Something interesting is happening in software development. Shipping code has traditionally been the domain of programmers. If you wanted to build a new feature or release a prototype, you needed to have a developer on board.
Well, this hasn’t changed much and, most of the time ,you’ll still need some engineering help. But the emergence of many no-code platforms has opened up the door to the world of app creation to virtually anyone with a bit of tech-savviness in their resume.
Non-engineers can ship prototypes, build business apps, integrate all sorts of tools – all of these with no coding required. There are, of course, limitations, and in certain cases trusting the traditional approach to development is simply more feasible.
But the no code direction is certainly worth exploring for those of you with limited resources or simply in a rush to deliver something fast.
What is no-code?
As the name suggests, the no-code approach allows for building applications without writing any code.
The development happens in a visual development interface and often involves dragging and dropping elements or writing simple commands. Users’ selections are then translated into a traditional programming language, and ready-to-use solutions are built within hours, or even minutes.
No-code apps can facilitate business processes, data flows, and complex workflows, among many others.
Why the demand for “no coding required” tools?
With the abundance of processes happening in every company, automating as much as possible has become a must. Numerous data flows, connected apps, and different business goals don’t make things any easier.
Traditionally, development teams would facilitate these processes. But with the abundance of tasks already on their plates, business-related epics are rarely their priorities.
Due to the global shortage of talent, hiring new developers is also an expensive thing to do. It’s something that many bootstrapping businesses can’t often afford at the capacity they would require. If they could outsource at least some of the things in the backlog to less technical users, they would gladly do so.
This is becoming more and more realistic with the growth of no-code platforms.
No-code tools encompass many different areas.
They allow for the creation of mobile, web, or cloud apps. They facilitate collaboration between applications and allow for smooth data migration. They let you optimize business processes, build complex web pages, automate sales flows, and do a lot more than that.
How is all of this possible without any coding? To understand it, let’s look at the common features of such platforms.
Features of no-code platforms
No-code tools follow what’s commonly referred to as Declarative UI. It’s an approach to front-end development that, in a big shortcut, lets you tell what you want to be displayed in certain parts of your app and, to some extent, how it should look.
You don’t dig deeper into the how part. You don’t specify the steps needed for it to work. You don’t detail how exactly it should, how elements should position themselves on the screen, how they should interact with each other, and so on. This part is handled by the no-code platform itself.
No-code platforms work with reusable components, frequently referred to as blocks. A single block is nothing more than lines of code describing step by step how a certain feature works. Frequently, they’re already pre-populated with dummy data and ready-to-use styles, so you don’t need to build anything from scratch.
As a user, you can freely drag and drop blocks, as well as customize them to a certain extent. The final result will be a fully coded, functional application, developed without any actual coding on your part.
Pros of no-code platforms
There are certainly many benefits of the no-code approach:
- Reduced cost. Building with no-code platforms is certainly cheaper, simply because there are no development costs involved. Because a lot of the code is already taken care of for you, the process is faster and drains fewer resources.
- Low time to market. This speed of development is particularly helpful for startups just testing their prototypes or releasing the first MVPs. With no-code, they can iterate faster and focus only on the core features of their app.
- More flexibility. In traditional coding, if you decide to change the way a feature works, you’re in for an extensive session of coding. In no-code, alternative blocks have already been written. All you have to do is swap and customize them to your needs.
- Built with integrations in mind. No-code platforms often come pre-configured to work with dozens of other tools right off the bat. This eliminates sometimes complex integration time and makes the whole process a lot simpler. All a user needs to do is toggle on a certain app, perhaps copy in the credentials, and they’re good to go.
Cons of no-code platforms
No-code solutions are also not short of pitfalls. Here are the most common ones:
- The templates can be limiting. No-code platforms come with various templates and blocks for building virtually anything you can think of. Or so it seems at the beginning, at least. At some point, you’re likely to encounter limitations, especially if you need to customize a lot or require custom solutions. You may be able to find a workaround, or the platform itself may allow for inserting some code (but that sort of ruins the purpose of using no-code in the first place, doesn’t it?). But the more often it happens, the less feasible the no-code approach will be.
- Security concerns. With no-code, you don’t have full authority over your code, also including the data users trust you with. This makes the codebase vulnerable to security breaches, with very little you can actually do yourself. This risk is partially mitigated by the fact that thousands of other users utilize the very same blocks, and any vulnerabilities can be spotted and addressed much more quickly.
- Difficult to migrate elsewhere. At some point, the no-code platform may become too limiting for your needs – you’ll grow too big, the performance will lag behind, or features that you require won’t be available. At that point, there’s little chance you’ll be able to smoothly migrate to another vendor. Even if the platform exposes a source code to you, each block is custom and may not make much sense somewhere else without extensive documentation.
No-code data integration
A particularly interesting no-code area where business people can thrive is data integration.
Modern businesses gather terabytes of data about each and every interaction between a user and their product. But it’s one thing to gather it, but it’s another to use it wisely and translate it into informed business decisions.
Things get tough when countless data points, formats, and sources are in play. Businesses can’t always afford to build and maintain dedicated integration teams. They would rather have business people take care of, well, business things.
Luckily, it’s becoming more and more accessible due to the growth of no-code tools in this area. One example is Coupler.io, which we not only develop but actively use to facilitate data flows across the entire company.
With Coupler.io, we set up automatic data imports between apps, such as Airtable, Pipedrive, Clockify, and Trello, into Google Sheets and Google BigQuery. Every hour (for most importers) new data populates our tables, updates business metrics, and gives us the latest insights into how users work with Coupler.io and how our marketing campaigns perform.
With a set of integrations, we push the vital data into Slack channels and create reports that business people work with on a daily basis.
This approach lets us focus on the data itself, rather than worrying about whether the migration worked out or the numbers are up to date. The product team gets the data they need and the time required to make informed decisions.
No code vs low code
Another term that frequently pops up is “low-code”. Although similar, it’s not exactly the same thing as “no-code”.
Low-code tools also provide a framework for non-technical users to build apps. They come with ready-made blocks that can be moved around and customized to a certain extent. At some point, however, an application may prove to be too limiting or a certain functionality could be missing.
When that happens, a developer can jump in and code a certain feature to their liking. They can also customize certain aspects to a greater extent than the pre-coded blocks would allow.
Commonly, business people can perform the majority of tasks on a low-code platform. Only, at some point, a developer may be required to put the finishing touches on an application or overcome the limitations of a platform.
This is the main differentiating aspect of no-code and low-code tools. In no-code, you’re limited by the functionality of the platform, however rich it is. You may look for workarounds, or request for certain features to be implemented, but the involvement of technical users is usually impossible or very limited.
Low-code tools are mainly targeted at developers. They limit the amount of work a developer needs to put in to deliver a certain scope. At the same time, they don’t completely eradicate coding.
Low-code platforms provide a framework that streamlines the development process. They can take care of various mundane tasks. A developer working on such a platform can focus all their time on coding core features and customization. Often, they’re able to deliver within hours something that would otherwise take days of traditional coding.
Sometimes, low-code platforms allow for the participation of non-technical users. There, certain aspects of development can be handled with the visual editor, without writing any code. Only, at some point, a developer must step in and put the finishing touches on an application.
Examples of no-code and low-code platforms
There are many, many more free and low-cost tools available, many similar to each other but offering perhaps slightly different functionalities. Here are some top examples:
- Airtable is a cloud collaboration platform aimed at optimizing business processes. It integrates with various marketing, sales, and management tools and lets you build automated workflows that streamline common processes.
- Salesforce Platform is a place for developers to build cloud-based apps with ease. It features a drag-and-drop app builder and hundreds of pre-configured blocks – all with the goal of extending Salesforce CRM and fuel marketing, sales, or even employee management.
- Google AppSheet is a no-code platform for building mobile and cloud-based apps. It works in conjunction with the magnitude of Google productivity tools, including Sheets, Drive, Forms, as well as external database solutions (Microsoft SQL Server, Excel, MySQL, and others)
- Creatio is a low-code/no-code platform for process management and CRM to accelerate sales, marketing, service, and operations for mid-size and large enterprises.
- Zapier is a no-code platform integrating hundreds of cloud-based applications with each other. Through this, it allows for building workflows that automate business processes of virtually any type.
- Microsoft Power Apps features low-code tools for building web and mobile business apps. With them, companies can harness the power of data stored on Microsoft’s infrastructure as well as in external sources. All of these can reduce the costs and boost business efficiency.
Building apps without code opens up opportunities for business people to actively get involved in the creation process. More and more tools keep popping up, and the existing ones are getting more and more features. With a bit of tech-savviness, everyone can become a “citizen developer”.
Fingers crossed for you, and thanks for your time.Back to Blog