Tools that let people build apps without needing to code are more popular than ever during the remote work era. Here’s why experts say the market will surge

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  • As the businesses and organizations have had to shut their doors during the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve often had to digitize more rapidly than originally have planned. 
  • That’s led to increased demand for no-code and low-code tools that help people build apps while interacting with little to no code, experts say. 
  • Both startups and large software companies that have made investments in no-code and low-code tools like Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce will reap the benefits of this shift, experts say. 
  • On smaller company, Unqork, has been able to help slow-to-modernize industries like financial services and government build apps quickly without coding. It even helped New York City officials quickly build an app to manage the city’s coronavirus response. 
  • While the market is still in its early stages, one VC says that these kinds of tools have the potential to be used in every industry. 
  • A recent Gartner report estimated that 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low-code development tools by 2024. As the effects of the coronavirus have played out, one analyst predicts that that level of adoption could be accelerated to 2022. 
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Tools that let non-programmers build simple apps or automate tasks with little to no code have been growing in popularity for the last several years. But such no-code and low-code tools are now seeing an even greater surge in demand as the coronavirus pandemic has forced companies and public agencies to conduct their business and operations online, experts say. 

A Gartner report published in March estimated that 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low-code development tools by 2024 — both within their IT departments and for projects undertaken by non-engineers within the company. As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have played out, though, one Gartner analyst predicts that that level of adoption could even be accelerated to 2022. 

“Companies, particularly the business units, are kind of scrambling as best they can to address some of these app gaps,” says Gartner analyst Jason Wong. 

The pandemic has highlighted just how behind some organizations were in digitizing, Wong said, and he predicts that no-code and low-code tools will surge even more than originally expected. 

No-code and low-code tools span a wide range of use cases 

There’s a wide range of use cases that low-code and no-code tools can be applied to. 

Both use code on the back-end, with the distinction coming down to how the user interacts with a tool or platform.

No-code tools are typically used to build simple apps whereas low-code tools are for projects that are a bit more complex and may require the expertise of a developer, said Chris Howard, a venture capitalist at Fuel Capital, which is invested in no-code company Draftbit. For example, someone could use low-code tools to automate the process of a sales rep inputting data from one app to another and notifying others about it, whereas someone could use no-code tools to spin up an app that track whether field sales reps are closing deals. 

Low-code tools, generally, have templates to assist developers or the ability to automatically generate code through prompts, while no-code tools don’t require a user to interact with any code at all (picture drag-and-drop user interfaces). 

The terms also cover the broad area of technology known as robotic process automation, which refers to using software to automate repetitive tasks like data entry or sending emails by connecting different apps so data can be shared among them. 

Spreadsheet app Airtable and website design company Webflow are examples of well-known no-code platforms, while Appian and Tonkean are well-known low-code platforms. 

“No-code means a higher level of abstraction on the tool,” Wong said.

Remote work is spurring higher demand for low-code and no-code products

There was already a shortage of developers with the skills to build apps from scratch even before the pandemic, and the rush to digitize will make that problem worse, experts say. 

Companies that have already invested in the low-code or no-code space will reap the benefits, whether that’s startups or software giants like Microsoft (which has been building out its Power Platform tool that helps users automate tasks), Google (which recently acquired no code startup AppSheet which lets users build apps on top of Google Sheets), or Salesforce.

Salesforce is already seeing significantly increased adoption of its low-code and no-code tools, as organizations try to accomplish in a few short weeks what they originally intended to do over a few years, says Salesforce VP Ryan Ellis. 

“We’re seeing a lot of rapid change and you need to be able to build apps that you need fast,” Ellis told Business Insider in May, adding that it’s “no longer an option for you to go out, hire in an army of developers, and build something with this hard-coded experience.”

On the smaller side of things, no-code software company Unqork has seen its business boom in the last few months, according to its CEO. 

Most notably, New York City officials used Unqork’s platform to build an application that helps manage the coronavirus by mapping hot spots and then helping connect residents of those areas to services. Using Unqork, city officials built the app in 72 hours without having to interact with a line of code.

“We could create a digital solution in days versus years in a compliance manner that no one else ever could before,” Unqork CEO Gary Hoberman told Business Insider. “This pandemic was a wake-up call to all businesses to say, ‘If you’re not digital, you’re going to shut down your business.'” 

Unqork is mainly used by large financial institutions, like John Hancock, Goldman Sachs, and Liberty Mutual, which use it primarily for analyzing data and for processing claims. But it’s also finding a customer base in industries like government and healthcare, which have had to digitize rapidly during the pandemic. 

The company also created a program for small businesses to apply to use Unqork’s services for free for one year, Hoberman says, since it realized that small businesses that need to digitize may be under financial strain because of the crisis. 

How the no-code and low-code industry will evolve

Fuel Capital’s Howard predicts that no-code and low-code tools will be used in every industry, especially as companies are faced with financial difficulties. 

“As you have fewer and fewer staff — people are making layoffs — they need to be more efficient, they need to be able to prototype quickly, make sense of customer data and build applications around that,” he said, “You’re going to see a proliferation of people wanting to access these applications.”

He also notes that many tools are now blurring the lines between no-code and low-code in order to appeal to a wider audience. 

“For example, Airtable was a ‘no-code’ tool for a long time but they just added custom-code functionality to their rows, so, now a user can do more sophisticated functions, if they know how,” Howard said. “It’s important to build to the ever-increasing sophistication of the user base.”

The market is likely large enough for both large software vendors and newer, smaller vendors alike, Gartner’s Wong said.

Microsoft and Salesforce likely have existing contracts with large enterprise customers and can leverage those to sell their low-code and no-code tools, but, smaller vendors can have an advantage when it comes to pricing, Wong said. People often find those tools on their own and start using them for free or at a low cost, as opposed to big vendors whose software gets disseminated from the top via a company’s IT organization. 

Steve Loughlin, a partner at Accel, told Business Insider earlier this year that the low-code and no-code market is just in its beginning stages. 

“Everyone’s engineering constrained, but also in the cloud,” he said. “And then the business necessity of having to move fast has led to this explosion of turning people into citizen developers, who normally wouldn’t have the ability to build these applications.”

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