How COVID-19 Has Changed the Future of Low-Code

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a host of challenges that will require businesses to respond quickly. Low-code can provide a path for them to do so.
Headshot of author Matt Nigh
Matt Nigh
Expert Columnist
June 9, 2020
Updated: August 11, 2020
Headshot of author Matt Nigh
Matt Nigh
Expert Columnist
June 9, 2020
Updated: August 11, 2020

COVID-19 has challenged the fundamentals of how companies do business. In a recent article, Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal from McKinsey argued:

It is increasingly clear our era will be defined by a fundamental schism: the period before COVID-19 and the new normal that will emerge in the post-viral era: the next normal. In this unprecedented new reality, we will witness a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated.

Low-code, a visual tool or platform that replaces some level of writing code, is primed to play a key role in the changing environment. COVID-19 has resulted in three key problems that low-code offers an excellent solution for:

  1. Retailer business transformation.
  2. Immediate need for new software.
  3. Drastic shifts in strategy and business models.

These drivers will accelerate the adoption of low-code platforms and tools.

 

Retailer Business Transformation

COVID-19 has forced many smaller retailers to begin to adopt or leverage their online marketing and e-commerce platforms just to survive. For larger retailers, especially ones reliant on grocery sales, COVID-19 is forcing marketing adaptation and maturity. Larger retailers are having their marketing strategies tested.

Alex Timlin, a senior vice president at Emarsys, has pointed out that many small retailers have used e-commerce to offset their losses: 

What were seeing is that retailers who have both a physical store and an e-commerce site are using the latter to offset the losses from the closure of the former. And while that may not enable them to break even, its certainly helping the bottom line look less worrying.

Physical retailers being pushed to adopt or mature their e-commerce presence will drive transformation in a few different ways:

  • Small retailers and business owners need ways to better drive online traffic and sales without developers, having to learn to code themselves, or costly outside help.
  • After the pandemic, consumers will become increasingly comfortable with online ordering, subscriptions, and delivery.
  • Marketers will need to leverage low-code solutions to maximize their budgets and test different online marketing tactics for the new normal of the post-COVID world.

Marketing and sales models will change as in-store sales decline while online ordering and delivery increase. Retailers and other small businesses will have to do more with less. For companies facing financial challenges, low-code helps keep costs down by minimizing the need for high-cost developers but still allows for experimenting and testing innovative ideas.

 

Immediate Need for New Software

The novel COVID-19 situation has created an immediate need for new software applications. Many of these are simple, like apps that allow for self-reporting of COVID-19 symptoms. In other cases, companies and governments need apps for the new and temporary services that they’re offering.

Low-code is ideal for many of these apps because it allows developers both speed and the ability to make changes quickly, which are crucial for the types of apps that people are currently building. At the same time, the applications used very simple information and only required basic features.

Let’s take a look at three case studies that show low-code’s possibilities.

Large Scale Case Study: New York City and Washington, D.C., Web Portals

New York City and Washington, D.C., needed to create multiple web portals rapidly to provide services and take in information from individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms or who encountered symptomatic individuals. To speed up the creation of the portals, the cities used Unqork, a low-code partner with a proprietary platform. By using low-code and Unqork, New York was able to go live with its engagement portal within 72 hours.

Unqork is a rapidly growing company, which illustrates the growth of the low-code industry itself. The company is only three years old. In the past year, they’ve hired more than 170 team members and tripled their revenue.

The results speak for themselves. Unqork’s platform enabled over two million meals to be delivered to the needy in Washington, D.C., and New York as of April 23. Without low-code, it would have likely taken around one to three months to develop custom software with similar capabilities.

Enterprise Case Study: COVID-19 Health Department

Appian created a low-code responsive application for government agencies and enterprise companies that is available for free to organizations with more than 1,000 people. The platform is meant to help enterprises centralize their COVID-19 responses while also building an employee community to promote peer-to-peer help during the crisis.

According to Appian, the application does all of the following:

  • Tracks employee health status, location, travel history, and potential COVID-19 incidents.
  • Provides employers with reports on employee health and work status updates.
  • Connects employees by giving people the chance to volunteer by helping employees with needs including groceries, rides, chores, and more.
  • Can be set up from scratch in as little as two hours.

During COVID-19, low-code platforms like Appian will be essential in helping enterprises create custom software where changes can be quickly made.

Community Case Study: Support Upstate South Carolina

The idea behind this mobile application is to drive business to local restaurants in upstate South Carolina that are open for delivery and takeout during the pandemic.

Developed in only seven days, Patrick Ford created Support Upstate SC as part of the #nocodeconnectsus challenge from NuCode and Adalo. The goal of the challenge was to prototype applications that could be created using low-code to support people and communities.

Tools like Adalo are used primarily by makers and are gaining maturity quickly. Its a startup that wants to transform application development (mobile and web) the same way Wordpress transformed website development. Its UI is one of the more advanced ones available to makers and startups for a reasonable cost.

Apps like Support Upstate SC are examples of how citizen developers might be able to leverage low-code for community initiatives in the future.

 

Drastic Shifts in Strategy and Business Models

Many companies either are or will soon be changing their fundamentals over the next few years. Brian Cornell, Target’s CEO, recently said: “It’s a very unique environment that none of us have seen before, and there is no playbook for how to react in this environment. We’re writing the script each and every day.” Low-code technologies can help businesses by acting as a rapid design sandbox for apps and online business models.

Kasey Panetta from Gartner wrote an article that recommends companies take a five-step approach to improving their business models to weather the crisis:

  1. Map out your current business model.
  2. Document the uncertainties you are facing.
  3. Clarify the potential impacts of the different uncertainties.
  4. Create a plan to address the different uncertainties.
  5. Make the appropriate changes.

The need for fast, budget-conscious changes will drive low-code adoption. IT departments will be looking to adapt to rapidly changing business needs, including supporting internal employees and revenue-generating activities. A low-code solution allows a business to quickly test and prove ideas before investing money on developers.

Low-code can also allow you to gain the upper hand on your competitors. For example, Lucro Commercial Solutions leveraged Outsystems’ low-code platform to create an app to process Paycheck Protection Program loans. It took only seven days to create the app, which processed more than $30 million and approximately 4,000 loan applications.

Cori Schmidt‑Zdrazil, COO at Lucro Commercial Solutions, credited Outsystems, along with a partner, for creating a product using a low-code solution: An automated system on the fly, while the program was rolling out, gave us the ability to keep pace and help an underserved set of customers at a time when they need support. The platform also gives us the ability to compete with much larger institutions with much more resources.

Businesses that have an urgent need to create web applications immediately should consider low-code tools and platforms as part of their overall solution.

 

In Closing

Your company might want to evaluate low-code solutions in three areas. First, are you having to rapidly iterate on different product ideas and tests? Second, do you have a large number of employees that are non-technical and could be more productive? Third, what technology are you evaluating where speed and cost are higher priorities than customization or specialization?

This pandemic will test organizational agility over the next few years. With COVID-19 likely to flare up repeatedly until a vaccine is found, companies will be managing this crisis for a long time. As you seek additional agility, consider where low-code might give you an advantage.

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