Low-code and citizen developers will drive innovation in 2021

Written by Marc LeCuyer, General Manager Canada at ServiceNow


Year after year, the need for software developers at enterprises continues to outpace the number of new graduates entering the profession. And according to data from the Government of Canada Job Bank, the labour shortage conditions seen in recent years are expected to persist into 2028. With a shortage of talent that has a knack for programming, business innovation has slowed. Enter the employees who work within the business and have limited coding knowledge, called citizen developers, who will be empowered by the increased accessibility to app development software that low-code solutions provide.

While low-code platforms have been gaining prominence for some time, their popularity has surged alongside the many other digital transformation initiatives that have accelerated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking ahead to 2021, the enterprise app development space is set to experience a renaissance. Low-code solutions and the employees and citizen developers that leverage them will be at the centre of innovation across Canada and around the globe.

According to a recent report from the Forbes Technology Council, low-code platforms are predicted to be one of the top software development trends in the coming months. Not years – months. And research from the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms predicts over 50 per cent of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low-code application platform as one of their strategic application platforms by 2023.

Increasing business efficiency

The widespread digital transformation adopted among enterprises this year has shifted business priorities to focus more heavily on innovation in the name of efficiency. And having been in the throes of the pandemic for over nine months, many businesses have renewed ambitions and are no longer singularly focused on survival. They’re looking for new ways to thrive in a rapidly changing business landscape that favours those who can tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

Since low-code platforms remove the massive programming effort traditionally required to build enterprise-grade apps, IT leaders who make use of them are uniquely able to set their business on a path to faster and more affordable development cycles. While this nimble approach to software development has helped many during the health crisis, it’s even better suited for a stabilized business economy where the rewards go beyond securing short-term business continuity. When enterprises can quickly and affordably build apps at scale – while meeting stringent security standards – new levels of productivity are unlocked. This frees up human capital and other resources that can be used to tackle upcoming initiatives sooner.

Of course, there is still room for advancements in low-code technology. When developing new apps that are completely out of the box, a large amount of code-customization may be needed. In these cases, traditional programming is the way to get the job done. But as low-code platforms continue to be improved, the business case for apps developed from the ground up will become rare.

Fulfilling the unmet demand for innovation

Leveraging pre-built code to speed up programming, low-code solutions give citizen developers a leg up before they even begin to work on a new application. There’s no need to start from scratch when there are a seemingly endless number of existing enterprise apps that share common functionalities. And by pulling these functionalities into a development platform, they can be dragged and dropped for use in a new product. This means that what were once complex barriers to innovation are effectively removed by putting a programmer’s tools in the hands of employees closer to the business.

Low-code platforms empower citizen developers to take advantage of their unique position within the enterprise by enabling them to combine their deep business expertise and understanding of how their business operates with the ability to create an app-based solution to challenges faced by any number of stakeholders – from concept to execution. This is the most streamlined approach to innovation I’ve seen at the enterprise level, and it results in significant time and cost savings. For a real-life example, look no further than the implementation of ServiceNow’s low-code capabilities by the world’s largest manufacturer of glass containers. With low-code development, this IT department responds 10 times faster to business needs and can automate low- to medium-complexity business processes in two weeks or less.

While these early users of low-code app development have yet to be valued to the same extent as their programmer colleagues, that will change very soon. As jacks-of-all-trades who bring both technical and non-technical skills to the table, they will enable a modernized approach to business innovation by providing creative new ideas that can be brought to life by the very same employees who think of them. And by bringing this diversity of thought outside of IT departments, the creation of new apps will naturally meet a broader range of business needs.

About the author
Marc LeCuyer is the General Manager, Canada at ServiceNow. Its cloud‑based platform and solutions deliver digital workflows that create great experiences and unlock productivity for employees and the enterprise.

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