(this article originally appeared in JDSupra and was written by Jackson Liu)
If you’ve decided to read this blog, you probably fall into one of three categories:
You are looking to on-board a no-code platform;
You are currently using a no-code platform;
You are curious about the no-code market;
You know me in real life and want to rate my writing skills to make fun of me the next time we meet.
If you fall in the 1 – 3 category, read on and let me take you through an insider’s guide to picking the right no-code platform!
If you fall in category 4, read on anyway and throw any critique my way (as long as there is beer)….
Not just a citizen developer’s perspective
Gartner defines a Citizen Developer as ‘a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.’
While not a bad definition, some have taken aim at the words ‘sanctioned by Corporate IT,’ reasoning that by its very nature, citizen development should encompass anyone to build applications without the hurdle and oversight of the IT team. I don’t believe this is quite the right mindset.
Although platforms that drive citizen development should be business-led purchases, IT oversight on the purchase and on-going engagement in its use is critical to ensuring success and avoiding the resulting trap that is shadow IT.
Business-led demand for no-code / low code platforms should not arise from seeing IT as a speed bump in getting things done. It should be seen as a need to encourage downstream, non-IT development on work that doesn’t need resourcing from what is often an understaffed team. Procurement and subsequent use of a no-code / low code platform should always be sanctioned by IT –The real value lies in the resulting freedom to ideate, develop and deploy applications by business users without needing IT’s help. After all, IT cannot do everything.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s dive deeper into what you should actually look for in a no-code platform!
Platform vs Point Solution:
The very first question you need to answer is: are you looking for a point solution or a platform solution?
If you’ve answered the latter, then ask yourself: are you looking for a platform solution to solve a specific problem or a strategic pick to complement your organization’s broader technology stack?
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
Point solutions enable you to tackle a single, very specific problem in isolation, allowing for deep functionality of one channel. However, the main disadvantage is that it is very difficult to manage multiple databases and multiple systems using point solutions.
Platform solutions enable you to address a number of use cases, across multiple facilities with integrated and consistent end-to-end business processes throughout the platform. They are a logical choice if you wish to expand your application, existing technology stack or to address several use cases in the future.
On the last blog, we talked about ‘changing the mindset.’ Too often, change management is centered on point solution amendments, focused on keyhole changes. No attention is paid to downstream (or upstream) effects from these changes. Utilizing a no-code approach to transformation requires an end-to-end look at suitability and fit.
Equality does not exist in No-Code
No-code platforms exist on a spectrum. On one extreme, you have platforms offering very basic functionalities – i.e. simple form and logic creation, combined with rudimentary document automation capabilities. On the other, you have platforms allowing citizen developers to build large, end to end workflow solutions, encompassing features like e-signature integrations, multi-step approvals, email reminders and data management.
Here are some features to look out for:
Pre-built Product templates:
No one really wants to start with a blank canvas when starting to build anything. Solutions built on no-code platforms are no different. Users look to no-code platforms to cut down development barriers – both time and resourcing.
Some platforms now offer pre-built solution templates which help with both. It serves as a starting point to begin building so that authors don’t have to start from ground zero.
Well-designed and thought out product template structures go the extra step and include the concept of modular building blocks – fully built, meaningful, ‘functionality specific’ modular applications, which, through simple no-code ‘plug-in and play,’ can be connected to prebuilt Products to create larger end to end solutions.
Are you looking at building more complex workflow solutions that enable end-to-end business process automation?
Ask these questions – Does the platform:
Provide a visual, click and drag workflow design tool? Is the visual tools industry standard? (i.e BPMN)
Allow workflow solution features such as sequential, parallel and loop task creation (i.e reminders, email outs, multi-step and iterative approvals)
Support ‘optional’ action creation at will (edit, update, assign)
Support role-based credential access and management control?
Support data visualization across workflow data points?
Document automation is becoming part and parcel of any no-code platform. But how it works differs among the best of them.
Ask these questions – Does the platform:
Offer document mark-ups natively in the Word precedent or in a separate interface?
Recognize native word formatting including automated numbering, cross-references and footnotes?
Support multi-party execution clauses?
Allow for the creation and population of tables?
Expertise automation is an interesting capability for no-code platforms. The spectrum I mentioned earlier REALLY applies here.
Ask these questions – does the platform:
offer simple, stand-alone logic creation or is there support for combining different forms of logic in the same application? (i.e IF-THEN rules, decision trees, formulas, weighted scorings?
does the platform offer support for combining declarative and procedural forms of reasoning in the same application for building complex logic-based applications?
does the platform support such reasoning across instances or even nested instance variables to support logic application across groups of data points for really complex applications?
This is perhaps the most important consideration. Some platforms enable storage of application session data to eternal SQL databases, and most importantly, accessibility to you, as a user of the SQL tools, to these databases. However, this often required database administrators or knowledge of SQL language.
Ask these questions – does the platform:
Enable storage of application data in a SQL based database through no-code?
Enable no-code, no-SQL interactions with standard, external SQL database?
Enable automatic creation and update of databases when application data or structure is updated?
Enable automatic synchronization of application data structures?
Simplicity in scaling:
This is where the ‘insider’ part really adds value.
Let’s be honest, SaaS pricing plans are beginning to look at lot like your typical phone plans. It takes a lot to shift through the various add-ons to really understand how much you are going to be charged on a monthly basis.
There are a few points to understand and look out for when picking your no-code platform:
Question how the platform’s pricing actually scales. Sure, you may seem to pay a small monthly entry fee, but what’s included? Pay particular attention to:
Number of users / Types of users: Does the platform offer unlimited users? If not, how does it scale? Also, take note of the type of users. Does the platform make a distinction between builders users (i.e those who are using the platform to build) and solutions users (i.e those who are using the end solution)? Does the platform scale based on the distinction?
Number of solutions: Does the platform scale based on the number of solutions being built? Does it make a distinction between the type of solution and the associated pricing? (i.e does it scale more based on complexity?)
Commercialization: Does the platform charge extra if you decide to commercialise the solutions you have built (i.e if you are a law firm and you’ve built a solution for your client). If yes, how do they charge? i.e revenue split or extra per solution that is commercialized.
Data storage: Does the platform charge more if data storage increases? If not natively, what about integrations and connections to third-party platforms or databases?
Support: Some vendors include support and maintenance in the subscription amount. Ask them is support charged extra? Is there a dedicated customer success and project management team? What about situations where you want the platform vendor to assist in building the solution?
The User Profile:
Also, consider your team make-up. An ideal user of no-code platforms needs to understand business and logic flows. Consider time commitments to be upskilled and to maintain those skills
In larger organizations, consider forming a Centre of Excellence (CoE). A centralized team who can leverage the platform for the rest of the organization.
There’s certainly a lot more to look at but in the fear of going on a tangent, keep an eye out for our Q1 whitepaper on No-Code platforms where we’ll dive deeper into this topic.
See you next month!