There are a few key things to keep in mind when considering the move to low-code/no-code, particularly ownership and integrations.
The market in composable platforms — such as Digital Experience Platforms (DXP) and commerce — has all its own language, buzzwords, sales pitches and marketing slogans. We hear things like omnichannel, best-of-breed, packaged business capabilities, decoupled architectures and more.
One of the more enticing phrases you hear is “low-code/no-code,” or LC/NC. If you are coming from a world of monolithic, legacy platforms based around heavy and specialized development, bespoke customizations and seemingly unbounded billable hours, LC/NC sounds like a promised land of quick launches, continuous and iterative improvement, and a happy and active marketing department.
How Does Low-Code/No-Code Work?
LC/NC works just as it sounds. A SaaS-based platform is provided to you as the customer for a monthly fee and comes “out of the box” with nearly everything you will need to get your job done, whether that be content or commerce especially. The teams for these products do the development, negotiate the partnerships and connections to other composable systems, and provide an army of customer success tacticians to keep you happy and onside.
As the enterprise marketer or technologist utilizing one of these products you are ostensibly free to thrive within your skillset without having to maintain the system, code and infrastructure. In theory, there will be no more internal bottlenecks. This would sure seem like the magic recipe, what with the customer in control and a platform that works for you, as opposed to a platform that you work for!
However, there are a few key things to keep in mind when considering the move to LC/NC.
Let’s focus on three …
Lean Into the Template
When utilizing LC/NC solutions, particularly in the DXP and commerce spaces, they are by extension, “ready-to-go.” Once you as the customer sign on the dotted line — or the “DocuSign” these days — the platform (the “instance,” in the parlance) is yours, with a backend system structured and a frontend (React) shell that is ready to be hydrated with content, products, images and assets.
This may be different than how you were accustomed to builds of yore, where a design phase would kick things off with user journey wireframing and visual iterations; design files would be transformed into HTML/CSS (frontend programming); and then this package would be passed off to backend developers, to be staged and integrated atop a monolithic backend, such as Sitecore, Kentico or WordPress. The approach was very “waterfall,” with one step leading to the next, decisions locking in scope, and less opportunity for customization or changes the further you got down the waterfall.
This previous way of thinking does not jive especially well with LC/NC, which is built on maximal agility and a high-level, but rather pre-baked, productized front and back end. Your mentality needs to change toward how you as the organization can take advantage quickly and leapfrog atop all that is already developed.
Agile thinking is ultimately about prioritizing a backlog of activities and endeavoring toward an MVP, or minimally viable product. Within LC/NC, “design” and “development” can and should take place concurrently, and an MVP could be the solution that gets you to market immediately. Customizations are still able to be made, especially in frontend design, but will incur extra time to make those changes and alterations. By “leaning into the template” and building within the considerable confines of the composable solution, you can get to launch quickly, and still have the agile opportunity to make updates as you move forward.
What About the Developers?
I am continually interested in the subject of how work roles might change, especially within and across the marketing and IT departments, with the shift toward composable business. This topic was ever-present at Boye & Company’s recent CMS Experts Group meeting in Boston in mid-September. Can marketing teams really go end-to-end with LC/NC digital solutions now? Will there be a major “developer disruption” with this shift, making the traditional tasks and roles IT has held somewhat extinct?
I was chatting recently with Andrew Kumar, a great thought leader in the composable space and the global head of go-to-market at Stackbit. He told me that roles will change, but the importance of developers and the architects, will not diminish.
As a counterpoint to my argument of developer demise, Kumar noted that he recently hosted an in-person networking event in Toronto, attended mostly by developers. When he polled the room about what the developers tend to do in their day-to-day, more than half of the attendees raised their hands for one somewhat surprising regular task. “A lot of developers are still doing ‘content entry,’” Kumar told me. This is an inefficient use of a higher paid and strategic resource. Marketing should gain much more autonomy in the shift toward LC/NC, but developers will still be needed, especially for doing the initial setup of the solution, evolving the solution over time, maintaining security and governance, and as Kumar calls it, “setting up the guardrails.”
Related Article: Can Low- and No-Code Platforms Turn Marketers Into Data Scientists?
Who Makes the Decisions? Who Owns the Solution?
With the aforementioned balancing of marketing and IT functions in the composable and LC/NC paradigm, the next question might be a bit more existential: Who is the “gatekeeper” for the composable solutions?
Especially as these products undoubtedly proliferate with new entrants added from best-in-breed options across the technology stack? The IT department has typically been the accountable entity for the technology, but when Gartner says that “by 2024, 80% of technology products and services will be built by those who are not technology professionals,” how is the reality of IT control even feasible?
Then again, perhaps the idea where only IT controls technology is an anachronism. If the business itself is expected to be as composable as the software it manages, and if technology — especially during and after COVID-19 — is thoroughly embedded in every nook-and-cranny of the business, the evolution towards a more hybrid governance approach is inevitable and necessary.
A Harvard Business Review article from last year synthesized this thought process well, breaking down the balance between traditional IT operations and “Shadow IT” spun up by “Citizen Developers.”
“LC/NC oversight can control this issue…and make common the handoff of applications from citizen developers to professional ones when appropriate,” writes Chris Johannessen and Tom Davenport, the authors of the article.
“IT organizations need to maintain some control over system development, including the selection of which LC/NC tools the organization will support.”
Conclusion: IT Still in the Tech Mix
LC/NC provides an amazing opportunity to bring specific digital solutions to market quickly, professionally and sustainably. It opens the door for more of the resources within an enterprise organization to take part in the technology and lead campaigns, especially marketing professionals.
But there is still a crucial role for IT to play, and there are still lessons and best practices to heed when jumping into the composable, low-code/no-code fray!