Low-code: The strategic CIO’s secret weapon

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How CIOs are overcoming software gaps to give their organizations a strategic advantage


The CIO role has changed dramatically over the last few years. The CIO is no longer the technical-minded leader responsible for managing IT and leveraging technology to create value for the business; they’re now expected to be digital innovators and experts in strategy. As the pace of technology innovation remains high, it’s the CIO who bears the pressure that comes with that pace. How are they keeping up when they’re also battling changing regulations, a lack of budget, keeping technology secure, and finding talent? The good news is many CIOs are affordably solving all these problems with a secret weapon, the first of which is a very real decline in software developer talent.


Is there a software developer shortage?

The short answer is yes—there is a software developer shortage. With the demand for new and better software continuing to rise across the country and showing no sign of stopping, it’s no surprise that digital transformation is outpacing education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 there will be an estimated 1.4 million computer science-related job openings with only 400,000 computer science graduates to fill those roles. In 2018 alone there were 1,365,500 software engineering jobs posted and that number is projected to reach 1,649,600 by 2028.


So, how do IT departments keep up with software demands with limited people and resources?

This question plagues many CIOs, particularly in fast-growing, mid-sized enterprises that often have small or no development teams, thin IT departments, and relatively smaller budgets compared to their mega-enterprise competitors. Luckily, low-code app development platforms are emerging as the secret weapon to accelerating software delivery, even speeding up the development process as much as 10 times faster than traditional methods.

In fact, low-code platforms may not be such a secret any longer. The tech research firm IDC estimates that custom application development is projected to grow from $47 billion in 2018 to more than $61 billion in 2023. Businesses flourish when low-code is used as a key strategy for digital transformation.


What is low-code?

As the name implies, these solutions aim to minimize — or in some cases eliminate — the need for manually coding software. Low-code app development platforms serve two vital purposes. First, they help software developers build apps faster and better. Second, they help shift the work of developing and upkeeping apps away from developers to IT or citizen developers (front-line employees that are non-traditional developers).

The idea of lessening and/or shifting the technology responsibility from developers to IT or employees isn’t new. WordPress shifted the job of building and maintaining websites to a new generation of marketers, replacing HTML and CSS coding with a drag-and-drop content management system. More recently, Salesforce shifted the responsibility for managing and configuring CRM systems to sales operations professionals and even sales managers.

Low-code platforms build on the same idea, extending operational and back-office app creation and management responsibilities across the entire organization using a simple drag-and-drop interface. In doing so, low-code platforms essentially empower employees from various departments to solve their own problems, allowing them to take their ideas for improving work and turn them into an app to transform processes dramatically.


How does low-code drive digital transformation?

Low-code solutions have come a long way in a short time. Once only considered for small, departmental-level type projects, the modern generation of low-code platforms provide enterprise scalability, built-in security, sophisticated reporting features, modern integration capabilities via drag-and-drop interfaces, and intelligent and easily configurable workflows all in one solution. With low-code, coding is an option, but by no means a requirement. Low-code apps combine web and mobile capabilities together, which means users don’t have to build or maintain two separate solutions.

Low-code app development platforms solve many of the challenges keeping CIOs up at night, like the ability to adapt to evolving regulations, affordability, and powerful security. Plus, they’re ridiculously fast to build and deploy. Apps that used to take months or even years to build from scratch can be configured, tested, adjusted, connected and launched in as little as a few days to a few weeks.

As a result, low-code platforms are becoming the go-to resource for CIOs with digital transformation mandates to streamline and automate dozens – if not hundreds – of internal and operational processes.


What’s the difference between low-code and no-code?

While there are hundreds of so-called low-code solutions, not all systems are created the same. Some solutions started out as traditional app development tools used by professional developers. So, while they require “less” coding than traditional app dev tools, they still demand some custom coding along with an advanced level of technical expertise to use.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are no-code solutions that require no coding whatsoever. In fact, it’s not even an option if you wanted to add custom code. Designed for non-technical users, these platforms don’t provide a lot of robust features like automation or deep reporting, but they do provide a simple, quick solution for small teams or individuals who often resort to tracking and managing work with spreadsheets and email.


What does code-optional mean?

There’s a new generation of code-optional platforms that provide a middle ground between low-code and no-code solutions. Users can rapidly create enterprise-grade apps with powerful workflow and reporting features entirely using a drag-and-drop user interface, yet still maintain the option to tailor apps and integrations further with custom code. Again, it’s very similar to WordPress in that users can do as much or as little coding as they want to or need to.


How are CIOs using low-code platforms?

Until recently, most CIOs only considered the more complex versions of low-code platforms as a way to get their internal app dev and IT teams to build more apps faster. However, more CIOs are now taking a hybrid approach where they provide a low-code solution to their developers and a no-code or code-optional solution to their IT departments and business users.

The advantage of this hybrid approach is that app developers can continue to focus on the largest, most complicated software needs of the entire organization, while IT and businesspeople can digitize and streamline key internal workflows that cross departments or divisions.

These lines will continue to blur as low-code systems become less code reliant and no-code or code-optional solutions become even more powerful. This has already started within many organizations as they look to consolidate technology onto one app-building system.

While CIOs maintain their role as tech-leaders, they must also play the role of strategic thinkers by taking on key business challenges much like their COO and CFO counterparts. Developing and leading the charge of digital transformation starts with creative problem-solving and a clear, sustainable advantage over the competition. For many CIOs, low-code solutions will play a key part in helping them do that.

As businesses move full-throttle into modernization, CIOs must be aware of the rift developing between some businesses and their IT department. In a recent survey of over 200 operations executives, leaders report significant challenges of working with IT. To learn more about these challenges, read the survey: IT Losing Confidence of the Business; Operations Leaders Weigh in on Impacts of Under-Resourced IT.