Speeding software innovation with low-code/no-code tools

Low-code/no-code tools can help developers and non-developers alike.

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These days, developers are under pressure to meet heightened productivity demands. Many tech experts are used to receiving requests from other departments—sales, marketing, finance—asking if it would be possible to build a new tool or create an integration. “Sorry to bother you, but we were wondering if you might be able to build us X for Y.” Business requirements are accelerating demand for cloud solutions and limited development resources are inhibiting digitalization.

Aside from adding headcount, there is not a straightforward way to add lots of highly trained coders to your organization. There is, however, another path to take. What we need are tools that can enable developers to work more efficiently and non-developers to produce their own technical solutions—and alleviate some of the pressures on IT as a result.

Developers with a background in computer science and engineering will continue to push innovation forward with code-first approaches as technology evolves. However, low-code/no-code (LCNC) tools can give them efficiency advantages while additionally opening doors for more non-technical employees to be a part of the development process, leading to increased collaboration.

Developer skills are powerful. But they are also scarce. If companies want to continue to improve efficiency, LCNC tools are a must. For context, consider a common environment that pro-devs are working in: Data and processes are fragmented, legacy systems have long backlogs, and they cannot leverage emerging technologies and stay agile without risk. LCNC tools that leverage a single cloud foundation enable developers to accelerate the pace of innovation that they can deliver.

Furthermore, LCNC makes software development more accessible to people with less, or even no, technical skills. Platforms that offer LCNC development make collaboration between the pro-devs and non-devs possible as “fusion teams.”

SAP has a long history of customer projects that combine technical developers and business experts, especially for SAP S/4HANA implementations. We have witnessed the value of collaboration: developers gain greater knowledge and direct access to business domain knowledge, while the business users gain a better understanding of the underlying technology aspects. This accelerates the requirements definition, testing, and troubleshooting phases.

The same kind of value and even more can be realized with business experts becoming citizen developers and collaborating with professional developers to build solutions. However, getting LCNC right means being mindful about what works and what does not – here are some key takeaways we have learned about LCNC and how to strike the right balance on fast-paced development teams that include business users.

Tips for building with low-code/no-code tools

According to a TechRepublic survey, respondents expect LCNC platforms to improve their productivity (15%), reduce application development time (14%), and automate manual processes (12%). Technical and non-technical teams can work together to make these expectations a reality by implementing some of the following suggestions.

Create a group of citizen developers

We see citizen developers as people who do not code for a living—product managers, process experts, business analysts, designers, and MBA program graduates. These are all smart people from all backgrounds with diverse perspectives to solve problems and uncover pathways to solutions. Plus, these individuals may be solving their own problems, so they have a greater connection to the solution.

Because non-technical teammates may be new to development ecosystems, they will need training to understand the possibilities and how to best implement their latest ideas. Through learning, inexperienced builders gain the confidence to step into a new field, opening the door for collaboration that only benefits the organization.

One step that companies can take is to create clear incentives for adopting LCNC solutions. That means being clear about the benefits and outcomes of LCNC. Why should citizen developers be inspired to keep learning and trying out new tools? What are some potential outcomes that make life better at work?

Kickstarting this level of buy-in is rooted in raising awareness of LCNC opportunities throughout the organization. For companies to leverage LCNC, they must ensure the availability of learning and development resources to their staff—opening the door for a new level of problem solving.

Focus on key LCNC projects that make strategic sense

Business teams are usually motivated to take on LCNC for several reasons. They want to offer new products and solutions and take ideas to market faster. They want to create stronger, more connected, customized experiences for customers. And they feel the pain of expending time on manually inputting the same information repeatedly and other inefficient, analog activities.

Business users with expertise in the activity they want to digitalize and a willingness to apply themselves to learn visual programming can create straightforward use cases for their day-to-day work, regardless of their line of business.

When getting started, business users may or may not already have an exact use case in mind for automation or application development. To find ideas, they can explore known pain-points in daily business activities and industry-specific requirements, or they could start in the pre-built content marketplace and see some commonly-used solutions. Once they have a list of ideas, there should be a strategic prioritization process based on predicted business impact.

Another way for business users to get started is to participate in proof-of-concept (POC) prototype development projects for transformation of a more complex process or activity that has already been assigned a high strategic priority by the IT department. POC prototypes can be an excellent way for business users such as designers to share their vision of the end-product with a developer colleague or project team to validate requirements.

Everyday issues and requests are some of the best candidates for LCNC solutions. Business professionals should be empowered to build needed extensions and applications. With the shortage of IT resources and professional developers, LCNC tools can allow anyone to improve their own workflows and automate manual work as well as maximize speed, agility, and innovation when producing working prototypes that solve business problems.

Expand access to new roles and opportunities through LCNC learning resources

While LCNC tools are more accessible than programming languages, learning is required before getting started—especially for business users who are new to software development—or else the first automations and applications that are built will be sloppy, unscalable, and even create IT risks.

LCNC courses open the door for inexperienced users to gain a basic understanding before diving in. They cover conceptual things like identifying use cases and how to prioritize where to start. They include insight into software structure, design, and logic flows as well as planning for the user experience before the building work even begins. And then of course a thorough hands-on review of the capabilities while building simple training cases ensures the product knowledge is gained through practical experience.

As a result, learning tools and courses are becoming increasingly leveraged by individuals interested in jumping into LCNC technology. LCNC learners make up around 19% of all people making use of the free SAP’s Learning site for upskilling on SAP solutions. These learning programs are expanding access to LCNC tools, opening the door for new roles and opportunities that lead to a more diverse and inclusive developer community.

Through SAP’s free offerings, SAP provides a LCNC Learning Journey for everyone. Regardless of background, users can learn LCNC in only 12 hours. By providing courses that begin with teaching small, familiar apps, learners grasp the basic concepts before they move into trainings for building apps for an enterprise context.

To provide an example of the learning process, SAP’s LCNC Learning Journey covers everything learners need to know to start building with SAP’s LCNC toolset. This begins with a fundamentals course for citizen developers that covers the elements of business process automation and application development. The training then covers building enterprise-grade business apps without background knowledge of software development, IT governance, or software lifecycle management. At the end of this learning journey, there is an option to take an exam for the “SAP Certified Citizen Developer Associate,” a milestone toward becoming a knowledgeable builder with our low-code/no-code tools.

Through LCNC training and certifications, participants feel empowered to bring their learnings back to the workplace with practical use-cases and customer success stories. The more that organizations can incorporate a culture of learning across the workplace, the more motivated employees will be to take on new and exciting challenges. Appathons, for example, create a fun and competitive environment for learning and have been extraordinarily successful in launching LCNC tools.

Implementing LCNC through creative learning opportunities

LCNC is what lets business experts validate their ideas before asking engineers to commit valuable people power to design and deploy a production-ready solution. LCNC also empowers business professionals to create a production-ready application themselves. Sometimes that is as simple as approving what has been built. Other times the goal is to ensure that what has been built can scale, integrate, and work well with security, compliance, and reliability.

Building the right LCNC workflows starts from learning about what the tools can do. Appathons are an excellent method for citizens to learn the basics of app development, build their first apps, and share their experiences.

Recently, SAP hosted a hackathon where teams tried to create a new app or feature over the course of two weeks. One of the teams crafted a new option for recycling or reusing batteries from the tools they sell.

“From my side, I come from the operations background, so as you can imagine, development is not my strongest point and having something like low-code no-code really makes things easier for any sort of application,” said Guilherme Paiva, a senior DevOps engineer. Using AppyGyver, the team was able to sketch a design in minutes and build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in hours. “If I want to create some internal application, it is easy, and the experience was good.”

“I think one thing we can take away from the great advantages of low-code no-code is that rapid build and that rapid build-fail-build-fail-success, that is what I really enjoyed watching,” said Glenn Roberts, Chief Engineer. Internally, he is accustomed to long roadmaps for building and deploying a product. “And before we realized it was a two-week challenge, the bulk of the work happened in the first week because of work commitments and remoteness. If you think about it, we knocked this out of the park in half the time.”

“The app development was done in less than 16 hours I would say. While I was attending meetings, I was learning, and the learning element (AppGyver tutorials) was very good,” says Bedi. “Sometimes, I felt I could just code it. That was the most challenging part for me coming from the development background. Otherwise, it was amazing, and as I said, it was done in under 16 hours.”

LCNC tools are increasing in demand as companies struggle to close an ever-widening skills gap. While LCNC tools make coding accessible to people without a traditional developer background, LCNC’s full potential cannot be reached without proper training and development. Through our SAP Learning offerings, we hope to make LCNC tools a worthwhile investment for employees, students, and future developers, diversifying the IT talent pool and increasing innovation.

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