Today is No-Code Day. No, it’s not a day when no one codes (could you even imagine that?). It’s a celebration of the emergence of no-code tools into daily use in application development.
It all started when automation toolmaker Zapier declared March 11 to be National No-Code Day and launched a contest for citizen developers to build standout applications without writing a single line of code.
The grand prize winner of the contest will receive a $25,000 cash prize from Zapier; a one-hour strategy call with Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier; and a one-hour strategy call with Ben Tossell, founder of Makerpad.
According to the Zapier blog post on the contest, “We’re looking for the most innovative uses of no-code tools. So whether you’re an employee solving problems inside a company, you’ve used no-code to launch a side hustle, or you’re an entrepreneur who has built an entire business on no-code technology, you’re eligible for entry.”
No-code has exploded in popularity over the past few years, with Gartner predicting that it will account for more than 65% of app development activity by 2024. Gartner also estimates that by 2023, the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers.
Analysts such as John Bratincevic at Forrester Research have declared low-code/no-code app development as crossing the chasm into the “mainstream.”
Zapier says its customers, many with little to no technical ability, have been building “incredible things and growing their businesses” with no-code tools like Zapier and others.
Big Players in the Fray
Indeed, Zapier is not alone in this quest to arm no-code developers, or so-called “citizen developers.” The group of companies in the space grows almost weekly it seems. Among the key players are big companies like Google and Microsoft, with their AppSheet and PowerApps offerings, respectively.
Google acquired AppSheet, maker of a spreadsheet-based no-code development platform in 2020. Now AppSheet is Google Cloud’s no-code platform that empowers people to create apps that solve business-critical problems, all without writing a single line of code.
At last year’s Google Cloud NEXT user event, Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, called AppSheet Google Cloud’s hidden secret. But now the secret is out, and the company has carved out a position in the no-code space.
Organizations such as New Incentives, a Walnut Creek, Calif., non-profit organization operating in Nigeria, has been trying to improve infant mortality rates through immunization efforts in Nigeria and has used AppSheet to build apps to collect information and establish new protocols during Covid-19.
As a start, New Incentives used AppSheet to build its comprehensive expense app and they used both technical talent and non-technical staff to create it. This is an example of the emerging concept of fusion teams that include non-coders on development teams to get apps out the door.
“It’s like building an entire ecosystem for our needs, with multitiered approvals, and the ability to bring in a lot of interesting, contextual information to be able to identify fraud,” said Svetha Janumpalli, founder and CEO of New Incentives, in a statement. “When someone’s reviewing an expense, being able to see their route in Google Maps is very important to know where we’re going and operating in these very hard-to-reach, hard-to-travel areas. Like, are people actually doing what was intended?”
Business App Integration
Google, like Microsoft and others, have integrated their no-code platform with other business applications such as email, collaboration software and more.
Last year, Google announced AppSheet in Gmail, which enables Google Workspace customers to bring their AppSheet apps directly into Gmail, said Vikas Anand, Head of Product, Business Application Platform, at Google, in a blog post.
With AppSheet in Gmail, anyone — regardless of their coding experience — can create no-code apps and automations for things like budgets and vacation approval, or updating inventories and asset management systems, and more, straight from their inbox.
Also last year, Google announced the general availability of AppSheet Automation, which helps non-technical users automate business processes.
Meanwhile, American Electric Power (Kentucky Power), another customer leveraging citizen developers to assist with digital transformation, applied AppSheet to a project to enable workers in the field to use custom apps to streamline energy and utility work. With AppSheet, Kentucky Power created and deployed 10 apps to track electrical poles and faulty transformers, manage circuit inspections, communicate with contractors and streamline incident reporting, the company said.
AI and ML Boost
Vendors in the low-code/no-code space are tapping into the power of AI, particularly machine learning (ML).
“A central theme of our platform and our overall mission is to empower everyone to build applications and automations quickly,” Anand said. “Often referred to as citizen development, analysts believe this skillset will soon become standard for workers of every type in every field, much like we see with spreadsheets today. The key to developing this skill set will be leveraging a helpful platform with AI and ML baked into its core features.”
Forrester applauded this move and gave AppSheet high marks for it.
“AppSheet’s vision for AI-infused-and-supported citizen development is unique and particularly well suited to Google,” read a Forrester report. “The tech giant’s deep pockets and ecosystem give AppSheet an advantage in its path to market, market visibility, and product roadmap.”
Moreover, “Features for process automation and AI are leading,” the report noted. “The platform provides a clean, intuitive modeling environment suitable for both long-running processes and triggered automations, as well as a useful range of pragmatic AI services such as document ingestion.”
However, Microsoft is making many of the same moves and taking some things a bit further with their Power Apps no-code offering from the Microsoft Power Platform. Like AppSheet, Power Apps is based on a spreadsheet foundation – Microsoft’s Excel and its enormous installed base. And the software giant has integrated Power Apps with its business software offerings such as Teams.
Yet, be forewarned. As my colleague, Lawrence E. Hecht said, “Microsoft’s latest efforts with Power Apps is a reminder that one of the biggest obstacles to low code adoption is fear of vendor lock-in. Just because Office productivity suites are not currently a big deal does not mean a new monopoly may emerge. Make sure that the low code platform you use has a wide ability to integrate with other applications based on language, data type, API, etc.”
In a recent conversation with The New Stack, Charles Lamanna, Corporate Vice President, Business Apps & Platform at Microsoft, said his goal is to generate a user base of up to a billion people using Power Platform and Power Apps to create apps without coding.
As ambitious as that goal sounds, users are adopting Power Apps for projects both big and small. For instance, London’s Heathrow Airport has used Power Apps to create 30 apps that have eliminated 75,000 pages of paperwork and reduced data entry by nearly 1,000 hours, helping the airport reduce its costs.
Samit Saini, an IT Solution Specialist at Heathrow Airport, used Power Apps to create a “language book” that contained all the airport’s passenger-facing rules regarding what could and could not be brought aboard airplanes, translated into numerous languages. What would have been a labor-intensive took Saini a week with Power Apps, he said.
“Building that first app was what made me passionate about Power Apps,” he said.
Today that app is used every day by all of Heathrow’s security officers and managers.
The world of low-code/no-code is here to stay despite limitations such as scale and potential issues with security. As quirky as it sounds, No-Code Day and the Zapier contest seems like fun.
Featured image via Pixabay.