Low Code – the future of app development?
STNews recently attended the ‘Mendix on Tour’ conference to speak to End Users of this new paradigm and to hear how one company is influencing the future of Low Code.
Arriving on stage with the charisma and charm that would give any TV host a run for their money, Hans de Visser, VP of solutions at Mendix, started off their London ‘tour’ date how he planned to continue it: with energy, fun, and of course, plenty of information about those modern software development paradigms: No Code and Low Code.
Low code is the ‘hot new trend’ which allows apps to be built with minimal knowledge of software development. Low-code is so simple that it gives anyone the ability to create. In fact, the whole mantra of the Mendix on Tour campaign is ‘Go Make It’, a phrase that was frequently utilised during most of the talks at the June conference.
In his keynote speech, Nick Ford, chief technology evangelist at Mendix, stressed the importance of making software available to anyone and everyone. He said: “You can build software, any software that you want to…What if everybody could be a maker? What if we could allow everybody to have that skill? They could be in their bedroom today building the latest application – the application of the future.”
Ford went on to talk about what the impact of Low Code means to the everyday person (e.g. those who aren’t software developers). He discussed that as the unemployment rate for software development is so low –with the top companies taking all the best software developers – Low Code gives anyone and everyone the fighting chance to develop software and step up when it comes to taking on the competition.
Ford said: “As a manufacturer, an insurance company or bank, you’re now competing with the Google, Facebook and the Amazons of the world. Those big players are sucking the best and the brightest out of the market, which leaves us with the smallest pool that we can go to, to help us look at how to build the software that we need to accelerate our organisations – and to bring in those much needed skills that we have to have to build software, to meet the demand that’s coming down the line.”
He further discussed how the problem of there not being enough highly-trained software developers could be solved, by coming together as businesses and taking advantage of human capital.
Low Code – the future or fad?
To prove how easy it is to create an app with Low/No Code, Ford proceeded to build an app from ‘scratch’ (with just a couple of elements pre-made so as to not bore the audience, he claimed) for life insurance company, Zurich. The final app required the user to take a selfie, which predicted the person’s age and made a suggestion as to which life insurance they should buy.
It was a simple, potentially effective marketing tool which Ford did indeed, build right in front of our eyes.
His talk then continued to discuss how the future of this kind of software development involves integrating as much modern technology as we can, to build a piece of equipment that is the height of tech: “What if those applications were connected to artificial intelligence so you could leverage chat-bots, facial recognition software, conversational UIs? Services that allowed you to build applications that are truly smart… we can build all those today,” said Ford.
In his own keynote speech, Johan den Haan, the CTO of Mendix, discussed the integration of AI into modern companies. He suggested that the future of Low Code lies in AI playing a key role in growth through augmented intelligence, autonomous intelligence, anthropomorphic intelligence and the way that bots can be used within security processes.
As well as AI, den Haan touched on the creative side of Low Code and what it means to access this kind of software when, as he put it, “everyone is a maker”, emphasising that the integration of Low Code into companies is changing the world around us and, that if businesses want to progress, they need to be taking advantage of this new paradigm.
He said: “You need to unleash the makers in your enterprise, whatever background they have… It’s not just people from a computer science background, it’s anyone who is part of the future of your company. We need to make it smart; we need to make sure that we have apps that are dealing with this new world.
“When we started 14 years ago, we set ourselves a big ambitious goal. We said that we really wanted to make an impact in the software world. We want to make sure that we make it ten times faster to build software and we want to enable ten times more people to build software. And when you combine all these things, that’s the paradigm shift, that’s really making an impact on how software is delivered.”
Low Code – the end user perspective
When asked why they had gone Low Code, a spokesperson for emergency disaster relief company, ShelterBox, said they wanted to expand their company, but they did not have the money to do so. Therefore, Low Code was enabling them to build an app that was helping them to reach this goal.
They said: “It was a conscious decision from the outset of these projects that we would have a team of ‘developers’ in-house and we would therefore own the process of what we required – being more responsive to changing needs. We recognised that as an evolving organisation; we would be developing quite rapidly.”
Zac Taylor of Mencap spoke of the benefit that Low Code and No Code will have on social change. He spoke about how, in collaborating with Mendix, his job as a care support worker with people with learning disabilities is made easier through accessible apps that can be created through Low Code.
He said: “There is a lot of information that we gather from people and lots of ways of working that we want to make smoother, and make the digitisation of stuff better. In particular, because we are a large organisation, very dispersed, we would like to ease the burden on teams and also the reporting and recording processes for the people working directly with individuals.
“Low Code enables organisations to bring about those changes in a sustainable way. It’s quick, it’s fast, it attends to business imperatives. For an organisation like us, you get a chance to test stuff and move it on at a rapid rate. For us, it’s a product that enables people to lead a better quality of life and anything that helps that happen quickly will be useful. This applies to anything when you are working with humans!
Taylor also spoke about how using a Low Code app is ultimately about not just improving the lives of Mencap clients, but also of the staff who work for the organisation too: “Something that enables that relationship, something that allows the barriers that we create around us to be broken down, is helpful. That may be simply reducing the amount of time that a member of staff is spending writing stuff down. If you’re spending time writing stuff down, then you’re not engaged with that person.
“It may be the data informs you about something you haven’t seen before, so you can analyse the data and say ‘this works really well’, or ‘this was particularly difficult’.”
Professor Keith Patrick, principal lecturer in information management at the University of Westminster, spoke of how the university is using Low Code and No Code as part of student projects. He said: “The experience of being able to develop something and then deliver it, [the students] found it quite significant. Without IT backgrounds, they were looking at things quite differently. We found that students don’t want to do certain subjects if they’re difficult. Anything to do with technology is in that bag!
“So, Low Code addresses that issue and is simplifying it, because it is a necessary part of working environments. And, even if they never code again, they will be product owners and business owners so they will be able to interact with IT – and that’s part of what the course is about, giving people that hybrid mindset, because everything is intertwined. IT is no longer separate.
“Everyone says there is a digital skill shortage, but nobody specifies what that digital skill is, they talk about getting 7-year-olds to code, but the language is irrelevant, so low coding will make that even easier. However, the current skill shortage is in a language which is 60 years old.”
When asked if Low Code was the answer to the gap in the market, Patrick commented: “It’s part of the answer because it’s makes it accessible to more people.”
Ultimately, it seems that coding in the digital age will make software development accessible to everyone. Practitioners and organisations like Mendix believe that no matter what their background, a person should have the opportunity to build their business in a creative and accessible way.
Maybe it was the radiant energy that Vice President, Hans de Visser, gave off before each talk, but it genuinely feels like Low Code and No Code could just be the future of software development, not just in IT, but in all sized businesses – and even contributing to social and world change too.
Grace Barnott Palin for Software Testing News