Are you asking yourself the question “what is no-code”? You’re not alone. The concept sounds almost too good to be true: developing your own software applications without ever having to learn a programming language like Java or Python.

Even your most technophobic employee can become a star software developer thanks to the proliferation of no-code development tools. No-code development doesn’t mean that software developers will lose their jobs, and it’s not a perfect match for every situation. Yet by making no-code development platforms available to your employees, your business can become dramatically more agile, productive, and cost-efficient.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the “no-code” phenomenon: the definition of no-code software, no-code vs low-code, the pros and cons of both options, the features of no-code platforms, and who benefits the most from no-code development.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is No-Code?
  2. No-Code Versus Low-Code
  3. 5 Features of No-Code Platforms
  4. Who Should Use No-Code Platforms?
  5. Xplenty for No-Code Data Integration

What Is No-Code? 

“No-code” tools are software development platforms that allow even non-technical employees to build and deploy their own applications without writing a single line of code. These tools often feature a simple user interface with drag-and-drop features, letting you easily visualize the development process and define the underlying business logic.

The term “no-code” is often used in conjunction with, or synonymously with, the term “low-code.” As the names suggest, however, there’s an important distinction:

  • No-code platforms can build software without the user having to modify the underlying codebase. They typically use a visual interface that guides users step-by-step through the development process. In many cases, these tools use drag-and-drop functionality.
  • Low-code platforms may call for limited amounts of coding, requiring non-technical users to work together with developers during some or all of the development process. The solutions may have a mixture of visual interfaces and coding sections, so they do offer some guidance.

The distinction between “no-code” and “low-code” is often blurry, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Low-code development platforms are for those applications that are more complex or more important to the business, requiring manual input from a skilled human developer.

No-Code Versus Low-Code

No-code and low-code solutions both have their uses, so choosing between them requires understanding their strengths and weaknesses. You could also end up using no-code platforms for some teams and use cases, and low-code tools for projects that require greater customization.

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Low-Code Pros

Complex Application Development

You can develop and implement complex applications capable of addressing a variety of use cases in your organizations. While you don’t have as much control as you would with a full coding environment, you can do much more than no-code.

Extends Beyond Out-of-the-Box Usage

Your business needs and application requirements are unique and may need more features than a platform offers out-of-the-box. Whether you need to integrate your other tools via API requests or want to take a feature in a new direction, you have the right foundation to build from. This customization can make a significant difference in getting the software to work for you.

Better Suited for Scalability and Portability

Low-code allows your developers to optimize the application for scaling and working with larger data sets. You know what data volumes and formats you typically work with, and you’re able to build a tool that can accommodate those technical requirements.

Since you have some coding in place, you have the building blocks to move an application to another low-code platform or to transition to a fully developed custom solution.

Low-Code Cons

Coding Knowledge Required

The low-code platform may require a little or a lot of coding knowledge to build tools with it successfully. While users may not need to know a complete programming language from start to finish, they need a solid background in coding logic and similar skills to get the most out of the platform.

Slower to Deploy

The learning curve is sharper with low-code, making your deployment speed slower compared to no-code’s intuitive controls. Projects that require significant agility could suffer while waiting for the right proof of concepts or solutions, and you may miss out on opportunities. You also need to allocate more resources for low-code development. If a proof of concept or prototype ends up being a poor fit for your organization, then you've wasted that time, talent, and money.

Restricting Your Pool of Citizen Developers

You stop many business users from being able to have access to custom development tools. They have to send requests to other teams and add to a backlog that may be weeks or months long.

No-Code Pros

Democratic Software Development

IT research and advisory firm Gartner has spoken of the rise of the citizen developer, which it defines as “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.” According to a 2017 study, 76 percent of organizations say that at least some of their internal applications were created outside of the IT department.

No-code platforms facilitate citizen development by letting non-technical users build robust, feature-rich applications without needing to get a degree in computer science or having to wait for the IT department to develop them for you. As such, no-code platforms make the development process truly democratic, opening the doors to new opportunities and possibilities.

Greater Business Agility

As a side effect of democratizing the development process, no-code platforms make your business more agile and responsive to changing requirements and customer demands.

Enterprise software projects can take months or years to complete and often run late and over budget. No-code platforms considerably shorten this process, letting you iterate and respond to changes more quickly as you develop applications on an ad hoc basis.

Lower IT Costs

Good software development talent isn’t cheap, and the costs are even higher when you consider salary, benefits, and the associated costs of hiring and onboarding. Yet having full-time developers on staff isn’t always practical or cost-effective—so what can you do when you truly do need to create new enterprise software?

No-code platforms can drastically slash your IT costs by doing the heavy development work for you. Rather than hiring people yourself or working with a third-party development partner, you can save time and money by letting your no-code platform do all the coding work under the hood.

No-Code Cons

Vendor Lock-In

You’re out of luck if you want to move your no-code application somewhere else. The components used for your solution are unique to that platform, and it’s unlikely that you can migrate it elsewhere. If you outgrow the vendor, you could hit performance and scalability issues that limit your application’s potential.

Other dangers of vendor lock-in include costs that don’t align with your organization’s budget, the vendor going out of business and sinking your application with it, and changes to the platform making your application worse. The lack of control over the platform's direction adds risk to these projects, especially if they become mission-critical.

Unable to Build on the Code Base

Want to address an edge case or expand your application’s functionality beyond the platform’s capabilities? The no-code toolset doesn’t allow you to access the code base, so you can’t tack on new functionality or create a customized experience that’s not innately supported on the platform.

May Offer Limited Native Integrations

One way that you can get around the limitations of your chosen no-code platform is by looking at the integrations that are available. However, if your preferred solutions don’t have native integration, then you can’t go into the code and add API support. This drawback limits the long-term potential of the platform, as you can't predict when new technology will be released that is essential to your company.

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5 Features of No-Code Platforms

We’ve gone over the benefits of no-code development—now what are some of the features commonly included in no-code platforms?

  1. Drag-and-drop interface: As mentioned above, one of the most common features of no-code platforms is a visual drag-and-drop WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) interface that lets users create an application from scratch very quickly.
  2. AI and machine learning: Some sophisticated no-code platforms make use of AI and machine learning techniques to predict user actions and make the development process even more streamlined and efficient.
  3. Data connections: Depending on the business use case, some no-code platforms make it easy for you to connect the application with other sources of enterprise data, such as Microsoft Excel and SQL databases.
  4. Security and privacy: As a corollary to the above point, no-code platforms should follow best practices for security and privacy, keeping your codebase free of vulnerabilities and protecting your sensitive data.
  5. Mobile capabilities: Many enterprise software applications need to run on mobile devices or on both desktop and mobile. If you want to develop applications for mobile, be sure to choose a no-code platform that includes these capabilities.

Who Should Use No-Code Platforms?

The ideal use cases for no-code platforms include:

  • Startup businesses: Everything is lean when you’re first starting a business. You don’t have a large team or an endless source of funding. You need a way to set up a minimum viable product without massively investing in an idea that may or may not work. No-code tools give you a framework to bring your vision to life while making the most of your available resources.
  • Proof of concepts and prototypes: Outside of startups, many businesses can benefit from proof of concepts and prototypes powered by no-code solutions. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for basic functionality, which allows you to focus on the unique aspects of your project. Prototypes are useful for testing out product-market fits and otherwise confirming that users actually want that type of application, whether you’re selling to consumers or offering a tool for an internal department.
  • Quick time to market applications: If you see a gap in the market and you want to take advantage of it before the competition, no-code tools give you the jump-start you need. Once you’re established in the marketplace, you can pursue other development approaches, if needed.
  • Organization-wide knowledge leverage: You have access to a wide variety of skills and knowledge within your organization, but you might not know it. No-code tools make it easier for business users to share what they know and the ideas they have. For example, they can optimize workflows and digitally transform business processes based on their time in that particular role.
  • Businesses with limited developer resources: If you’re not a software company, you may not have a dedicated development team. Custom applications shouldn’t be limited to massive enterprises. No-code app development allows you to create tools uniquely aligned with your business goals and requirements and often include templates for ease of use.
  • Business users seeking more self-sufficiency: Being on a development feature request backlog can get frustrating. Business users can become more self-sufficient when they have access to no-code tools.
  • Businesses wanting to empower citizen developers: If non-technical users frequently have great suggestions and ideas for internal tools, you can help them realize these ideas with no-code solutions.

No-code apps have revolutionized business IT, making it easier than ever to spin up and start using feature-rich enterprise software. While there will always be a need for human-led software development, no-code platforms fill an important space for companies of all sizes and industries. The innovative ideas from citizen developers can spur unique solutions that improve productivity and open up many possibilities, especially as more no-code platforms become available.

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Xplenty for No-Code Data Integration

With so many benefits of no-code platforms, why not try out no-code ETL development for yourself? Xplenty is an ETL data integration platform that lets users create data pipelines from their sources or database to their data warehouse or data lake, without writing a single line of code. Get in touch with us for a personalized demo and risk-free 14-day trial of the Xplenty platform.