The efforts of myriad edtech platforms focussed on teaching coding to children in India might turn out to be an exercise in futility if the new kid on the block— “low-code/no-code” (LC/NC)—takes off in the way it is poised to. There is palpable excitement about LC/NC around the globe especially because it does not require deep knowledge of computer science. Most of the work can be performed by “citizen developers” who can build software applications using the helpful graphical user interfaces of LC/NC platforms without writing the underlying code. This process often requires little training and is very intuitive. At the outset, LC/NC looks like a potent tool to help democratise the coding space and enable businesses to widen their options, providing tools for non-specialist developers to digitise and transform their operations.
India is no stranger to developments in this space, where the leadership of various software firms has started to see demand for LC/NC products in various domains. LC/NC provides one of the biggest democratisation and IT adoption opportunities for India. Historically, IT adoption in India has been slow because it involves expensive and complex platforms that are difficult to understand and deploy. In-depth knowledge of the platforms was an imperative to efficiently implement the system which always meant hiring the vendor on an integrated product and service model. With LC/NC, the adoption of IT in business is going to be much more widespread, with MSMEs being able to access IT systems at a fraction of the cost of hiring a dedicated coding and technology team. In our opinion, this increasing adoption of IT by businesses in India has the potential to unlock 1-2 percentage points of GDP growth and create up to 5 million additional jobs.
LC/NC platforms have already begun to get traction among businesses that lack the resources to create a strong tech team for software development. It helps solve this very issue for non-coders who wish to develop applications for their organisations. The plug-and-play like feature of LC/NC platforms offer organisations quick turnaround time and reduced costs for their projects.
A recent report by Gartner estimates that, by 2024, 65% of application development by organisations would occur on LC/NC platforms, including those of large enterprises, which constituted 66% of total survey respondents.
What is low-code/no-code?
Typical software development requires deep knowledge and esoteric technical skills in computer science. Coders often spend four to five years of their life on a full-time degree in computer science engineering to earn the prized tag of “software developer”. This equips them with knowledge of the different computer programming languages with their own syntax and “grammar”, which can be likened to the steep task of learning to read, write, and speak a foreign language.
Enter low-code/no-code which promises to revolutionise how software programs are written once and for all.
The difference between low-code and no-code
Whereas low-code solutions usually require some initial installation, deployment, and minimal coding skills, no-code platforms are faster to set up and much easier to use, and hardly require any coding for the most basic functionality.
No-code platforms are good for building line-of-business apps when you have limited IT resources and technically savvy businesspeople. Low-code development platforms, on the other hand, are a good choice for professional developers who want to create long-term custom applications that will help implement business requirements but have much higher customisation needs—such as pixel-perfect user interfaces.
A push towards customer centricity and experience have raised the bar for enterprise applications. Customers and employees expect apps to be automated, smart, and omni-channel. Hence, the application of LC/NC can be omnipresent in application development both for enterprise as well as customer apps.
Enterprise apps surfacing relevant information to their customers or employees are no longer enough. These apps are now also expected to solve complex issues with the click of a button. For example, in a banking/finance app, customers not only want to see their account balances but also be able to report a lost credit card with the click of a button. LC/NC enables such functionality and will empower companies to develop process-driven apps that embed automated processes in every interaction.
Similar to the cloud, LC/NC is not a category itself, but rather a change in the way users interact with software tools. In the same way that PCs democratised software usage, APIs democratised software connectivity, and the cloud democratised the purchase and deployment of software, LC/NC will usher in the next wave of enterprise innovation by democratising technical skill sets. LC/NC is empowering businesses to take over functionality previously outsourced to technical users, by abstracting and visualising complex problems and workflows. This shift has the power to touch every software market and every user across enterprises.
Major firms and platforms globally
While all major technology and SaaS firms globally such as Salesforce, ServiceNow, Microsoft, Oracle, and Appian have some form of LC/NC offering, various fledgeling and mature startups such as Zoho, GitHub, and Shopify are beginning to create a niche for themselves in the space.
Recently, Webflow, a no-code development platform, raised $140 million at a $2.1 billion valuation. A major website builder, Wix, has seen its share price double over the last year and is now valued at $15 billion. Similarly, a well-funded Squarespace (a low-code website building and hosting company) is also currently gearing up to go public.
Low-code/no-code in India
Companies in India are collaborating in a big way with tech firms and startups to optimise and improve their IT operations. A big focus is on automation to save on costs (especially in the wake of a pandemic like Covid-19). This has automatically led to more demand for low-code solutions.
A key factor influencing demand for low-code platforms is the commoditisation of the SaaS model. Buying software for a company has become akin to buying a product off the shelf from a shop. You go to a store, choose the product, pay the bill and can start using the product almost instantaneously.The potential this holds for low-cost IT adoption, especially by MSMEs, the large contribution to GDP that LC/NC offers, and the job-creation potential it promises make this a truly transformational technology for India.
Views are personal. The author is Managing Partner and CEO, Arthur D. Little India & South Asia, and a technology investor. With inputs from Yash Nyati, Senior Business Analyst, Arthur D. Little.