Can No-Code Save The Enterprise?
It’s the engine for a new generation of enterprise tools that are democratizing how software is built, along with how it’s used
The enterprise has a problem. This problem is not new. It was summarized by the English economist E. F. Schumacher in his influential text, Small is Beautiful, which he wrote in 1973. “What characterizes modern industry is its enormous consumption to produce so little… It is inefficient to a degree that goes beyond imagination!”
The same holds true today. Somehow, in spite of nearly 50 years of massive innovation and incredible technological feats, big enterprises remain defined by their inefficiency.
One problem with this is, inefficiency is expensive. It’s well known that inefficient operations make employees feel less valued; render leaders unable to adapt or make decisions quickly; and ultimately cause once-successful companies to lose what used to be their competitive edge. (This is one reason why, according to McKinsey, come 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.)
Why does this happen? I’ve spent my career building tools to help enterprise companies and large organizations address this problem of systemic inefficiency, and so I’ve spent lots of time asking myself that question. Some folks suggest it’s an inevitable cost of scale. As enterprises grow, their processes become by necessity more complex; tech stacks by necessity balloon to thousands of applications per-organization; and teams, unfortunately, become siloed. In turn, companies that were once as deft and adaptable as speed boats turn into lumbering cruise liners.
The truth, however, is more specific than that. For most enterprise companies, many elements of their inefficiency problems can be traced back to certain paradoxical limitations imposed upon the two sides of the enterprise responsible for maintaining efficient operations and helping companies stay competitive: IT on the one hand, and the business units on the other.
IT and the business both have very important jobs. IT needs to enable the business to operate efficiently and creatively across functions and processes. It also needs to preserve the integrity (and compliance) of the tech stack and of company data. The business, meanwhile, needs to be able to move fast, innovate to drive business outcomes, and optimize business decisions to increase the efficiency of their operations. But they also need to do their part to help IT maintain technological governance. Companies are most effective when the two sides are working symbiotically with each other.
The problem is, in the enterprise today, neither side has what they need to do that.
IT, for their part, lacks either the resources or the bandwidth needed to enable the business effectively. The options at their disposal remain shockingly limited. When the business needs a solution to a business problem, for example, IT has two options: either 1) buy packaged, task-specific apps for the business; or 2) develop custom solutions themselves.
Both options are costly, and often inadequate. Custom solutions can take 6–9 months (or more) to build, and require long-term maintenance after deployment — which, all told, is a massive expenditure of IT time and energy.
Purchased apps, meanwhile, don’t always solve process challenges or increase efficiency, either. They’re too functionally specific. (This is why enterprises use so many damn apps today — they need at least one app for every problem.) They’re inaccessible, necessitating users learn how to navigate a new UI to get any value out of them. And they’re incapable of powering processes end-to-end, creating damaging Last Mile Delivery problems that require manual work to fix.
At the same time, the business lacks the resources they need to innovate or problem solve on their own — at least not in a manner that doesn’t compromise IT’s governance over the tech stack. Business teams, as a result, are forced to cobble together processes across an ever expanding ecosystem of functionally imperfect apps and manual tasks. In my company’s recent State of Operations survey, in which we surveyed 500 enterprise business operations and IT professionals, only 24% of respondents reported that their current tech stack — composed of apps both purchased and custom-built — “satisfies all their operational needs.” 82% of IT respondents, it deserves to be noted, believe their organization uses too many apps.
What we have, then, is a situation where the business ends up having to sacrifice agility and innovation precisely when agility and technological innovation are every day becoming more vital to competition. But IT doesn’t have a way to enable the business adequately, either.
Ironically, their abilities of business enablement — not to mention their ability to govern their company’s data — diminish further the more complex and multi-faceted the tech stack becomes.
This is why the inefficiency problem has proven so difficult to solve: it’s a paradox. But there is a solution. It amounts to a third option for safe, actually effective business enablement — and, in turn, for bridging the steadily growing gap between business and the IT and, in effect, for saving the enterprise.
It’s made possible by no-code.
Now, I know that some of you reading this probably just scoffed. To be sure, the belief that no-code technology remains unfit for solving enterprise-grade problems is stubbornly persistent. And it’s true that not all no-code is appropriate for the enterprise, much less up for saving it. No-code tools that allow business to automate certain tasks without considering the needs of IT, for example — or that allow IT to more quickly develop applications but that aren’t accessible by the business — won’t impact the enterprise at scale, and won’t live up to no-code’s true promise.
But when no-code is used right — specifically as a means of enabling the business in a way that doesn’t sacrifice IT’s authority over the tech stack — it can be a game changer.
Let’s break that down. What’s required of this kind of enablement? Well, sort of at a base level, business teams need solutions that help them solve their problems; integrations or capabilities that allow them to plug into the existing tech stack; a structure that allows them to integrate safely; and an accessible (code-free) interface that allows them to build solutions without development knowledge. What’s holding IT back from providing that today is that they need to do it all; they’re the only ones who can deliver either the help, the capabilities, or the structure.
The power and promise of no-code is the way it effectively outsources the creation piece to the business, while allowing IT to act more as architects, as opposed to implementers. Certain no-code platforms operate in such a way that they allow IT to govern their use — with a model for providing modular, reusable capabilities, such as integrations, or what we think of now as APIs — as well as facilitate for business users not only opportunities for citizen development, but for workflow automation and orchestration. Meaning, users can not only use these tools to build their own solutions — programs that automate certain tasks they presently conduct manually, for example — but to optimize their workflows and extend the capacity of existing tools so as to actually save time.
Such enablement increases by an order of magnitude what the average enterprise is able to accomplish. It’s a means of tapping into and harnessing the expertise and creative capacity of the users most intimate with the problems they’re trying to solve. As Amit Zavery, VP and Head of Platform for Google Cloud, wrote last year, “When the ability to create business applications is extended beyond IT to the people closest to the challenges…the speed at which a business can move and the number of people working on solutions can both increase dramatically.”
That ability in fact turns the enterprise into something different altogether. Gartner calls it, “The Composable Enterprise” — or, an enterprise able to “deliver innovation quickly” by reassembling “capabilities from inside and outside the enterprise.” This is an enterprise in which every element is integrated and accessible. It’s an enterprise in which every tech tool or system, far from a “walled garden”, in fact turns into a building block to be utilized for creating more powerful and efficient workflows and solutions. To be sure, it’s an enterprise with fewer bottlenecks choking IT’s ability to empower the business, or the business’s ability to drive outcomes. As Gartner writes, composability will be “a key feature of a successful business in 2020 and beyond.”
No-code isn’t a silver bullet. Citizen development on its own will not save the enterprise just as automation on its own didn’t save the enterprise. But it is my opinion that to make a significant leap and get true efficiency gains, we must rethink how we leverage software in the enterprise. No-code is the engine for a new generation of enterprise tools that are breaking down silos, obliterating bottlenecks, and democratizing how software is built, along with how it’s used. Used right, it makes it possible to bridge the gaps that have been steadily growing between the business and IT for years, such that IT and the business become genuine partners. It makes possible the optimization of business logic. And, it makes it possible to make the enterprise composable, which is to say, modular, agile, efficient, adaptive — and eminently more capable of remaining competitive.