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State Of No-Code App Development

It’s no secret that the world is changing faster than ever. Before 2020 became, well, 2020businesses knew that digital transformation was critical, yet few were prepared to make the pivot. 

The events of last year caused a forcing function, accelerating the need for change in organizations around the globe. Problem solving required a democratized approach to the tools of innovation, one in which anyone in the workforce, whether skilled in coding or not, could leverage technology to create novel solutions. The solution stacks businesses were working with needed to be rethought. 

Though we typically associate app creation with traditional developers who write code, hundreds of thousands of apps were built this year by non-technical “citizen developer” app creators from around the globe. This democratization occurred because industries such as retail, construction, manufacturing, hospitality, telecom, education, real estate, IT services and more all sought digital transformation through no-code development. 

In this post, we’ll breakdown why no-code application development has become an important part of digital transformation by examining the following areas of impact: 

  • Speed and agility 
  • Productivity and collaboration
  • Governance and security 

Speed & agility were critical 

In a recent survey of app creators using Google Cloud’s no-code application platform, AppSheet, some 32% of respondents cited speed of development as one of the greatest benefits to using no-code. Faster development times mean more responsive iterations, more problems being solved, and potentially greater impact for those that need tailored line-of-business solutions. The ability to pivot quickly has been incredibly important during a time in which the way we operated frequently needed to change quickly.  

How exactly does no-code technology allow for faster development cycles? 

First and foremost, it does exactly what the name implies—it allows people to build applications and process automations without coding and therefore opens up innovation to a wider range of employees. AppSheet, for example, abstracts coding into an intuitive, natural-language based interface that anyone can use, even if they have never written a line of code—all while still giving IT the visibility and control it needs to keep data safe.  

And while every no-code platform has a different approach to facilitating speedier and more democratic app creation, app creators that choose AppSheet are able to leverage the platform’s use of Google AI and ML in two different ways. Baked-in AI and ML help app creators create prototypes quickly, facilitating things like natural language-interfaces in which users need only type their intent to surface relevant functions, and also enable implementation of rich capabilities like Optical Character Recognition (OCR), for conducting activities such as inventory management or other use cases that involve barcodes, image recognition, and similar ML-driven capabilities. 

Collaboration transcends location

The ways in which we work shifted an incredible amount in 2020. Those who generally worked in offices with their teams or in schools with their students were sent home. Those who continued to work on-location filled essential roles that often required agile, on-the-go access to critical data, whether it was stored on-device or in the cloud. As communities surrounding work, school, and family life became impacted and activated in ways we’ve arguably never seen, collaboration and connection became paramount to success in 2020.

This need for collaboration was no different for those trying to find digital ways in which to support the communities in which they operate. For those who use no-code, there were two key ways in which this collaboration takes place. Once an app is shared with another person, whether it be a fellow creator or an end user, collaboration becomes something different. For a creator-to-creator relationship, it means ensuring the data source in use is designed for manageability, iteration, security, and friction-free access. For an end user-to-creator interaction, the relationship is more complex: app creators typically engage with an application in a development capacity on a desktop while end users typically engage with an application on their mobile devices. This is why our approach to no-code lets app creators build one app that’s compatible across them all— desktop, tablet, etc.— with no additional development required to support a range of  major operating systems or interaction models. This allows the creator to engage with their end users in a more direct and meaningful manner that not only increases collaboration, but can also increase productivity. 

BHI – a construction company based out of the US – is a great example of how to collaborate with a workforce through no-code. With 90% of their employees not only deskless, but also dispersed across worksites spanning 25 states, the company needs the ability to engage with data in real time. They take collaboration one step further by leveraging a combination of no-code development and Google Workspace. This combination has allowed BHI to free up their IT spend by 10% while embracing democratized digital innovation.  

Unlocking data without compromising governance and security  

Governance was one of 2020’s  most discussed IT topics, and for good reason: in 2019, research indicated that “anything from 30% to 50% of enterprise spend is linked to shadow IT.“ When an IT team can set policies and provide oversight for non-technical teams within the organization, employees on the ground can problem solve quickly without creating management and governance liabilities; enterprises want to empower employees to innovate and move fast—but they cannot afford to play fast-and-loose with data security. Neither no-code technology nor the citizen developers who leverage it are meant to replace traditional development practices within an organization. Rather, the intention is to work in concert to support digital transformation by both respecting governance needs and democratizing access to the tools of innovation and optimization.

Belgium-based Solvay is a great example of governance at work. As we detailed in case study, ”Francis Boulu and the [Solvay] industrial team initially started using AppSheet to collect information from production operators to streamline checklists and inspections. Using AppSheet in conjunction with Google Sheets, they were able to rapidly demonstrate and roll out applications and work them into production.” Through word of mouth across the organization, the demand for no-code technology grew, which could easily have overwhelmed any IT team’s backlog. But because Solvay selected a platform that incorporated governance into its capabilities, IT was able to provide an infrastructure that empowered individual contributors to participate in the development process while still adhering to governance requirements. To date, Solvay has created approximately 1,000 apps with no-code that are used around the globe, including those they’ve built in response to support their COVID initiatives. 

Looking to the future 

As we move past 2020, the primary change in the state of work has been broader recognition of the need to empower non-technical employees to build custom solutions and optimizations. Work culture will continue to shift and the demands for democratizing technology will increase. So too will the demands for platforms such as Google Cloud’s AppSheet. The importance of AI will continue to grow, and as the technological capabilities for these platforms continue to evolve, governance will play a more important role than ever before to ensure those that need to build applications are able. 

2021 will bring about new ways to engage with no-code, ways that we believe will help creators deepen their skills and create true impact for their organizations. Analysts agree: Gartner’s October 2019 report “The Future of Apps Must Include Citizen Development,” indicated that by 2023, “the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers.”  

If you’re not already evolving your work to include custom applications with no-code, join app creators around the globe and get started now.

By Jennifer Cadence. Source: Google Cloud Blog.

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