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Low-Code/No-Code Development Platforms: Democratizing and Speeding Application Development Via Code Abstraction Tools – Enterprising Insights, Episode 2

Low-Code/No-Code Development Platforms: Democratizing and Speeding Application Development Via Code Abstraction Tools - Enterprising Insights, Episode 2

In this episode of Enterprising Insights, Clint Wheelock joins host Keith Kirkpatrick, Research Director, Enterprise Applications, at The Futurum Group, for a conversation about the use of low-code/no-code development platforms within the enterprise environment. We will discuss the types of platforms available, the benefit and pitfalls of using them for enterprise development tasks, and discuss a few of the leading vendors offering these tools. We’ll also cover some recent news and newsmakers in the enterprise software market. Finally, we’ll close out the show with our “Rant or Rave” segment, where we pick one item in the market, and we’ll either champion or criticize it.

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Transcript:

Keith Kirkpatrick: Hello everybody. I’m Keith Kirkpatrick, Research Director with The Futurum Group, and I’d like to welcome you to Enterprising Insights, our weekly podcast that explores the latest developments in the enterprise software market, and the technologies that underpin these platforms, applications, and tools. Today we’re going to begin by taking a deep dive into the growing use of low-code and no-code development platforms within the enterprise.

Next, we’ll cover a little bit of recent news and newsmakers in the enterprise software market. And then, finally, we’ll close out the show without our Rant or Rage segment, where we pick one item in the market and we’ll either champion it or criticize it. Joining me this week, today, on Enterprising Insights, is Clint Wheelock. Clint is The Futurum Group’s chief research officer, and he spent more than two decades covering business and emerging technology, as well as enterprise application development and commercialization strategies. Welcome, Clint.

Clint Wheelock: Thanks, Keith. Appreciate you having me, and looking forward to the discussion.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Great. Let’s just get right into it. One thing that we’ve been looking at here at The Futurum Group is the increasing use of low-code or no-code development platforms within the enterprise. For people who aren’t familiar, low-code and no-code platforms are used to rapidly develop and deploy custom applications by abstracting or minimizing the coding needed in development. These low-code capabilities can include model-driven or graphical drag-and-drop approaches that allow the creation of basic processes. That when pulled together, can actually develop a complete application, along with control over business logic, workflow, and data services.

Clint, you’ve covered enterprise technology for a long time, even going back to the days when many enterprises were actually delivering applications via mainframe, or on airplane. I’m assuming that’s coming through. Okay. Clint, you’ve covered enterprise technology for a long time, going back to the days when many enterprises were delivering applications via mainframe and were slowly transitioning to an on-prem perpetual license model. And then, of course, much more recently to a subscription as a service, or a SaaS-based approach.

Now, SaaS-based applications provide some benefits to enterprises and their end users, like the ability to deploy the software in the cloud and also rapidly deploy new features and new functions, security patches and fixes. But I guess what I’m really curious about is, what are some of the drivers that have actually led to the development of these low-code software development tools that are now being targeted at enterprise users?

Clint Wheelock: Well, good question. And there are several key drivers of course. First of all, I just want to say thanks for reminding me how long I’ve been around. And I do think I’ve seen a few different cycles of centralization, decentralization, centralization, decentralization. Many of these patterns are not unfamiliar, but of course the technologies that enable it and some of the business models behind it do change over time. But from the standpoint of where we are and the evolution of the low-code space right now, I’d say there are several key market drivers.

First, we know that there’s a rising need for more agile application development. SaaS platforms can be customized, of course, but it takes technical resources, it takes longer development times, multi-level reviews, and many different revision cycles to incorporate new features or functionality within a traditional IT led development process. And so the need to accommodate the agile approach is really shaping the way a lot of folks are thinking about their technology choices and their implementations, and their project structures. We also know that there’s a shortage of highly skilled developers. So in that kind of environment, organizations need to shift these highly technical developers to more complex issues and tasks. And so the introduction of low-code/no-code really helps facilitate that process as well.

Third, a lot of repetitive tasks can be automated, but often there just isn’t the IT bandwidth to devote sufficient technical resources to developing these apps, which really may not scale across the organization. And then, final driver that we’ve seen is that there is a strong desire to incorporate more powerful user-focused tools like generative AI to accomplish some very specific tasks.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. Yeah, those certainly do seem like pretty powerful drivers. One thing that you mentioned there that I’d like to go back to really quickly is looking at this idea of needing to be more agile, needing to reduce development times. It seems like that is just a function of the nature of digital transformation. We don’t have, or enterprises really don’t have the luxury of saying, I need to stand up new application, I’ll see you in three months, or whatnot. Is that something they’d say?

Clint Wheelock: Yeah. I think obviously there’s an increasing use of AI and automation as part of broader digital transformation initiatives. We published at Futurum Group, we published a digital transformation index in the late spring in the Q2 timeframe. That is, I believe, if I remember right, as the fourth iteration of that over the past several years.

We’ve definitely seen a lot of focus on automation and streamlining to reduce the amount of repetitive work that humans have to do in the organization to improve efficiency, to help set the right workloads at the right level of expertise, and a process that reduces costs through a better resource mix, and it lets those human workers focus on bigger, more sophisticated challenges.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah, I think you hit on a really important point. Which is of course, whether we’re talking about professional developers or even knowledge workers, or people on the production side, their value is not in doing the same thing over and over again. And that would extend to things like creating applications that have very specific tasks.

I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about where we are right now, where we’ve gone through the pandemic, we’ve had this issue of having labor shortages. It seems that when we’re talking about low-code/no-code, we’re really addressing that head on by making sure that the people that you are able to bring in are focused on doing more creative tasks and things where it is obviously higher value type of work.

Clint Wheelock: Yeah. It’s something that sounds like it could be a win-win for organizations, but after all, there are some pitfalls to watch out for, and some risks involved with no-code development. For one thing, some of the no-code development platforms don’t require a lot of intervention from IT teams. So you could have users creating these applications that are pulling from internal data sources and systems. And if there aren’t controls in place to restrict the data based on role or other factors, it could be problematic.

Keith Kirkpatrick: You’re talking about shadow IT or shadow AI even. Is that what you’re referring to?

Clint Wheelock: Absolutely. Yeah. Shadow IT, for those who might not be familiar, is the use of IT related hardware/software by a department or an individual without the knowledge of the IT or security group within the organization. And obviously, with an increasing number, the complexity of systems, the potential vulnerabilities, the rise of cyber threats and so forth, that does represent a fairly significant risk. Within this, it can encompass cloud services, software, hardware.

But the big concern is that you could have these applications that are being developed without the oversight of the IT organization. And like I say, it introduces cybersecurity risks, there are data governance risks and data privacy risks as well. Overall, it’s really also wise to make sure that the no-code development tools have the right kind of guardrails to ensure that the data that’s pulled from any external sources is properly vetted and controlled, and that ensures that the data is accurate, it’s approved by the organization for use, and it doesn’t introduce any unnecessary security risks.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Because it sounds like what we’re seeing is business users are saying, hey, I’m really trying to figure out a way to make my work more efficient, but without those guardrails, you could be pulling data from inaccurate sources, or sources that are copyrighted. And could open you up to legal ramifications as well as all the cybersecurity risks out there.

Clint Wheelock: Absolutely. Those things could represent a real problem, and I think it also brings up an interesting point. Some of the traditional development processes usually involve the developer and the business user team going back and forth to ensure that the application or the feature edition works as it should.

And what that means is multiple sets of eyes during the process, and that usually helps to catch these types of errors. And I think there’s a great opportunity to… Well, it’s essentially technical debt, which is the concept of prioritizing speed over good code or functionality. And the right kind of deployment of these sorts of tools can help to ensure that we avoid those risks.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. And I guess it’s your sense in some of the customers that we talk to, I think many of them get that, that there’s always going to be a trade-off in terms of allowing or democratizing development versus the security risks. And of course, just the overall risk of losing control of the visibility of your technology stack out there. It certainly could be an issue.

I guess finally, before we leave this topic, what are your thoughts on any bigger trends that you’re seeing? Is this something that you think more enterprises will continue to adopt these low-code or no-code development platforms, even with some of the risks that might be out there? Is this a growing trend, basically?

Clint Wheelock: Well, it absolutely is, because it really does… As we’ve talked about, it has profound implications for the resource mix that it takes to deliver a given project. What that means is, like we were talking about, it encapsulates the automation and the AI capabilities in a way that can upskill the developers and the other professionals on the team. And it speeds up the development time, it reduces the cost, it overall increases the efficiency. Those benefits are just impossible to ignore for organizations.

Do they come with risk? Absolutely. But really, any shift in how IT organizations have been designed and operated over the years always comes with risk. And I’m confident that the industry will find ways to counteract those threats, both from the standpoint of vendor offerings and service providers in the mix, as well as how IT organizations themselves are implementing these things. Yeah, I think the toothpaste is out of the tube on this one, and I don’t see the trend turning around anytime soon. I only see it improving just because of significant benefits that exist.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. Well, thank you Clint for that. And yes, there is a lot going on in this market. And I know we just scraped the surface, so if anyone is interested in learning more, you can visit our website at futurumgroup.com. I’ve actually written a market inside report on this topic, which actually includes a review of some of the vendors in this space. You can go to the website and read and download it for free.

Well, now it’s time to move on, and I’d like to jump back to discuss what we’ve been up to over the past week. Both Clint and I were in beautiful Los Angeles, California this past week for Adobe’s annual user conference and analyst summit, Adobe MAX. A lot of interesting things going on there. One of the things that I think is really interesting is that Adobe announced that they have, or are releasing three new AI models that are going to be deployed within Adobe’s Firefly products. Just curious in your thoughts about, where is Adobe on the spectrum in terms of AI, particularly as it relates to things like content generation, content manipulation? Would you categorize them as a leader in the market?

Clint Wheelock: I think they’re an absolute pioneer. And we’ve been watching Adobe’s AI efforts with Sensei, the overarching AI platform that they’ve developed over the past several years. And then there was a more recent introduction of Firefly. And I think what we saw at MAX was really just the real infusion of their full suite of products with AI capabilities. And they were saying during one of the keynotes that they were introducing more than 100 new features and enhancements to their various offerings.

And by my account, I think it’s all enabled by AI. And of course, Adobe being Adobe, it’s very impressive visual demos of what’s happening, and using generative fill and text to templates, and also the greater integration of the full suite of products. Anybody who’s watched Adobe or used Adobe products for a while knows that you don’t have to go back too far in time where these were very capable tools, but they were pretty siloed and they didn’t really talk to each other. And now there’s more integration through Adobe Express and through other AI and automation enabled capabilities.

It was really interesting to see. And I think that it’s certainly been a rising tide of announcements and AI enabled capabilities from Adobe over time, but we really saw a lot. And I think even more impressive is that 100% of what the company talked about this week is currently available. This is not teasing future functionality. But with Adobe Max being primarily in large part focused on the designer and developer communities and roles of that nature, I think they generated a lot of excitement by saying, “Hey, here’s what we’ve got, and you can go use it right now.”

Keith Kirkpatrick: I’m glad you brought that up, Clint, because I was also struck by that. We obviously attend a lot of events like this from other vendors, and a lot of times you hear promises of, here’s what we’re going to be able to do. But to be able to actually sit there, I walked the exhibit floor, I looked at some of the demos more in-depth, and it really is amazing the features and the functionality that they’re talking about. It’s available now, and creators can get to work with it. So absolutely, really, really great to see that.

Another thing that I thought was very interesting was that Adobe was talking about expanding both the floor to ceiling of their market. One way they’re doing that obviously is by working or partnering with Google, and making their products available on the Google Chromebook. Which is, most people are aware is more of an entry level type product. A lot of penetration into the education market, which is something that Adobe traditionally wasn’t fully engaged in because, as you had mentioned before, a lot of their products were pretty professional level. It sounds like to me that that’s a great way to introduce Adobe and all of its complete platform to a new market segment.

Clint Wheelock: Yeah, absolutely. I think that democratization of access to design tools, and especially design tools that used to require extensive training courses to even be able to know what you were doing, but the simplified interfaces, the expanded availability to these tools through Adobe Express in particular is super interesting. And yeah, you were talking about raising the ceiling and lowering the floor, I thought that was one of the portions of the briefings that we participated in that resonated the most and really encapsulated a lot of the strategy.

We had a great analyst briefing discussion with Scott Belsky, the Chief Strategy Officer, and is primarily focused on design and emerging products. And he talked about raising the ceiling and lowering the floor using the AI opportunity as the catalyst to do that. So raising the ceiling is creating more value by providing more personalized digital experiences at the top end of designer capabilities and content strategist capabilities. And then lowering the floor, like you’re talking about, is bringing literally billions of users into the fold.

And I think the Adobe Express and Chromebook announcement that you referenced is a great example of that, because that often free design tools into the hands of students and educators with very large installed base of users. And I think that helps just put some of the power into the hands of folks that 15 years ago, if not more recently, would’ve been the realm of professional designers.

This just goes to what we’ve been talking about, is the pervasive use of AI infusing the full product line, empowering the offerings, and then going to market in different ways. Because after all, across enterprise organizations as well as government and education markets, and all kinds of other specialized markets, there’s a real mixed bag of expertise, but also attitudes around adopting AI enabled capabilities. They’ve definitely got a lot of work left to do in terms of go-to-market, but I think the strategy is sound from a product perspective.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re spot on there. If you think about the evolution of… And this brings us back around to what we’re talking about this week. If you think about the enterprise, and it used to be very segmented. You did, you had your lane, you’re going to stick into it. Now, by providing greater access to very, very powerful tools, whether we’re talking about Adobe and using Express to basically be able to start creating an asset there. And then taking that, sending it to a professional developer to touch it up and then send it back again, you’re really reducing the amount of time it takes to have something that can actually be activated and used within a business context.

And I think the same thing could be said when we’re talking about low-code development tools. Obviously, you’re going to have the folks who are very, very skilled handling the really heavy lifting, but there’s absolutely significant benefit in letting folks who have a bit of experience, letting them take the lead to really move up and create more efficiency with everything that they’re doing.

Clint Wheelock: Well, absolutely. I think that’s where these two main topics that we’ve talked about today low-code/no-code, and the key outcomes and key points from the Adobe conference have something in common, because it really is democratizing access. If you think of low-code/no-code, you could have product management or product development people that are doing rapid iterations based on those kinds of toolkits that previously would’ve had to wait in the queue for an IT development team to work on.

That improved their nimbleness in the market and the responsiveness to customers, and the ability to provide those more personalized experiences that we’ve been focused on from a broader customer experience perspective. And then at the same time, the democratization of access to design tools. You can easily see marketing and PR managers rapidly iterating, and social media professionals and so forth. Sometimes using templates, sometimes just using their own capabilities and putting stuff out on a rapid basis, being very nimble, being very responsive to what they’re seeing and client needs.

During the Adobe event, they even talked about some retail store locations, wanting to put these Adobe Express and other design tools into the hands of store clerks so that they could rapidly change promotions and signage, and all kinds of interesting stuff. Whereas, previously they would’ve had to wait for the quarterly campaign that came from retail co headquarters and strict instructions and guidelines on how to roll this out. But this way they can be more responsive to their customers and their geography. And so I think it’s just going to improve the speed of market and level of nimbleness with these democratized digital offerings.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Absolutely. Really appreciate the insights, Clint. What I’d like to do now is close out with my favorite segment within the show, which is the rant or rave of the week. And as always, I’ll throw out a topic, and then you get a couple of minutes to either rant about it or rave about it. I wanted to ask you about letting employees actually use some of these no-code tools to develop applications without the strict oversight of IT.

Now, obviously we know about best practice is involving them, but certainly there are organizations where they may not have as much control over that. Is that something that you would say is just an absolute, can’t do it, you’re putting the organization at risk? And I’ll throw it out in the context of our own company here. If team members that were working for you were trying to develop applications, whether it’s to make their life easier in terms of pulling in data from different sources or creating reports, how do you feel about that from a corporate perspective?

Clint Wheelock: Well, it definitely provides some risk. And we talked about the shadow IT risk before concept, all the risks around security vulnerabilities and technical debt where you’re prioritizing speed over good code or functionality, and that sort of thing. From my own view, I think it changes the role of an IT organization, in particular, from a gatekeeper to more of a governance role. Because I think that’s what you have to do. And a policy role. I think that’s what you have to do to really take full advantage of expanding the access to these tools to a much larger set of users within the organization, but at the same time counteracting some of those key risks.

And so, governance and policy is going to be important. Certainly CISOs and others are going to be battening down the hatches when it comes to critical systems and ensuring, in particular, that things like sensitive customer data, like PII, personally identifiable information are protected. And certain kinds of regulated industries that is just absolutely critical, because they’re just not going to be in business if they violate the law and policies when it comes to things. You think about healthcare data, you think about financial services data, and that sort of thing.

There’s critical IT infrastructure of all types, not just the hardware, but just the architecture of it that have to be protected. But when it comes to other things, we’re talking about rapid iteration from a product development standpoint with low-code/no-code, or we’re talking about putting together catchy, nimble graphics using Adobe tools, that sort of thing. Within a certain box, I think this represents huge opportunity. But I think it’s really going to behoove these security and IT organizations to think carefully about what they protect and then what they let loose of. And it’s a balancing act.

And I’m sure we will see some huge successes and some colossal failures as people experiment with this whole approach over time. And everybody’s going to learn from that, for better or worse. But I think that exactly what that right recipe is might vary from organization to organization, but we’ll see more best practices come in to play in the next couple of years just in time for the next great transition in IT.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. And I would assume, obviously, because you’re also throwing into the mix these variety of generative AI tools, whether it’s embedded within a product as it is in Adobe, or if it’s… And again, this brings up another issue, but it’s just organization put themselves at risk where they just tell people what AI or generative AI tools have been fooling around. Have you put anything in there to improve your workflow? It seems like there’s a massive, massive bag of risk right there.

Clint Wheelock: Absolutely.

Keith Kirkpatrick: All right. Well, Clint, thank you very much for joining me here on Enterprising Insights. Lots of great insights as always from you. Now, next week we’re going to be discussing cybersecurity threats and issues and how enterprises should be responding to technology processes and training. Thanks to everyone for tuning in. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on your preferred platform. Thanks, and see you next week on Enterprising Insights.

Clint Wheelock: All right. Thanks, Keith. Thanks, everybody.

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek, CNBC.com, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.

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