Why (and How) Your Company Should Develop Low-Code Software Solutions

Business is full of buzzwords, especially when it comes to digital technology.

One of the newest is low-code development. This is a relatively new term—created in 2014, and really coming to prominence here in 2017, but it has quickly gained steam as a goal for IT departments and businesses as a whole.

Dan Woods described low-code development well in a 2017 Forbes article: 

Low-code refers to the fact that such platforms offer simplified and visually guided forms of programming. This allows many more people to participate in coding. Unlike high-code development, where you have an unlimited degree of freedom to code anything, low-code development offers a simplified approach to how everything is done. If that approach fits what you want to do, you can go fast. If it doesn’t, the platform can get in the way.

A 2017 Salesforce study found that more and more businesses are exploring how to deploy low-code solutions in their businesses—with many planning implementation within 18 months or less.

Why are companies sprinting toward low-code solutions? Because technology is moving so quickly. IT departments are overloaded, and so if a business can deploy a low-code solution, employees or managers can make changes themselves, without having to wait on IT. If you can empower a marketing person or an Excel expert to change the software itself, you can be more efficient and effective.

Obviously, low-code development offers a lot of challenges in terms of policies and security, and leadership will need to deal with these roadblocks to adopt this innovation.

But let’s assume for a moment that your organization has already decided that low-code development is the way to go. How do you build or buy a software solution that will empower you to operate with low-code development in the future?

Here are five ways you can bring low-code development to your tech stack.

Buy or build a flexible platform

It’s not going to be easy or cheap to convert an existing software platform into a low-code environment. Your business will likely have to buy or build a platform set up in this way. So if this idea is valuable to your business, it may be time to go shopping.

This shouldn’t be your only consideration, but it’s a factor. Many of the current off-the-shelf products offer a lot of options in this area. This is why Salesforce touted low-code development in its state of IT study. SaaS platforms like Salesforce often offer apps, plugins, and other options  that allow users to enhance or customize their experience without having to call IT.

Custom software can offer flexibility too—it just needs to do it in different ways, like some of the points we’ll cover next.

Choose an easy-to-use CMS

Whether you’re building a website, mobile app, or piece of software, you will need to make updates like adding views, changing wording, changing images, and more. Some basic platforms like Squarespace make this easy for websites—but the truth is that any digital project should make content management as easy as possible. This means that digital products need a robust CMS.

At Worthwhile, we use django CMS, which allows non-developers to not only change words and pictures, but also to restructure pages, change column layouts, and to create new pages simply. We build plugins for our clients that make it easy to play videos, customize how links look and act, and more.

Whether you’re using a custom-built CMS like django CMS or an off-the-shelf option, make sure changes are easy for a non-developer to make. You may even want to have your marketing department or customer care team test some CMS options to make sure they will feel comfortable making low-code changes.

Getting this right will mean your business makes updates quicker, saves on development investment in terms of money and hours, and eliminates the kinds of interruptions that severely sap developer efficiency.

Let admins manage user group and permissions

The traditional IT approach to software is having so-called superadmins who are the only ones who can create accounts, pull customer data, and unlock or lock functionality or sections of software for different levels of users. These superadmins are usually IT stakeholders, which means that requesting changes in role-based permissions ends up being just like requesting a code change.

That shouldn’t be the case. The admins—who are the managers or supervisors of groups of employees—should have the ability in your software to:
* Create accounts (at least for their group or division
* Lock or unlock certain role-based permissions
* Customize what groups have what permissions
* Move users in and out of role-based user groups

Obviously, determining what people and/or what level of leader can do this will depend on your org chart. But whoever you have empowered to lead a team should be able to lead it within the software as well. Getting this right will enable you to keep employees working and productive while also keeping people from seeing or doing things they shouldn’t see or do.

Let experts deal with data

Most organizations have employees who are experts at manipulating spreadsheets and databases, even though they’re not developers. If you have these employees, you can set up the software to let your skills shine.

One of the ways we have done this is by allowing power users to write SQL query statements directly in a piece of software. This allows them to get the output they need without a database dump, ensuring the most current and accurate data in the results.

Even if your business isn’t full of SQL experts, you can still can provide access to data through customizable columns, data visualization. and advanced search filters. Go in with the goal of getting people the data they need in the manner they need, without exporting. This will make your spreadsheet specialists happy while also keeping your data current and up-to-date.

Avoid hard code

The four previous keys don’t cover all the ways to create a low-code tech stack, which is why this final point is so important for developers to remember.

If you can avoid hard-coding it, do it.

When you hard-code something, you pretty much guarantee a developer will need to be involved in changing it. Instead, developers should do everything they can to avoid hard code and come up with customizable solutions.

A commitment to low-code solutions may take a bit more time in the beginning, but in the end it will make life easier for developers, IT, and end users. And in an era when everything is changing quickly, this will create bandwidth to seize even more opportunities to benefit your employees and your business as a whole.

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