Spotlight:  Low-Code/ No-Code

Low-Code/No-Code evolution traces from binary to Assembly, then high-level languages and functional programming, now vital in remote work and skill shortages era, balancing ease of use with IT compliance.

Before we delve into the current state, opportunities, and challenges of this column’s topic, let us briefly examine how binary coding evolved into Low-Code/ No-Code. The zeroes and ones gave way to Assembly language, which was all about directly manipulating the binary. As silicon took over from vacuum tubes, programming languages were born. Hundreds emerged over the years, some highly specialized (e.g., concurrent, visual, etc.). Then came functional programming, which offered higher abstraction and bypassed lower-level details. Low-code and no-code were but a natural progression from functional programming. And this progression was accelerated by COVID-19, with remote work mandates and programming skills shortages. In fact, New York City (and soon after Washington D.C.) created a COVID-19 engagement portal to provide services, which was up and running in 3 days flat, with NO ONE writing any code.

Let us also differentiate between the two. Low-code requires a rudimentary level of programming acumen, while No-code is for citizen developers who need to gain programming knowledge. Low code has already penetrated many enterprises, consulting firms, and technology providers. It is now being predicted that No-code will eventually eclipse Low-Code. The reasoning behind this is straightforward and not worth spending time on. 

As expected, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are now increasingly used for Low-code/ No-code, which may soon stand on its head. And we may quickly see AI and ML developing applications independently. Essentially, software developing software. A process called “program synthesis” is still considered to be in the ‘ambition’ stage. Koushik Sen, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, calls No-Code an Amazon Alexa for programming. Just say what the input and output are, and get the coding done.  Today, there are use-specific such/ similar applications; for example, Mendix is a platform that provides recommendations to developers as they are developing their Apps. The day of more generic and easy-for-all is not too far. Object-oriented programming has already created an army of citizen programmers ready and waiting.

Additionally, the rapid digitization of business and the need for macro-impact micro-decisions make Low-Code and No-code an increasingly attractive proposition for many enterprises. Remember that today’s Low-code/ No-code platforms realize several benefits over previous generations of manually writing lengthy lines of code with low-level or high-level languages, especially the availability of used and proven algorithms. AND such micro-solutions can be combined to create complex solutions. Add to it the benefit of faster implementation of (more straightforward and specific) business solutions; this allows businesses to respond faster to today’s dynamic environment.

The main problem is that no human may understand the code developed because it will have no comments, and the variable names will be inscrutable. And code efficiency will have the logic that will be difficult to comprehend.

However, McKinsey says Low-Code can turn ‘Shadow IT’ into a technology asset. This will be increasingly possible with No-code. Shadow IT is essentially the ecosystem of spreadsheets and documents that employees create for use by self or their teams and are (usually) used to make critical decisions. These may never get institutionalized, and IT Departments are often unaware of their existence. And therein lie the security and compliance risks. A huge risk with this operation is that Shadow IT, which often uses the ‘official’ IT data, can get disrupted as IT changes (potentially disrupting business operations).

If we look at the challenges, Security and Compliance come to mind (compounded manifold by no code). And, as low-code/no-code is entering the realm of AI, ML, and RPA, the security and compliance risks will get compounded. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, the solution is creating an official platform for developing, propagating, securing, and regulating such applications. 

Thus, increasingly, the role of the IT Department will include managing a platform for the erstwhile Shadow IT; even Microsoft Excel, with its (custom and shared macros, is all it might take). This will entail a higher degree of security and compliance monitoring because IT must know what is coming from where! In a mature environment, the IT Department will propagate a new low-code/ no-code business application within and/ or across business functions. Sometimes, they must “generalize” the application to make it worthwhile for other departments. Work will always be needed to integrate these applications into the core IT system and change these as the core IT Applications change.

In summary, Low-code/ No-code takes IT to where real operational business decisions are made (“edge computing” of business decisions!!). And this makes it a two-edged sword. An enterprise can end up in dust with the security or compliance breach(es) of an employee who is not rogue but not sufficiently trained on these. OR, the enterprise can benefit from the ease of decision-making using specific tools developed by the users who WILL use them. It is now up to the IT Department to choose its path: institutionalize “Shadow IT” or keep your fingers crossed while looking the other way.

Image Source: Freepik

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