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High Code vs. Low Code vs. No Code: Why Choose Just One?

January 5, 2023 13 minute read
It’s important to understand the pros and cons of high-code, low-code, and no-code development before deciding which approach is best for your project
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Back in the old days, businesses relied on a developer to write code and create experiences from start to finish. Thankfully, developers no longer have to be a jack of all trades; the load of creating digital experiences has expanded to business users, marketers, customer success teams, and others. With so many specialties and departments in the mix, modern development requires multiple approaches and solutions to creating new applications and services. 

Following best practices, modern applications should avoid the trap of the monolith by employing component-based design principles. With low coupling and high cohesion, components and services can be assembled into different types of applications. Choosing the right assembly model is a critical part of any successful project. These assembly models can be grouped into three distinct categories: high code, low code, and no code.

Each assembly model has its own advantages. Most often a combination of these approaches across multiple teams is needed to address all business needs. To illustrate this modern development mindset, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of high-code, low-code, and no-code approaches. 

The differences between high code, low code, and no code

Let’s look at how the rise of more intuitive methods and site-building tools have allowed people with zero coding or software development experience to have a greater role in shaping customer experiences. 

High code

High-code assembly relies on developers to write and deploy code. This assembly model is ideal for applications where the code should be tied to the experience itself. Developers will often rely on JavaScript frameworks like React or Angular or frameworks specifically designed for mobile or native applications. Content and data is typically provided via a headless CMS or other API-based services. 

This approach is ideal for a “code-driven” experience tightly tied to code deployment cycles. Content and data can be managed and updated from remote systems on demand, but developers control the actual experience and interface. 

However, with a high-code approach alone, businesses are heavily reliant on developer resources. When everything requires a developer’s hand, it takes time away from the more valuable work they could be doing, such as creating new features and innovations. 

Low code

Using low-code tools, developers focus on building a composable platform and providing self-service tools that allow business users to control the assembly of the experience. They can also create powerful components that can be reused for other applications.

The primary benefits of low-code solutions are speed and collaboration. Low-code solutions generally leverage pre-built components, design systems, and functionalities that can be rearranged and repurposed to shape different experiences. 

Low code means that both marketers and developers play a vital role in the process. Developers build the components, and marketers can then assemble those components into relevant customer experiences. This collaboration can accelerate time to market and produce greater overall customer satisfaction for the business because marketers can directly translate their insights into actions. 

Traditionally, developers have been reluctant to embrace low code/no code due to concerns about functionality and security, but there are ways to build governance and regulations into the types of components and systems applied. 

No code

No-code assembly puts marketers and other business users directly in the driver’s seat. True to the name, these solutions involve no need to write a single line of code once they're launched. Instead, they rely on forms, configuration, and simple input tools to manage the experience.

No-code solutions are great for solving individual department issues, like updating content or assets on a page, without pulling the attention of developers away from other projects. They can also be leveraged to help scale solutions by using more of a cookie-cutter approach.

However, no-code tools are limited in terms of bringing about large-scale innovations or building new platforms. They're typically more difficult and expensive to extend, and while fast to set up and use, their flexibility is often limited.

Taking a collaborative approach to application development 

Now that you’ve got a grasp on the three assembly models, how do you decide whether to standardize a high-code, low-code, or no-code approach? Trick question; you don’t. 

There’s no single answer for how best to meet your development needs, but the key to success is not sticking to a single assembly model. Modern businesses can’t have a one-size-fits-all mindset when designing and building their websites. When developers are stuck in silos and made to take on all aspects of assembling, delivering, and optimizing content, timelines are longer, and technical talent has little time for true innovation. 

Now that you’ve got a grasp on the three assembly models, how do you decide whether to standardize a high-code, low-code or no-code approach? Trick question; you don’t.

Instead, the greatest value can be achieved by selecting a truly hybrid CMS and building a platform that's flexible and composable enough to support different users and use cases. Rather than force developers to completely give up control, adding low-code and no-code capabilities to a high-code method allows for additional support from other teams to design and deliver the full digital experience. 

A fully functional and open approach to application development and content assembly accommodates developers through features like an API-first design and baked-in security features. Meanwhile, low-code/no-code applications grant marketers control over the display and layout of their content, so they’re more connected to the total digital experience. 

Build a composable platform for all assembly modes

By choosing a truly hybrid CMS, you have the ability to create a composable platform that can be used for any assembly mode. In fact, you can even create a single codebase that can be reused over and over for different applications. It's like your CMS becomes a macro-component in your architecture.

But how do you know which assembly model to use for a particular application? It's actually pretty simple; you just have to decide who owns the assembly of the experience.

  • If it's a code-driven application where the developer owns the assembly, then you want high code. 
  • If it's a content-driven application where the marketer owns the assembly, then you want low code.
  • If it's a standardized application following more of a “cookie-cutter” model of assembly, then you want no code.

In any case, Drupal is a truly hybrid CMS that can work really well across the board. By standardizing a single CMS tool that can serve the whole organization, you can create a composable platform that's flexible enough to respond to anything your team needs today and in the future.

The low-code boom

In 2021, Gartner reported that the global market for low-code development tools would hit about $14 billion in 2021, almost 25% higher than 2020. About 40% of employees outside IT build or customize data solutions, and half of the new low-code customers will come from business buyers outside IT before 2026. 

On the surface, this might sound like a threat to developers, but that changes as you look more closely. Many low-code platforms are either aimed at developers or otherwise require technical knowledge to work efficiently. Low-code tools can accelerate projects, but without governance and direction by developers, they also accelerate the creation of bugs and technical debt. 

Low-code tools can accelerate projects, but without governance and direction by developers, they also accelerate the creation of bugs and technical debt.

Only systems architects and developers have the experience and deep technical knowledge to properly evaluate these tools, use them, and integrate them into the increasingly complex technical stack required to do business today.

Low code democratizes digital transformation

Larger enterprises with specific needs around hosting, security, and support are increasingly embracing open source code and a low-code approach to simplify the site-building process and make creating digital experiences more accessible to all sides of a business.

Agile businesses are depending more on low-code and no-code tools to move swiftly on projects and better adapt to fast-changing market demands. Low-code site building is part of a movement that Scott Brinker refers to as “the democratization of technology.” It describes how web and app development projects are no longer the sole domain of skilled developers and technologists but instead extend to a wider community of “citizen developers,” including marketers, designers, and content editors.

For marketing teams that are managing multiple websites and responsible for creating heaps of content daily, low-code site building and content management tools offer a greater degree of independence and autonomy. Rather than filing an IT ticket for the queue, marketers can now drive the creation of a new landing page or an email sequence from start to finish. 

Low-code page builders still require some degree of an underlying code-based framework. However, the commands and actions they perform are all accomplished through things like visual tools, drag-and-drop functionality, and self-service workflows. For large enterprises, these low-code design platforms generally offer a master library of component-based templates and content formats that can be accessed by anyone and reapplied again and again. 

Building experiences and site components is made easier through a selection of customizable design elements. The flexibility of composable content and composable applications means businesses are no longer as dependent on specialists or developer teams to execute digital transformation. Instead, companies can allow these teams to concentrate on managing the overall digital infrastructure. In a new landscape where timelines are condensed and budgets consolidated, launching successful digital experiences requires all hands on deck. Low-code tools enable businesses to leverage more of the team in the active process of creation and delivery with fewer bottlenecks.

The simple-to-understand interface of low-code, visual tools also benefit businesses by making learning new software or giving demos to new users much easier. The simplicity and minimal training needed to on-board marketers to these low-code website tools greatly shortens the time to market for new content while freeing up developer and IT teams to drive greater innovation in parallel. 

Low code allows marketers to build more impactful customer experiences 

At its core, the citizen-developer movement and the rising popularity of low-code solutions is driven by a desire for greater efficiency and agility in marketing. The speed at which low-code applications can be built means users have more freedom to shape their final product and adapt the end result as business needs change. 

A shorter time to market is valuable not only in meeting the unrelenting demand for new experiences; it also allows marketers to immediately understand the impact of what they’re developing. When a user controls their own workflow, they can iterate and adjust the experience as customers’ needs evolve. Citizen developers are typically more directly involved with customer engagement than an IT specialist, so they have a better understanding of customer pain points and the solutions they need. 

When organizations empower citizen developers across multiple departments — from sales to customer success and content marketing — they gain a more holistic view of the customer experience than a developer team could offer alone. Getting stakeholders involved in the hands-on process of building customer experiences both empowers and engages teams in a way that illuminates efficiencies and alignment between organizations, ultimately producing better customer experiences.

Citizen developers can directly apply that much-needed customer perspective when shaping a digital strategy or designing an application. Previously, this level of customer insight could get lost or changed along the way when relayed to IT or an external agency through a project brief. With low-code tools, the creator and the author are one, ensuring satisfactory communications.

With what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interfaces and drag-and-drop features, a marketer can also preview exactly what their audience will see. The low-code movement helps organizations remove the friction between marketers and customers when marketers are involved in shaping every step in the customer experience. 

The low-code movement means that more of your team can be citizen developers using self-service tools, and your IT resources can refocus on ever more advanced projects. The result is better digital experiences created by a modern marketing team empowered to deliver their vision faster and more efficiently than ever before.

Low code makes developers more valuable 

The low-code boom removes some of the technological difficulties that make a developer necessary, but that doesn’t impact their true value. 

Technology is the foundation of every modern business, and everyone knows how vital it is. Although more people care about technology, they don’t necessarily understand its depths. The greater the access to technology, the more that developers are seen as experts. The low-code boom gives people powerful tools that reinforce the need for developers to guide, integrate, extend, and enhance those tools.

Developers typically benefit from low-code tools because it increases the amount of high-value work they can do. This is not only better for the organization, but it’s better for developers too. Low-code tools increase developer skills, offer opportunities to learn, and create space to demonstrate greater overall contribution. 

The low-code movement has freed the developer from lower-value tasks, so they can work on much more impactful, interesting, and high-value projects. Just as advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and computer algorithms help marketers understand huge quantities of customer data, the low-code movement cuts the chaff of tedious IT requests, so developers can focus on bigger tasks. Low-code tools can reduce our support burden and help remove IT as the real (or perceived) bottleneck in business workflows. They streamline common, everyday business tasks (like creating content) and provide more resources (time/money) for the developer to truly shine.

Developers are vital in ensuring that the entire tech stack is composable, performant, and secure. There are tons of process improvements that everyone knows they should do, but not everyone has the budget to invest in: continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), automated testing, code audits, and performance and security testing.

Most importantly, developers need to be free to innovate! This is the highest value activity in which they can engage. Developers can create true value that no other part of the organization can touch — like machine learning, better integrations, big data, real time responses, seamless user integrations, Internet of Things (IoT), and even greater advancements that perhaps no one has thought of yet.

Embracing disruption as the future of digital progress

Low-code tools aren't going away. Computing history is a steady march from changing gears and switches to punch cards, assembly language, compiled code, interpreted languages, and, now, low-code tools. The constant goal is to make it faster, easier, and safer to deliver ever-more advanced solutions.

There's no denying that the boom in low-code tools is disruptive. However, developers have long been used to disruption; they’re arguably the most comfortable and well-positioned people to deal with it. Developers have the experience and vision to understand what those changes will be and how to lead the business into the best position for the future. 

At the end of the day, low-code tools are only tools. Developers are experts in learning and using technical tools to do cool stuff. They should ignore the fear and pride that might hold them back and embrace their curiosity, excitement, and experience. This is the source of developers’ true value and what ultimately makes them invaluable.

So, if your fears about low code are ebbing or you want to know more about it and other solutions to building modern web applications, download our free e-book: Creating the Virtuous Cycle with Headless, Hybrid, and Low Code.

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