How Low-Code Development Is Transforming Organizations' Approach to Tech
More businesses are dipping their toes into low-code development, an approach that streamlines software programming and allows non-tech professionals to design and develop applications needed by their function.
According to MarketsandMarkets, the market for low-code development platforms will increase from $13.2 billion this year to $45.5 billion in 2025, a CAGR of 28%. Adoption by small- and medium-sized businesses, along with increased awareness and digital transformation efforts, are the leading drivers of growth.
Given all this, it’s not surprising that more tech companies now offer low-code tools. Amazon Web Services launched Honeycode, a fully managed service used to create applications for tasks like product approval, scheduling, customer relations management and user surveys. Amazon says Honeycode can tackle complex efforts, such as managing cross-department workflows, as well as simple apps, such as task tracking.
So how can non-technology users attack development problems? Proponents say the key to creating any application is familiarity with the challenges it’s trying to address. Given the intricacies that go along with many job functions, it makes sense to have practitioners directly control the design and development of solutions to their specific problems.
Take the case of HR, where specialized responsibilities include legal compliance, benefits enrollment and onboarding, to name just a few.
Low-Code Apps in HR
The idea of low-code development isn’t new, and Amazon’s move to put it in the hands of end users isn’t a first. But the approach seems to be gaining traction in ways that should attract the interest of HR leaders. For one thing, a number of low-code tools can be used to address some of HR’s common pain points.
Appian recently released a new version of its low-code development platform, which it positions as a global workforce solution. Among other applications, McLean, Va.-based Appian offers tools for workplace reopening and lending through the Payroll Protection Program.
Other applications are suited to creating replacements for the spreadsheets practitioners rely on to keep track of things like employee status. Madrid-based recruiting firm Servitalent used low-code tools from Caspio to develop its own talent management database. Caspio, based in Sunnyvale,Calif., highlights several use cases that apply to HR, such as building custom CRMs, creating web dashboards and making online forms.
Another European company, Stockholm-based Tele2, used Boomi to create more than a dozen applications and streamline its talent acquisition workflow and connect HR and financial systems. Besides eliminating data silos, Chesterbrook, Pa.-based Boomi said the effort linked identity, personnel management and payroll systems.
The Changing Dynamics of Getting Things Done
As more organizations adopt this low-code approach to technology, how HR approaches the creation of software tools could dramatically change.
For one thing, HR may be able to speed up the implementation of some tools by reducing reliance on internal IT departments or an external technology budget. That’s a real help when cost puts a brake on development.
There’s also the matter of developer resources. As Amazon Web Services' vice president Larry Augustin said while explaining Honeycode, customers “have told us that the need for custom applications far outstrips the capacity of developers to create them.” That said, most tech observers believe the low-code approach can only be taken so far.
“It will not replace other ways of creating software because low-code breaks down when the complexity of the solution increases,” Thomas Stiehm, CTO of Fairfax, Va., consulting firm Coveros, told TechRepublic. “We saw the same thing with Visual Basic in the ’90s. VB was valuable and a lot of software was written in VB. In the end, it was complexity required by some applications that caused VB to break down and no longer be a good solution. Low code will be the same.”
Still, the COVID-19 pandemic may accelerate the adoption of low-code tools, said ServiceNow Vice President of Product Platform Management Marcus Torres. As more employees work from home, the Santa Clara, Calif., company believes the dynamics of finding solutions to workflow and process challenges have changed.
As the crisis plays out, low code “will be part of the new support system” because workers have come to see its value. “It will become a stable tool for them to draw on to be more effective inside or outside the office,” Torres told TechRepublic.
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The Real Value of Low Code: Streamlined IT Operations
In the meantime, a number of technology leaders anticipate low-code development playing an increasingly important role within IT. Putting low-code tools into the hands of developers, they say, allows technology professionals to build applications through an interface that minimizes the need to write code line by line.
Businesses are under extraordinary pressure to accelerate results in almost all areas of their operations. A number of technology professionals believe the advent of products allowing users to build complete solutions through a simple-to-use platform will be focused on IT departments, at least in the short to medium term. For now, the “citizen developer” isn’t the focus of technology operations. Instead, low-code development offers technology teams a streamlined approach to building products in less time than traditional coding.
According to John Marcantonio, senior director of evangelism and federated development at Lifion by ADP, low code is an evolution of the development process. “In my mind, it’s very much application development, just with a different set of tools,” he said.
HR is particularly promising ground for low-code efforts, Marcantonio said. “I think the use cases of the complexity around HR have increased to the point where having tools like this are more important and even more necessary,” he said.
Low-code development got a boost as businesses struggled to deal with the pandemic’s consequences, he added. Over 18 months, more organizations faced accelerated development cycles as the unsteady economy forced them to get more done in less time. Meanwhile, executives looked for ways to avoid hiring additional full-time employees “to go hand roll some custom app or go figure out how to build on top of a complicated stack,” Marcantonio said.
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More Options for Development and Coding
Low code serves to “broaden the base” of people who become involved in development or maintenance efforts, Marcantonio said. Corporate functions like HR gain more control as they consider and implement solutions. That doesn’t mean that computer science is going to become a requirement for careers in HR.
“I don’t feel that in the very near term, every HR professional is going to become a low-code developer modifying every part of the system,” Marcantonio said, though “I think the line is moving a bit.”
Marcantonio envisions a world where business professionals become more technically minded or “almost HR IT professionals,” filling the gap between traditional development and what can be accomplished with low-code tools. There’s precedent for that.
“If we think of marketing roles, biz ops, data, data groups, there’s an almost specialized tech role that’s feeding those tools and those parts of the businesses,” Marcantonio said.
“I think there’s a more pragmatic view that HR professionals are still there to achieve a function that helps support the group’s people operations,” he said. ”That’s where their focus is, to the degree that the tools, the HR IT group or some other technically minded staff can support that. I think that’s really the value that they’ve achieved.”
About the Author
Mark Feffer is a journalist who focuses on HR technology and workforce data.