problem. Low-code will not replace the need for coding or make obsolete the practices built around developing custom software capabilities.”
Naturally, then, every IT organization must evolve and adapt its practices to the cloud, to new SaaS-based systems introduced by business units across the enterprise, and to the new demands from users. But what is happening today with low-code tooling is more an evolution than a revolution. Low-code vendors and the forward thinkers in the media want you to believe you are falling behind if you are not in year 5 or 10 of digital transformation projects. The reality is that most enterprises are still in the early stages of mass transformation. Customer-facing business units are no doubt more modern and further ahead than others. Still, for the most part, the burden of legacy apps and ongoing maintenance is what most developers face daily.
In the post-pandemic world, most organizations are under intense pressure to modernize, and according to Chromatix, 88 percent of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to COVID-19.
At the same time, these same organizations all face similar issues, such as:
- A lack of technically skilled workers with the required experience.
- Low numbers of college graduates with computer science degrees.
- Salaries are increasing well beyond what might have been accepted just a few years ago.
- Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft are recruiting hundreds of thousands of new developers during the pandemic, leaving a significant unmet need for talent in the market.
- Existing skilled resources cannot move to digital transformation projects as existing projects and maintenance bog them down.
- Endless backlogs with more projects, time constraints, and inefficient and/or clumsy processes scattered around the enterprise.
- Heightened emphasis on data security and application governance.
- End-users that are “digitally hungrier” than ever!
Add to this list a global recession, skyrocketing inflation, and a generally rocky business climate, and the road ahead seems daunting without IT departments evolving where they can in the evolution to low-code tools.
Evolving to Low-Code in Your Enterprise
According to Gartner: “By 2025, spending on low-code development technologies is expected to grow to almost $30 billion, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.9% from 2020 through 2025”.
The obvious question to any IT leader today might be, “Is there anything more important than overcoming the chaos of multiple tools, legacy systems, and cumbersome processes across teams while still trying to deliver business-critical solutions at the same time?” I don’t think so. This is where low-code tools can help. However, the first step in the process is not necessarily a tooling issue; it is a culture issue. Just like moving from a traditional waterfall process to agile scrum, the biggest challenge is people, not processes. If you can’t move your teams into the right headspace of adopting some level of low-code tooling, the shift to these tools will become very difficult. There are no doubt developers on your teams who don’t believe in and don’t trust what low-code tools can do for them, or they refuse to embrace low-code for fear of losing their job to “a machine.”
The best way to overcome resistance to low-code tooling is to share as much data as possible and then evaluate areas of your backlog that make sense for shifting to low-code tools.
Again, Gartner’s research says that:
- By 2025, 70 percent of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25 percent in 2020.
- 74 percent of development teams do not have designers or expertise in modern web development, with 44 percent of IT developers saying they are slowed down by coding in HTML & CSS.
- Low-code screens and app builders can save up to 80 percent of the time in the application development phase while significantly reducing bug counts.
- SDKs and plugins for embedded analytics can save up to 18 months and $700,000 in development time in digital transformation projects.
- More than 5 million developers will be added to the global workforce in the next 5 years, which is still 1.4 million developers less than global demand.3
This data shows that if you aren’t using low-code tools, you are just falling behind in your skills.
The next phase in the culture shift to low-code tools is to examine areas in your backlog that take up the most time and introduce the most maintenance and/or bugs that can accelerate your overall development process.
Areas that consistently rise to the top are:
- Building/customizing user interfaces for internal or external user consumption.
- Going from design to code – Taking design work from a design team and building the same application in a modern platform like Angular or Blazor.
- Data formatting, organizing, and sharing with users for reporting.
- The workflow between systems of record for data analysis/dashboards.
- Dashboard creation and sharing of data across the enterprise.
Coding – Democratized; Coding – In A Click
With all the signs of a developer shortage and the overwhelming evidence that developers’ jobs are not at risk from low-code or automation tools, you should be on the way to a shift in mindset in your teams. The next step is to evaluate tools that can accelerate your backlog delivery. Focus on the notion that while human programming skills remain the engine in software development, the fuel that propels and maximizes their efficiency is automation, low-code App Builders, and design-to-code solutions.
Having the capacity to generate entire Angular or Blazor code in a single click, with hundreds or even thousands of lines of production-ready HTML, CSS, and data binding code, all in a branded experience, built with a WYSIWYG tool that took less than a day vs. weeks or months, you will convert nay-sayers into true believers. Low-code tools enable developers to prioritize and systematize their work strictly on the business need. Skilled developers get their time back, can focus on their areas of expertise, and spend more time on innovation. Your senior team members are not working on mundane, tedious, and error-prone hand-coding that can be done by less experienced developers or citizen designers and developers.
Components Reusability and Drag & Drop Experience
Not having to start everything from scratch is a huge time-saver. Instead of creating and coding single-use or single-purpose components, low-code tools offer the benefit of using components that can be reused over and over again. Plus, you achieve consistent UX across the entire ecosystem and easy-to-maintain products.
In addition, there’s an interesting trend where this drag-and-drop experience and component reusability go hand in hand with embedded analytics. More BI companies now want to embed charts, tables, and grids into applications, and low-code/no-code development platforms step in to offer this advantage.
Single Source of Truth, DesignOps & DevOps
The final way low-code platforms augment the development process is by exchanging the human-caused chaos of design workflow and poor DesignOps processes for a single source of design truth. The more sophisticated low-code tools are based on design systems, giving designs and developers a single source of truth in the application development process. This promotes a structured DesignOps process and, when coupled with existing DevOps processes, enables the most efficiency in time, cost, and effort when driving down your backlog deliverables.
As this article lays out, developers aren’t going away. More so, skilled developers are currently and will continue to be in high demand. To overcome the impediments inherited from the past, the IT world must embrace what low-code platforms offer. There is no room for outdated affirmations like:
- Low-code tools cannot produce high-quality apps.
- Low-code tools are going to wipe out human programmers.
Low-code will never replace developers, but I can’t say the same when it comes to replacing legacy systems, design-development processes, and mindsets though!