Explainer: What Is ‘Low-Code/No-Code’ and How Can It Change Banking?

Increasing digitization of banking demands more and more coding work. These alternatives to programming from scratch, one even empowering 'citizen-developers,' can help get fresh technology out on the street while it still makes a competitive difference.
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Banking has long had a mismatch in both supply and timing between what IT departments could do versus what business units needed. Frustration runs rampant. Today’s digitization needs are even more drastic and IT has a finite capacity and a ever-growing to-do list.

The rapidly increasing pace of change and need for code in many industries, including banking, has driven major growth in two alternatives to traditional software development: “low-code” and “no-code.”

They both sharply reduce the amount and character of the labor involved in producing software.

Both of these alternatives to traditional coding are changing the jobs of IT and business units. Various commentators and vendors indicate that users are beginning to play a greater role in hands-on development, albeit not using traditional tools and interfaces. In conjunction with that change, IT is evolving towards a more managerial and strategic overall role, a concentration on more specialized coding where needed, and, ultimately, the responsibility to make sure it all works right at the end of the day.

“There are over 200,000 software developer job openings in the U.S. but only about 30,000 computer science majors graduating per year.”

— Creatio low-code white paper

TechCrunch notes that marketers have actually been among the pioneers in using no-code and low-code development platforms, and that other business units will be following suit.

Marketing Has Become Software (Mostly)

Martech expert Scott Brinker of chiefmartec.com argues in a blog that increasingly no-code and AI are changing marketers’ role and capabilities, going from “… ‘What if?’ ideas to ‘What about this?’ creations.”

“No-code is more than creating without code,” writes Brinker. “It’s more than just building websites or apps that would have previously required knowledge of JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Python, etc. The broader spirit of the ‘no-code’ movement is creating without limits.

For financial marketers and other bankers and credit union executives who may find themselves using these technologies soon, here is a primer of what they are about. One warning: Like so much tech terminology these days, the terms in this area have “soft boundaries” and even the experts don’t precisely synch on definitions.

What is Low-Code/No-Code?

These are two alternatives to programming from scratch, to put it colloquially.

Low-code programming uses a developmental system from one vendor or another that essentially creates “building blocks” of code that accomplish common tasks. These are manipulated using graphical user interfaces, basically visuals symbolizing the blocks of code that are being combined. They are moved around using drag-and-drop. Coding to make the blocks work with other blocks, and for other tasks, must still be done manually.

The term low-code has been around since about 2014, according to Wikipedia. Typically low-code is still done by professional coders, with low-code as a time- and labor-saving tool. Some commentators indicate that business units may sometimes venture into low-code work.

IT May Not Mind Marketing Coding:

Four out of five IT leaders responding to a Salesforce survey think business users in their companies would build processes and apps if permitted.

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Okay, I Get That Low-Code Is “Code Lite.” So What Is No-Code?

“No-code” programming is designed for the true non-coder, typically a user who knows what they want but who wouldn’t know the first thing about actual coding.

The idea is that they are given “building blocks” that can be assembled without even knowing how to connect them. No-code also uses graphical interfaces and is often presented in the form of templates that can be manipulated to produce the process that the user wants.

“No-code platforms require zero technical knowledge and this shows by them having an extremely easy-to-use interface,” writes Jesse Meijers, Co-Founder of no-code company Triggre.

But no-code doesn’t stop there. This set of solutions has been around long enough that it can be accessed as building blocks made of building blocks.

“Increasingly, there’s a whole category of no-code tools that are built as a layer on top of other no-code tools,” writes Scott Brinker.

As Brinker describes it, the variety of work that non-coders can do with no-code tools is staggering given the mystery that surrounds many of those building taskmuch of technology s for the layman. Such work includes websites, ecommerce sites, landing pages, mobile apps, bots, Alexa skills, analytics and even creative tasks, such as DALL-E represents.

A glimpse of the brave new world coming can be seen in DALL-E.

One of a financial marketer’s most time-consuming tasks, even with today’s online databases, is the conception and selection of stock art or photos to run in marketing communications from emails to social media posts. What if you could hand the task over to software that would use AI to find, devise, revise and finalize that stock illustration selection?

That’s DALL-E. On the website introducing it, the developers explain how it can solve for a need like this: “an illustration of a baby daikon radish in a tutu walking a dog.” Bizarre as that sounds, DALL-E produces multiple takes on the theme, which the user can then ask it to tweak, much like witnesses in crime dramas tell sketch artists, “No, he had a bigger nose” and such.

(In case you wondered, DALL-E is a blend of the artist “Salvador Dali” and Disney’s WALL-E movie about a space robot.

So I’m Going to Be Doing IT’s Work for Them?

Many business units, including marketers, crave the opportunity to set things up as they need them, rather than when IT can get to them.

Commentators in this field note that even as low-code makes programmers more productive, that productivity gain isn’t enough to keep up with the billowing demand for more coding.

Should a Non-Programmer Be Messing with Code?

Brinker, for one, points out that not all coders are actually all that great at manual coding. No-code, he says, is controlled such that users can’t do the damage they might do if they were let loose to experiment with real coding.

“Because code can be so open-ended in what it enables,” he writes, “it can also be nearly unlimited in its potential power. Using no-code for more creations, with its inherent constraints, is far safer than poorly coded equivalents.”

Brinker and other writers stress that the arrival of no-code doesn’t mean IT isn’t still in overall charge. And there will be many specialized tasks that they can now be freed up for.

“A no-code platform is no replacement to your existing IT department,” states a white paper from Betty Blocks, the name of a no-code platform. “Rather, it functions as an extension of your IT team which allows for a better collaboration between the business and IT.”

I’ve Heard the Term, ‘Citizen-Developer.’ What Does That Mean?

If you are given access to no-code technology, you become a “citizen-developer.” It’s a term derived from the term “citizen-soldier,” a nonprofessional who responds to the call when the nation requires. Think of it as a way to play a role in critical new tasks for your bank or credit union.

Also this, from Betty Blocks: “Implementing a no-code strategy also doesn’t happen overnight. It requires persistence, the right mindset, and proper supervision and guidance.”

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