Article

Craig Hanna
Craig Hanna 18 December 2018

How 'enterprise-ready' low code empowers developers, designers and marketers alike

With marketers able to track and understand consumer behaviour better than ever before, the pressure is rising for digital design teams to respond quickly to demands for new features, functionality and design elements. 

Yet, while we're gaining an increasingly intimate understanding of how to better target and serve customers on-line, there has – thus far - been little capacity to do much about it. For many agencies and organisations this has resulted in a growing wish-list of ideas to action which become more unattainable by the day. 

Which begs the question: if technology is delivering such useful insights, where is the technological solution to help us transform these insights into action? 

The answer lies within the fast evolving ecosystem of low code web development.

Today's low code platforms

Unless you've been under a rock (or drowning under a sea of code) for the last five to ten years, you'll probably be aware of how it works. But to summarise: low code enables users to construct the visual design and functionality of a website (or app) using a set of intuitive drag-and-drop visual tools, either in place - or in combination - with code. 

One of the key benefits is that it creates a common language between developer, designer and marketer – enabling closer team collaboration and greater productivity.

Low code web development platforms have come a long way since they were capable of providing only simple website designs for start-ups and SMEs. Over the last few years the technology has evolved to the point where it can provide for larger organisations with more complex multi-site requirements.

Such platforms have the potential to make software developments up to ten times faster than traditional methods, according to Forrester. This is partly why they've predicted the low code platform market to grow almost five-fold by 2022.

The low code empowered digital design team

We have now reached a stage in low code's evolution where it's capable of offering true 'extensibility'. In other words, skilled developers can now get 'under the hood' of select platforms to create new bespoke components or features. These can then be made available to designers or marketers to use and manipulate as they see fit. 

This capability lies right at the heart of truly collaborative website building. One where developers, designers and marketers can work together seamlessly across a website or portfolio of websites. 

It's worth taking a look at how it benefits each key group in a design project.

The developer

A enterprise-grade low code development platform enables developers to switch between hand coding and visual editing in a seamless manner. What's particularly beneficial for them is that they no longer have to build basic website components or functionality using code – that can all be done via the visual interface. This allows them to re-focus their time on coding truly innovative features. 

In effect, the developer's role is transformed from overburdened functionary to digital innovator. 

The designer

Low code enables designers to get more hands-on and negates their need to constantly run design tweaks via the developer – although the developer should have ultimate oversight! This means they have a quicker route from idea to realisation and the ability to experiment with different ideas.

Provided with greater technical capability the designer is able to realise and tweak their vision, uninterrupted by a lack of coding experience. 

The marketer

The marketer (usually client-side) can be empowered to take greater editorial control over the messaging on their sites. They no longer have to pinball every small idea or request to the agency team but instead can perform simple – yet potentially strategically important - adjustments as they see fit.

Instead the marketer can respond to opportunities as they arise. Waiting for design teams to implement small CMS changes is no longer good enough. 

Low code: an opportunity for all

As you can see, one key benefit of enterprise-grade low code platforms is that it widens the pool of talent involved in the design and build process, an evolution which martech guru Scott Brinker refers to as the 'democratization of technology.'

democratization_martech_volume_600px.jpg

[source: chiefmartech.com

The above graph shows how evolving design-and-build technology is lowering the amount of expertise required for website and app development. On the left-hand side we see how manual coding requires the expertise of a small field of discipline experts at a high cost (i.e. developers). As we progress to the right, we see how low code and no code platforms bring in a wider number of potential users.

Of course, different platforms provide for different needs, so features vary greatly from product to product. However, in today's low code ecosystem, there is a product suited to almost every requirement.

What to look for in low code platforms

Obviously the use of low-code should come from a business need and that will vary business by business. The type of business cases I’ve seen include:

  • The need to move faster and want to change the traditional workflows to be more efficient. This could be a business user or a partner such as a digital agency.
     
  • A shortage of developer resource for handling the volume of work and requiring a wider group able to contribute.
     
  • The need to allow subject matter experts to define the process rather than provide their expertise via other people doing things. For example designers creating websites with less developer input, data scientists creating business information apps without involving IT.

There are a wide variety of low code web development platforms which include, in rising levels of extensibility: 

Squarespace:aimed at hobbyists, start-ups and small business professionals to build simple website designs with zero coding. Provides an intuitive set of drag-and-drop tools and ready-made templates to create slick and professional looking websites. While it's not extensible (i.e. coding around it is cumbersome) it's relatively simple interface has been used for a variety of portfolio sites, small retailers and even Keanu Reeves' motorcycle brand. 

Webflow– aimed at design and marketing teams to build websites or prototypes for a wide variety of project needs. Allows designers to accomplish most aspects of web development through a visual editor. Clients include: small-to-medium sized marketing companies all the way up to prototyping for larger companies like Dell.

Cohesion DX8– aimed at companies and agencies using Drupal to build enterprise websites. Designers can drag-and-drop or visually create items which automatically generate code, while new bespoke elements can be hand-coded by developers and made available as useable components by non-developers. End clients include Close Brothers bank, Mastek, Royal Mail and City and Guilds.

As you can see, there are a variety of low code web development platforms for different business and design requirements. For the sakes of digital teams who are responsible for building enterprise-grade websites, the platform must be geared towards both developers and designers. This gives more power to the whole digital team, ramping-up productivity in the process. 

While designers get to experiment with different ideas and marketers get to tweak their messaging, the skilled developer is freed up to create more value by working on more advanced functionality and innovative features.

With all those analytics telling so many stories about user-behaviour, it can seem that technology is making everything that once seemed easy, hard again. With technology asking the questions, it's hardly surprising that tech - in the form of low code – is promising to provide the answers for today's digital teams.

Marie Hinchin
Marie Hinchin

Thanks Craig for mentioning some of the sites we built, much appreciated.

As an agency we have fully adopted a low-code methodology using Cohesion as it allows us to build enterprise sites that offer our clients more value, more agility and more control of their editing experience. There are a number of other case studies on our website www.coherence.co.uk/ https://www.coherence.co.uk/our-work for any interested parties.

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