This article originally appeared in Inc. Magazine
The future of software is about “no-code” platforms
“Software is eating the world” says Silicon Valley venture capital icon, Mark Andreessen. You name it: personal computers, the internet, mobile devices, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and self-driving cars. Andreessen’s mantra encapsulates the fundamental driver of society’s massive transformation – that software underlies just about every modern-day innovation in today’s technology-driven world, and will continue to do so into the future.
This article is another in a series I call Everything Transformed as part of my Inc.com Innovate column where I highlight the massive disruptions – and opportunities – facing industries as varied as management consulting, product packaging, healthcare, manufacturing, and travel and hospitality.
Software, itself, is next in line for disruption
Software Industry Transformation
When I write my articles, I usually draw upon insights from my 25 years working with Fortune 1000 executives across industries, as well as my Silicon Valley network. This piece, however, is a bit different since it’s focused on a technology disruption that I’m actively involved in shaping myself (in full disclosure, I’m a co-founder of a “no-code” software platform called upBOARD that’s creating the world’s largest library and marketplace of turn-key business processes).
To gain insight into where the future’s headed, it’s helpful to understand how we arrived at today. We’ve already seen some major transformations in the software industry over the past 35 years:
- Graphical User Interface (GUI) Operating Systems – The first Mac OS and Windows operating systems popularized personal computing through visual interfaces and experiences
- Software as a Service Business Models – “Pay as you go” services eliminated costly site licenses and accelerated the adoption of new platforms and tools by both consumers and businesses
- Cloud Computing – Enabled faster and cheaper development, hosting and support of software solutions by leveraging turn-key infrastructure
- Apps –Became prevalent on mobile phones and are now an inherent part of how we talk about and use software across devices and operating systems
- Agile Development – Accelerated the process of software development itself
- Lean Startup – Provided a framework for creating “minimal viable products” (MVPs) which has fueled the growth of both startups and new applications across industries
Together, these transformations have led to a world with a deep dependency on software technology and an economy driven by software-enabled business models (just think Google, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Uber, and more).
The No-Code Revolution
More and more software applications like Salesforce, Pipedrive, Trello, Airtable, and others have built platforms based on no-code principals. Some of these apps focus on specific functions like sales teams. Others deliver more general collaboration. Whatever the application, no-code software strategies include four areas of focus:
- Provide drag and drop “widgets” or other elements that can be visually organized to build apps or configure business processes
- Create simple “filters” and data queries to empower instant customization
- Use APIs to easily integrate data from various web services or other applications
- Broaden appeal to non-technical users versus targeting traditional developers
The no-code revolution mirrors the computing and software environment prior to Mac OS and Windows. Before GUI interfaces transformed personal computing, mainstream use of computers was limited to techies unafraid of navigating DOS prompts and other programming languages. Mac OS and Windows leveled the playing field, allowing anyone to quickly learn, use and adapt software applications to fit their unique needs. We’re at the same place in time today when it comes to no-code software. “Developing” apps and truly customizing software applications are limited to the techies.
But things are about to change.
Just like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services dominate the cloud computing infrastructure market, in the future, no-code infrastructure platforms will shift the balance of power away from custom development to no-code application and business models. Zapier, for example, enables data sharing and “handshakes” across dozens of applications. GitHub provides “code snippets” that deliver out of the box functionality for hundreds of topics for instant use in developing applications. The biggest no-code opportunities include both the overall infrastructure to power no-code development and next generation applications for just about every industry vertical.
No-Code Market Adoption
Like any transformation, the adoption of no-code software and approaches won’t occur overnight. But there are significant forces driving the trend, which make it a topic to be understood and explored by both developers and users alike.
According to Salesforce, 52% of IT departments say that IT-related skill gaps are a big problem for their organization. That’s why 74% of the IT leaders who run these departments say they plan to push application development into the business units they serve. The problem is that this approach isn’t solving the root cause of the issue – that talented developers are tough to find and expensive to pay.
The talent and skill gaps that exist are already creating the need to simplify development so customized solutions can be created within resource-strapped IT departments and business units alike. In addition, the tension between corporate IT and business unit autonomy has already fueled the rise of applications like Zoom where monthly subscription models allow individual teams to bypass the IT bureaucracy.
While these realities will impact enterprise software, the bigger disruption – and opportunity – resides within the small to medium business markets. Small and medium sized businesses represent about 99% of the US market and many of these organizations don’t possess the people and resources required for custom development – or even just customization – of traditional software applications. No-code platforms represent an entirely new way to build and deploy custom solutions that would otherwise be unattainable to the masses.
Like any disruptive innovation, one of the biggest barriers to no-code adoption will be developers themselves. Like other industries where automation has disrupted business models, work processes and jobs, no-code development may do the very same thing to many of today’s highly skilled coders.
We know that software has already “eaten” the world. As we’ve seen with other industry transformations, after the train leaves the station, it’s just a matter of time before we experience massive disruption. Jump on before it’s too late.
Soren Kaplan is the bestselling and award-winning author of Leapfrogging and The Invisible Advantage, an affiliated professor at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations, a former corporate executive, and a co-founder of UpBOARD. He has been recognized by the Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top keynote speakers and thought leaders in business strategy and innovation.