by Brett Li, VP Category Marketing at Tonkean
No-code tools are platforms that allow users to build applications and workflow solutions without having to write code. They’re becoming steadily more popular. In Tonkean’s 2021 State of Business Operations Report, 80% of IT and operations professionals said that they believe that no-code solutions empower operations teams to get more work done. Additionally, 95% said that they are already using low-code/no-code tools or are actively seeking these tools.
The momentum stems from the multifaceted nature of the technology’s potential. By enabling non-developers to build and manage their own software solutions, no-code tools increase the innovative and productive capacity of non-developers. They also give teams across all elements of an organization — including, importantly, operations teams—the ability to operate in a true agile fashion, iterating and innovating more rapidly, and without having to remain dependent on developers. This is the true potential of no-code: to truly empower, for the first time, an exponentially larger number of people inside organizations to be technologically creative.
But how did the technology evolve, what else has it been used for, and how has it all laddered up to the inflection point of today?
No-code web development
The first widely adopted use of no-code came in the form of web builders. These are no-code tools that allow non-developers to build websites—a task that, before no-code, mandated knowledge of programming languages such as HTML and CSS.
No-code web builders remain popular today, and include Wix.com, Shopify and BigCommerce.
Perhaps the most common use of no-code technology to this day remains app development, which includes mobile apps, web apps, and internal business apps.
No-code is commonly used for this purpose in fields like business process management (BPM), which is the designing, mapping, execution, and management of business processes. No-code BPM tools allow non-developers to do things like draw out a process diagram, flesh out a checklist of items involved in the process, and, of course, build an app used to execute the process.
However, most no-code app builders come with limitations. For example, no-code app builders are typically used for simple, team-specific apps. To build something more complex or widely adopted, traditional no-code app builders would likely still require heavy involvement of IT developers, who have historically been needed to do things like integrate apps with auxiliary systems.
But that’s where a new generation of no-code platforms are transcending past limitations. By leveraging practices such as composability — which empower non-technical users to build software in the manner of kids building Legos, “composing” combinations of technological capabilities — certain enterprise no-code platforms enable nontechnical teams to create complex, natively integrated solutions all on their own.
More and more, organizations are using no-code to empower non-developers to automate their own tasks. Even Robotic Process Automation (RPA) — developed over a decade ago as a method of automating tasks and mimicking how human workers interact with desktop applications — is evolving to be more accessible, for example.
However, automation initiatives have historically fallen squarely into the purview of IT, mostly because automation tools — RPA very much included — have traditionally required a fair amount of programming ability to use effectively.
But by abstracting the technical requirements of automating tasks into simple drag and drop interfaces, certain no-code automation tools eliminate those barriers. The Tonkean no-code platform, for example, allows teams to build solutions that automate even complex, human-centric workflows, consisting of many different tasks and implicating even wide varieties of people and systems.
The key is composability. Utilizing libraries of technical capabilities — these are the Lego blocks — users can facilitate the creation of complex, automated workflows.
These building blocks offload the technical demands of solution building. With a unique understanding of the problem to solve, nontechnical individuals design and deploy their own internal automation solutions.
Perhaps the newest and most advanced use of no-code is process orchestration. Process orchestration platforms are platforms built for both non-developers and IT. They sit a layer above other technology solutions and can be used not only to build apps and automations, but to manage and orchestrate the entirety of a team’s, department’s, and even whole organization’s larger operations. They can integrate with your entire tech stack and be used to automate entire processes end-to-end.
One way to think of process orchestration is as a tool for the conductor of your company’s operational orchestra. They give operations and IT teams the ability to harmoniously manage all of a company’s various moving parts, streamlining and optimizing entire processes end-to-end — without sacrificing IT’s ability to govern its company’s data and tech.
Composability, and unlocking agility
Here, then, we get to the true potential of no-code, which is not so much to facilitate “citizen development” independently of IT or other technical teams as it is to enable teams such as operations teams to participate in the innovation and problem-solving process, and work in a true agile fashion—the way developers have been working for a long time.
Key to this equation is composability, which gives IT leaders a way to extend this technological empowerment to non-technical teams without feeling like they’re putting their company’s technology or data in danger. (I’ve written more about composability here.) IT leaders are the ones who manage the building blocks, which end-users mix and match to create their software solutions in the manner, yes, of kids putting together Legos, but also of developers using open-source libraries.
By giving non-technical domain experts, such as operations teams, the ability to access the technological capabilities surfaced through the building blocks — which they can iterate on their own — organizations can extend to those users’ abilities they’ve never enjoyed. So empowered, they’ll be able to solve problems, move faster, and help their organizations move faster than has ever been possible. I see it all the time.
Brett Li is a VP of Marketing for Tonkean, an enterprise no-code platform for operations teams. Brett has held leadership positions in Product Marketing, Product Management, and Sales Engineering for numerous B2B technology companies. Brett holds an MBA from Haas School of Business and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.