Faced with a long-running shortage of experienced professional developers, enterprise IT leaders have been exploring fresh ways of unlocking software development talent by training up non-IT staff and deploying tools that enable even business users to build or customize applications to suit their needs.

A broad spectrum of tools has arisen to facilitate software development in the enterprise, from no-code platforms like Bubble and low-code drag-and-drop tools, both stand-alone and integrated into enterprise applications, to intelligent tools that use machine learning to suggest lines of code to professional developers as they work.

Sales of all three of these categories of tools are growing. IDC forecasts that sales of no-code platforms will grow at an annual rate of 13.9% through 2026, with sales of low-code platforms growing at 14.1%, and those of intelligent developer technologies roaring ahead at 31.3%. This last category has received a boost as platform vendors explore the potential of generative AI models such as ChatGPT to create boilerplate application skeletons on which developers can hang their own business logic — or even turn human-readable requirements into machine-readable code.

The predictions about the future of software development are contained in IDC’s “Worldwide Low-Code, No-Code and Intelligent Developer Technologies Forecast, 2022-2026” report.

Its author, Michele Rosen, says the market for intelligent developer tools has become even more interesting since she finished writing it, now that some of those tools — such as Salesforce’s Einstein GPT or Microsoft’s GPT-based Copilot — have become public, although even before that, products such as OutSystems’ AI Mentor were offering similar functions.

Autocomplete on steroids

“Think of them as boilerplate writers, or autocomplete on steroids,” Rosen says. “They are tools used by someone who knows how to do this themselves, who may be using them to supplement their knowledge about a technology, library, or framework they haven’t worked with before, or to avoid looking up a few lines of code on Stack Overflow.”

Other uses for them might involve typing a few words as a prompt to generate the 20 lines of boilerplate needed to get a project started. “It’s really just a force multiplier, an accelerator,” she says.

Low-code and no-code platforms, on the other hand, typically adopt a drag-and-drop metaphor rather than a command-line interface, and that shows up in the way line-of-business developers think about the problems they’re solving too.

Users without a technical background will typically consider an app from the user interface inwards, she says: “That’s just the mentality that most people approach computing with.” If they are provided with UI components they can arrange to create the user interface, and then also components that can be assembled into business logic and even integrate with third party systems, then, in a sense, no-code and low-code development for the non-technical developer becomes a component based experience, she adds.

That componentization is key, says Andrew Peterson, CTO of executive search firm Riviera Partners, a longtime user of low-code development tools.

“One of the reasons I like low-code is because certain parts of your application are commoditized,” he says. “If I can get those things off-the-shelf, then I can focus on building the things that really add value, that are important to my particular business: the business logic, the innovation, the competitive advantages. Then I have a quicker time to market.”

But it’s not just about making life easier for the coders, whether they’re in the IT department or elsewhere. A good low-code or no-code platform will also help the CIO, says Rosen.

Governance guidelines

“If I had to tell someone looking to buy a no-code or a low-code tool what to look for to tell whether that vendor is serious about helping them build a culture of low-code/no-code development, it would be controls to help them set up governance around who can use the tools and what the tools can be used for,” says Rosen.

In some ways, governance around low-code tools is no different than for other software development tools, says Nick Mates, VP of operations and technology at Lendr, an online business-to-business loan platform. “We treat a low-code application as if it was a traditional code application,” he says. “It should follow the same governance lifecycles, from a business analyst’s desk to a developer’s desk to a QA desk to deployment.”

But with code-facilitating tools such as these, enterprises must also set up governance around which tools are best used for which use cases, Rosen says, noting that many organizations have multiple such tools in operation in house. Organizations with the most experience leveraging low-code and no-code tools have also set up centers of excellence (CoEs) to advise lines of business on which tool to use and when, she says. The CoEs also provide support by coding more complex interactions and integrations that low-code development tools or their users can’t handle, providing reusable components that line-of-business developers can access, and curating them in a marketplace or code repository.

One thing that plays into deciding the right tool for the job, and when a professional developer’s help is needed, is the level of interoperability that any given vendor has enabled in their platform, Rosen says. “Do they really just want you to bring all your data and logic to their platform, or are they allowing you to build apps that cross over multiple platforms?” she says. “That’s an important feature that customers can look for.”

The cost of keeping up

Should CIOs not yet all-in on the trend budget their software development tool spend to keep pace with IDC’s growth forecasts? “It’s not something where they need to make a major investment,” says Rosen. Setting up a CoE and making reusable software components available are affordable steps for most enterprises, she says. “Generally speaking, it’s not expensive to get started,” she adds. “What’s expensive is scale.”

Rather than worrying about whether their software spending is keeping pace with that of their competitors, Rosen advises CIOs to ask themselves, “What features are we not offering that we might be able to offer using low code, and that will be impactful for the business?” That approach could lead to cost savings since reusing componentized interfaces may mean a reduced need to hire expensive, expert programmers to build each application from scratch.

One key indicator on budgeting would be to weigh the cost per user for low-code platform licenses against the cost of hiring additional staff, Rosen says. For now, the difficulty of finding highly experienced professional developers is tilting that balance in favor of enabling line-of-business staff with low-code tools. Lower down the expertise scale, the decision whether to hire or to reskill existing staff is less clear, she says. At this level, CIOs need to take other advantages of deploying low-code platforms into account: not just develop a new digital business product, but perhaps also empower employees or improve retention.

“Once you know what you’re going for, you can look at the platforms with a different perspective,” Rosen says.

CIO, Developer, Development Tools, No Code and Low Code, Software Development

Coding has been an educational trend in Africa for many years, and schools and movements have been created in response to a pressing need and necessity in the digital age. It’s still the case today, except entrepreneurs and companies are now beginning to adopt tools to create applications and develop services that don’t require coding. Those who have taken the plunge are trying to maximize the vast potential of these tools by further educating as many people as possible about them in a continent where the familiarization of digital techniques is not advanced.

Some African entrepreneurs have embarked on a mission to universalize these tools since many ICT professionals report that digital illiteracy in Africa is still a concerning reality.

In its 2021 study on the state of low-code/no-code development around the world and how different regions are approaching it, US cloud computing company Rackspace Technology said that in the EMEA region, the use level is below the global average.

The report shows that the biggest barrier to adoption in this region may be skepticism about the benefits, and of all regions, EMEA is the least likely to say that low-code/no-code is a key trend. It’s also the only region where unclear benefits constitute one of the top three reasons for not adopting low-code/no-code.

“It’s possible that organizations in EMEA don’t have as many models for successful low-code/no-code implementation because EMEA organizations that have implemented it may not be seeing its biggest benefit,” the report says. “Forty-four percent say the ability to accelerate the delivery of new software and applications is a benefit — the lowest percentage of any region.”  

Some West African countries, such as Benin, understand that low-code/no-code tools are innovative and disruptive to the CIO community, but not universally trusted. “The general idea is that low-code/no-code is not yet mature enough to be used on a large scale because of its application to specific cases where security needs and constraints are low,” says Maximilien Kpodjedo, president of the CIO Association of Benin and digital adviser to Beninese president Patrice Talon. “These technologies are at the exploratory or low-use stage.”

However, he notices interest in these technologies is growing among CIOs.

“We have commissions working and thinking about innovative concepts, including a commission of CIOs,” says Kpodjedo. “Even if there were projects, they’re marginal at this stage. This could change in the near future, though, thanks to the interest generated.”

But some other entrepreneurs have taken advantage of it and want others to benefit from what they’ve seen in these tools. Actors and leaders of incubators and educational movements are doing what they can for the sake of those in both technological and non-technological sectors.

Many become coaches or consultants of low-code/no-code for companies while others within incubators or movements lead awareness and training on these technologies.

It’s almost child’s play for some entrepreneurs who use it to automate trivial tasks or create internal software for their companies. They don’t need to be experts in coding or even have deep knowledge of ICT. They sometimes come across a technology by chance and end up adopting it because they see its importance and benefits.

This is a reality described by Kenyan Maureen Esther Achieng, CEO of Nocode Apps, Inc., who got into non-coding technologies by following the advice of Mike Williams, otherwise known as Yoroomie, a friend who built and launched online marketplace community for music studio rentals Studiotime in one night using no code.

“Since then, through constant self-study and countless mentorships from some of the best coaches in the global no code space, I’ve helped hundreds of people get started in technology,” she said.

Achieng has now taken up technology as her “divine mission.” Her company specializes in training non-technical entrepreneurs and start-ups, and she teaches people how to leverage no code technology to launch their applications and websites in hours without writing code or hiring developers.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, software engineer Bigurwa Buhendwa Dom also discovered no code from a relative.

“I had no idea that such technology could exist or at least be so advanced,” he says. “As a software engineer, setting up a working application or even a demo is a real challenge. It takes months or years in some cases. I was fascinated by the speed with which you can build a prototype or a trial version with such a technology, which immediately reduces costs and allows you to test the idea in the market.”

He now offers independent consultations in his country where he has noticed that most people don’t know what it’s about.

A simple environment for companies

Public and private companies also see an opportunity for these services. In Cameroon, for instance, the land credit authority is banking on an agile platform in low code adapted to the needs of application development, as well as the supply of licenses necessary to implement such a platform, how it’s operated, and the production of reports.

In Senegal and Gabon, the French multinational Bolloré Transports and Logistics uses Microsoft’s Power Platform solution to provide employees who use it with a simple environment to create application software without going through traditional computer programming, according to Microsoft, which supported teams with training workshops beforehand, adding that this low-code/no-code approach has enabled Bolloré employees to develop their creativity by appropriating the application creation tools, and move toward faster, more intelligent and optimized processes.

For Jean-Daniel Elbim, director of digital transformation at Bolloré, these tools allow the operational staff to be given more control, but also to bring more agility to the local teams.

“Obviously, the data must be managed,” he says. “We need to define a framework, and there needs to be a group of experts at central level, available to respond to local issues.”

Evangelization and altruistic services

In Chad, ICT expert Salim Alim Assani is co-founder and manager of WenakLabs, a media lab and tech hub incubator described as a niche of Chadian geek talent. According to him, low code is part of daily life of the group’s entrepreneurs.

“We use this tool to set up websites and minimum viable products for our entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s a real success on projects that don’t require a lot of customization in terms of functionality, from showcase sites to simple mobile applications, for example. We offer a lot of training in this area too. In the framework of certain projects, we’ve initiated 50 young women to the use of low code, particularly the design of websites with WordPress. In the same context, we’re training 25 digital referents, whose daily professional life will be centered on low code. We also regularly organize awareness-raising events on the issue.”

Sesinam Dagadu also makes extensive use of no code at SnooCode, a digital localization solution in Nigeria. Based in London, he’s the founder and CTO of this alphanumeric system that allows addresses to be stored, shared and navigated, even without internet or cellular access.

“I think the biggest place we haven’t used code is on our website,” he says. “We’re creating systems to allow people who build on top of SnooCode to do so using no-code technologies.”

Going ahead without expensive developers

Dagadu appreciates he could do without a developer to use these tools even though he initially used one, which incurred a lot of cost.

“At first we had to employ a web developer who did a lot of work, but it looks horrible using technology like Square Space,” he says. “In Africa, development costs are very high and can only be tackled by companies with a lot of funding. But with the growth of low-code/no-code, more people with bright ideas can bring them to life without the need for expensive developers.”

He noted that because of the popularity problem in Africa of these tools, people believe that every time they have an idea to implement an application or technology, they have to resort to an application developer. But by coding less or not at all, there’s an easier entry into hard code according to WenakLabs’ Assani. “It’s a way to be visible quickly, to offer your services to the world without resorting to the skills of a developer. Above all, you learn through experimentation.”

He sees this as an opportunity to widen the pathway to digital access and entry across Africa. Indeed, entrepreneurs believe these tools will democratize technology and resolve many issues. “This democratization could allow Nocode Apps to be used to solve the most difficult problems not only in Kenya but in Africa in general,” says Achieng. “African problems need technology because the population is young, tech-savvy and uses the internet a lot, so it’s in the interest of Africans to get on board and have more proactive and knowledgeable leadership, especially in IT, to make wise decisions that reflect the speed at which technology and business are changing.”

Africa, Emerging Technology, Innovation, No Code and Low Code