2020 saw a significant boost in the popularity of No-Code platforms, as many businesses concluded the best way to grow out of an economic down-turn (resulting from the pandemic) was to innovate.  Will 2021 be the year that no-code applications development takes hold?  If so, what new innovations can enterprise buyers expect from state-of-the-art platforms like Encanvas.

Overcoming Bias

Few people who’ve been involved in the enterprise applications development market would be unaware of the strong bias towards coding and coding skills. The industry has been run by people who themselves trained as coder, and who believe coding offers unlimited versatility while any form of abstraction layer will inevitably lead to inflexibilities; if not in the functionality they can build into apps, then in the ongoing platform architecture—making it more difficult to protect data, integrate with other systems, scale apps or manage User and Group permissions.

This has led some IT leadership teams to focus their cultures and behaviors around coders and coding, not speed-to-market and business outcomes. It was assumed, through this professional bias, that any product claiming to be able to produce enterprise apps without coding was intended for ‘citizen developers’—which has become industry speak for ‘amateur.’

The great thing about working with teams of awesomely clever and passionate people wanting to solve a problem, is they don’t see things like ‘bias’ as being an insurmountable obstacle; but rather just another bridge to cross.

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When Encanvas deployed its first enterprise platform for a top 5 professional services company back in 2002, it proved that a no-code appdev platform could do something coder couldn’t. And, in 2003, when it produced a system to manage Advanced Roadworks Plans for a community of over a hundred organizations digging up roads across Greater London, it proved that No-Code can handle ultra-complex enterprise IT challenges better than coded solutions.

So, No-Code platforms have been able to produce enterprise grade apps for years. The challenge has been to convince a profession centred around the manual creation of code, that there is a better way of producing enterprise apps.

Thankfully, enterprise projects to create apps have grown in volumes exponentially because of the potential of digital technologies to offer significant cost savings and customer service improvements. Speed-to-market of new applications has led to a drive for smarter ways of building apps. Every business has become an [innovation factory]. In 2020, more enterprise buyers than ever started to explore the possibilities of no-code.

 

The Story So Far

Most No-Code solutions start their life by making it simpler to develop basic forms based applications. Almost any enterprise app born in the early 2000’s required humans to enter data into it. Understandably, the numeracy of department level forms-based apps has created demand for rapidly deployed, ‘designed-to-fit’ solutions. This requirement has shaped the feature-sets of No-Code tools. Features to expect include:

Displacing Coding Activity For Simple AppDev Tasks

No-Code Platforms are expected to reduce or remove the amount of mundane coding tasks needed to author and deploy forms based apps. Early solutions weren’t much different to DataEase or Microsoft Access (if you remember these popular self-authoring tools of the 1990’s). Typical design elements included text, text area, numeric, date-box fields (etc.) and presentation building blocks like tables and charts.

Simplifying the User Journey for AppDev

Tools had to offer simple user journeys to intuitively guide developers through the stages of app design and deployment, including ‘one-click publishing.’ Few people are prepared to read user manuals anymore, so if Users can’t work out how to work with a tool without referring to a user manual, it won’t be popular with modern tech buyers.

Cloud Enabled

A big ‘digital tech’ shot in there arm for No-Code platform vendors has been the evolution of cloud platforms like Amazon EC2 and Microsoft Azure. Large tech vendors have invested billions of dollars into their cloud infrastructures and middleware tools over the past two decades. No-Code platforms are able to harness these capabilities to make it easier to integrate, secure and scale applications; both in their audience size and number. Much of the ‘heavy lifting’ for the back-office IT tasks is ultimately being performed by the cloud infrastructure supplied by one of the top 5 cloud vendors.

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The Rise of Fusion Teams

Demand to speed up time-to-value of apps has led organizations to create Development Operations (DevOps) teams. These IT teams use agile scrum development methods to fast-track app developments. While operational innovations in DevOps teams and agile have revolutionized the pace of app development, they still gravitate towards coding and coders; which means they still don’t quite remove the barriers that exist between IT and the business.

Business bosses remain hungry for FASTER, CHEAPER applications development. This is leading to a move towards ‘Fusion Teams’ that fuse IT and Business People together in workshop-oriented app development teams.

According to the latest thinking by Gartner, DevOps teams are about to get displaced in the enterprise by FUSION teams. They say, “Many firms pursuing distributed delivery are transitioning to “fusion teams” to bring together IT and business employees to develop digital solutions. As fusion teams become more prevalent, enterprise architecture and technology innovation leaders must actively support these blended, multidisciplinary teams.”

Bringing Business People and IT Together

Fusion teams equipped with No-Code software—such as Encanvas, Mendix, OutSystems, BettyBlocks, etc.—encourage open discussions between the people who know what an app needs to do, and the Business Analysts (not coders) responsible for authoring the app solution. This results in better-fit apps, built faster.

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While Low-Code tools reduce the amount of coding that needs to be done when creating apps, No-Code solutions remove code from the screen when apps are being developed. Coding is displaced by an abstraction later of ‘LegoTM’ styled building blocks that are designed to serve the various demands expected of the design element. For example, ‘Buttons’ can perform layer-upon-layer of actions to update data, check values, automate email workflows and escalations, etc.

Agile Codeless Project Methods

Of course, when you only need one person to build an app, there’s no point having a SCRUM for one. This means Agile Development methods and tools are also having to adapt to this new reality. Additionally, you can expect No-Code platforms to offer an Asset Library to manage assets and re-usable components. Tools like Jira and GitHub used by coders to manage code blocks in a traditional manual coding ecosystem are no longer needed. Instead, simpler ideation and project management tools are used to track progress of what are essentially much simpler and shorter projects, involving far fewer people.

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2021 Innovations

If that’s what you get from a 2020 No-Code platform, what does 2021 hold in terms of innovation?  Here are a few pointers of some of the latest innovations in enterprise No-Code platforms:

Remote Development

It’s no longer necessary for the people designing and deploying apps to be in the same room. The pandemic of 2020 has encouraged the evolution of remote development tooling into No-Code platforms.

Encanvas, for example, supports an encrypted Passport system for its remotes designers and architects to make access to the platform simple for users, whilst improving platform security compared to applications using two-factor authentication (which presents the risk of someone stealing a Users’s smartphone). Using Passports, designers can safely build apps online with business stakeholders on Zoom, in a Google Huddle, or on Microsoft Teams. No data gets saved to the local devices and no enterprise data connections are exposed.

Smarter Integration and ETL-ware

One of the main reasons why enterprise projects fail is the quality of data or the inability to harvest and blend data. The latest innovations in No-Code platforms go a step further with integrated No-Code tooling to mashup data from multiple sources and provide rich back-office software robots to orchestrate data uploads securely. These built-in No-Code features mean organizations no longer need to invest in third-party data integration or Extract-Transform-Load middleware.

Support for Hyper-Automation

The big new phrase in the digital transformation industry is Hyper-Automation; or the ability to apply best-fit Digital Technology solutions to process improvements without incurring high frictional costs. Enterprise No-Code platforms are now able to plug-in third-party AI algorithms, Maps, DLLs, code, script, blockchain, data visualizations, social messaging tools, etc. to make it simpler for companies to embed tech innovations into business process without having to find third party tools.

Summary

The last decade has seen tools evolve for coders and non-coders. With the advent of Fusion Teams, No-Code platform vendors like Encanvas are now producing tooling to serve both audiences; namely, No-Code applications development tools for fusion teams underpinned by a No-Code cloud ecosystem for IT people to use so they can create data integrations, serve up an AppFabric, manage deployments, scaling, data security and User permissions.

Could this be the final step in the inevitable evolution of applications engineering; from manual coding to codeless applications design and deployment? Probably not, but it’s certainly going to give business and IT leaders something to think about in 2021.

Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and writer on the subject of enterprise computing and organizational design.  He serves on the USTECH GLOBAL EMEA Management Team.  Ian has written several books on the subject of digital transformation, cloud computing, social operating systems, codeless applications development, business intelligence, data science, office security, customer data platforms, vendor management systems, Managed Service Provisioning (MSP), customer experience, and organizational design.  He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.