A Codeless Architecture and its Implications
Low-code and no-code software development tools and applications are proliferating rapidly. Most of these applications are for personal or departmental use, not the entire enterprise. However, at least one vendor, Unqork, has focused on enterprise no-code applications from its beginning. That vendor is now taking the no-code concept to the next step, advocating for a Codeless Architecture.
I have worked with Unqork in the past and written about how customers are employing their solutions. At their behest, I am reflecting on what a Codeless Architecture might mean in terms of how companies develop IT solutions and how that might change organizations in general.
What Is a Codeless Architecture?
An architecture, of course, is a technology standard or common design that is employed for many if not all applications within an organization. Architectures are normally developed and promulgated by IT organizations, and the presumption is that any architectural standard would be adopted by both IT professionals and by business users who build their own systems. Unqork was designed for use by IT professionals, but I have encountered several IT “amateurs” in business units and functions who have also used it successfully. Building enterprise applications through a purely visible interface, as opposed to writing code, makes application development accessible to a wide range of users.
Like virtual data storage, a Codeless Architecture would separate application functionality from the underlying infrastructure that supports it.
A Codeless Architecture, then, is a standard specifying that all or most applications — presumably at least those involving new development — would be created using codeless technology. Such an architecture is a level of abstraction above serverless architecture, which still require a commitment to a cloud provider. Like virtual data storage, a Codeless Architecture would separate application functionality from the underlying infrastructure that supports it.
Some special-purpose applications — say, those involving deep learning neural networks — may still need their own hardware and coding environments, but most new typical business applications should fit on the no-code platform. Even those applications requiring coding could interface with the architecture through a no-code API. It seems likely, however, that most application types could eventually be created without coding. Unqork would like it, of course, if it were the chosen tool for building the no-code applications, but the standard it has created is open. There aren’t many enterprise no-code vendors out there, however, so the standard will primarily lead people to Unqork.
No-code development has a number of advantages over the programming-based approach. It’s more productive, of course; some Unqork customers I wrote about previously said they think they get at least a 3X productivity boost. There is also a reuse advantage; no-code “snippets” can be placed in a repository and reused multiple times across an organization. Beyond that, a Codeless Architecture implies that the underlying components of your technology stack will be consistent with whatever is the prevailing architectural approach of the time. If, for example, the world figures out how to broadly apply quantum computing, with a Codeless Architecture the back end could probably work with qubits instead of the traditional bits and bytes.
Of course, most organizations’ architectures and infrastructures would probably still include some legacy systems developed using other technologies, and some application packages obtained from external vendors. But applications developed with a Codeless Architecture could connect with these programs using APIs, so the interfacing issues would be minimized. Over time, one would hope that no-code applications could replace many of the legacy ones. And it is certainly possible that many application vendors would begin to provide no-code graphical templates rather than finished software. Such templates would have the virtue of being easily configured and modified over time.
Of course, most organizations’ architectures and infrastructures would probably still include some legacy systems developed using other technologies, and some application packages obtained from external vendors. But applications developed with a Codeless Architecture could connect with these programs using APIs, so the interfacing issues would be minimized.
Organizational Changes and Codeless Architecture
Since Unqork believes that its no-code tools are best suited to professional IT developers, it seems unlikely that we will see the demise of the IT development function anytime soon. However, it does seem likely that development will increasingly shift toward a mix of amateur and professional developers, perhaps with professionals playing a review or quality control function. With some education on Codeless Architecture principles and development approaches, digitally-oriented business people might begin to take over more development tasks. Such education should become a standard component of digital transformation initiatives.
In the past, when business units and functions have developed their own IT systems, it has been referred to as “shadow IT” — a somewhat disparaging term suggesting that business users are operating illicitly. Institutionalizing and encouraging more departmental systems that employ no-code tools could bring not only more applications to meet business needs, but also more architectural cohesion than many organizations have currently. If every application is developed using the same platform and architecture, activities undertaken outside the IT function are much less shadowy.
In order for large-scale no-code development to work, there will need to be a testing and certification process for applications created by business departments and users. Such a process wouldn’t need to be heavy-handed, but it should verify that the proposed system works as intended, connects with other systems in authorized ways, and that it accesses or creates the right data. A certification process could be traded off for free consulting in application development, or for access to a repository of no-code snippets.
It also seems likely that companies will also be involved in inter-organizational sharing of no-code application templates. Unqork already has a Marketplace of application functionality, and it as well as other vendors could operate exchanges in which participating customers could both contribute and withdraw templates, perhaps involving the payment of fees or commissions. Such sharing of application templates would increase development productivity, but could also have longer-term implications for the competitive advantage achieved from technology.
Perhaps the most important organizational implication of Codeless Architecture is a significant expansion of IT applications in most firms. Companies in virtually every industry are undertaking digital transformation initiatives. These are limited to a substantial degree by the pace and productivity of application development. Codeless Architecture doesn’t only increase the productivity of professional developers but can engage a greater fraction of an organization in application development. As every company seeks to become a digital business, Codeless Architecture can facilitate this important transformation.
Tom Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, the co-founder of the International Institute for Analytics, a Fellow of the MIT Initiative for the Digital Economy, and a Senior Advisor to Deloitte Analytics. He has written or edited twenty books and over 250 print or digital articles for Harvard Business Review (HBR), Sloan Management Review, the Financial Times, and many other publications. He earned his Ph.D from Harvard University and has taught at the Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago, the Tuck School of Business, Boston University, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Story was originally published here.