I’m sure you have heard all the hype about the concept of “no-code” or “low code” development methodologies. Many people have asked me if this is a threat to the web development business. To be honest, I don’t think so. But it certainly is a topic worthy of discussion, as many clients are contemplating using such solutions these days and, in some cases, actually trying it out to see if it works.
In 20 years in the web development space, the one consistent theme I see is that no single product can replace skill and expertise. In the early 2000s, you had many tools come out that would design and code websites for you, such as Dreamweaver or Go Live (now I’m dating myself). A time went on, we started to see platforms like WordPress, which allowed users to do quite a bit with rudimentary knowledge. Today, we’re seeing more platforms that allow even more control over the creation of content organization and presentation layers. It can definitely be said that as time went on, these products got more and more sophisticated.
However, it can also be said that the problems they are trying to solve are more complex, too! Today, the digital problems we need to solve are complicated, confusing, and expensive to adequately remedy.
So what is the role of no-code?
Well, first, let’s take a look at the pros of such platforms. Indeed, no-code platforms have the benefit of making complicated tasks much easier for folks with zero technical capabilities. They are relatively low cost, easy to manage, and since people can learn to use them quickly, they can spin out new concepts or workflows in short periods, for minimal cost. It all seems rather impressive.
However, many negatives need to be considered. First off is portability. Utilizing a no-code platform means you are using a platform that is owned by someone else. The work you do there will always be pinned to the platform. It isn’t exportable, and you don’t own any source code. As such, this is the ultimate case of vendor lock-in. Some of the vendors advertise that the code is portable, but it hardly ever is upon deeper inspection. And they aren’t incentivized to fix that problem, either.
Another limitation is the rigidity of the system. No-code platforms provide pretty strict templates from which you can work. Stepping outside those pre-defined templates is nearly impossible to do. And most likely, the provider won’t help. These built-in limitations make life difficult as you work to expand the functionality of your project.
Finally, I think some customers should also worry about the security aspects of these solutions. Enterprise clients, those in healthcare or finance – you need to worry about the data you are storing or transmitting through these platforms because you simply don’t know what’s under the hood. Start-ups that offer these no-code solutions are, in some cases, a lawsuit away from being put out of business. That’s simply too much risk to bear.
Now, of course, those are just a few pros and a few negatives of these products. Yet, they exist and are raising massive venture capital funding and growing their user base. So they must do something well, right? And in that case, it’s fair to ask if no-code is right for you. Let’s examine.
Who Should Use No-Code
I can think of a few scenarios where no-code may make sense for a company:
Prototyping – No-code is a great place to do it quickly and easily if you want to prototype a new application or workflow. While many prototyping applications exist for design, such as Figma or similar, no-code solutions let you prototype logic, which makes a lot of sense.
Simple Workflows – Companies that have simple API integrations between different applications, or are seeking to build out rudimentary application-like features, may benefit from these tools, provided they are not concerned with the finer points of data management and security.
Internal Systems – The best implementation I’ve seen is in controlled environments. This includes in-house, internal-use systems. No-code solutions can make collaboration between teams and people more manageable. If you hear someone during a meeting say “Surely there is a tool for this” – there is a decent chance you could spin something out quickly with a no-code solution. However, you may run into infosec concerns in getting these applications approved in the long run within your organization.
Who Should AVOID No-Code At All Costs
This is the most critical point of this post, so please read it twice:
No-code systems are not a platform on which to build a digital-focused online business.
What does this mean? It means that the next great SaaS application will not be built on a no-code platform. You cannot create a digital software product on a platform that you have zero control over.
You CAN, however, use these tools to prototype. It’s OK to work through logically complex workstreams using these tools. However, businesses that live online will forever need to be custom-developed.
To put this into an analogy that hopefully resonates… No-code platforms are akin to building a house on property owned by someone else with tools and materials made available by the same person. You’ll put in all the effort to build the house, and the minute you stop paying, they get to keep it. Only in this case, you don’t have the safety of a lease in place to at least allow you time to arrange for a move.
That isn’t how you build a business.
In wrapping this post up, I want to reiterate that every tool has a purpose. As I’ve laid out above, indeed, there are great applications for these types of platforms. But, they are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. If you think no-code is a direction you want to pursue, make sure it’s with something that is not mission-critical, you have pathways to replace it quickly and easily, and it’s not a centerpiece of your business’s operations.