This article was first published by MIT Sloan Management Review under the title "Accelerate Digital Transformation With ‘No-Code’ Software Tools" on the 22nd of July 2021. You can read the article here.
Once the pandemic’s threat became clear, many leadership teams raced to reinvent their companies through digital transformations. Many continue to focus exclusively on complex, large-scale efforts and are finding it difficult to make quick progress. Backlogs of smaller technology projects have rapidly increased as experienced software developers have prioritized digitally revamping complex core offerings.
In contrast, companies supporting their business teams by deploying so-called no-code software development platforms have been installing simpler apps faster, enabling them to keep up with changes occurring at a previously unthinkable pace. Such tools give nontechnical users the ability to build applications without writing a single line of code. For example, one financial services company recently added new digital capabilities to its customer portal about twice as fast as it had anticipated because business teams actually built most of the new capabilities on their own — without significant support from IT.
Empowering teams to be their own developers by designing and implementing applications themselves allows companies to make technological progress without hiring more technology staffers. No-code platforms provide visual, user-friendly capabilities that allow nondevelopers to design, develop, and deploy enterprise-class applications. Simultaneously, they free up professional software developers to tackle more difficult problems, like modernizing core platforms.
Most specialist platforms do one thing extremely well, like cleaning and structuring data, whereas these generalist no-code platforms — such as Amazon Honeycode, Microsoft Power Apps, Unqork, and Airtable — allow the creation of entirely new business applications. With menus of pre-built components, workflows, and automations, no-code applications can be stitched together in nearly any way that teams can dream up while remaining in compliance with enterprise technology standards.
Leaders can thus accelerate the implementation of their digital strategies, especially in critical areas such as digitizing customer support, automating internal processes, and improving data processing. These apps, in turn, allow teams empowered by no-code platforms to more effectively manage the risks that inevitably accompany digitization, like poorly designed user experiences that result in user errors. When these tools are used correctly, teams can improve the quality of deployed software applications by implementing formal, controlled software life-cycle development processes. They can also prevent the creation of poorly designed or tested software and its deployment into production by defining “guardrails,” such as standardized user menus that steer application creators to best practices by default.
Digitizing customer support
Business teams often wait years for technology teams to have the availability to develop digital enhancements, all the while watching customers defect to more digitally savvy competitors. Clients of one large wealth manager were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with its legacy institutional portal because its onboarding process remained very manual. The processes for submitting and receiving information and documents, authorizing transactions, handling customer inquiries, and reporting on results were awkward, inefficient, and often conducted via email.
But after the company empowered its onboarding team to develop their own low-code applications, client satisfaction with the company’s portal rocketed while operating costs dropped. The reason: Using one of the leading no-code application platforms, managers constructed a modern, flexible, investor-friendly digital portal that supported customized workflows — without having written any actual code — in only 24 weeks from concept to deployment. The portal was fully integrated into back-end trading, accounting, and reporting systems and supported workflow automation and low-touch processing. All the team needed from their technology colleagues was assistance with API enhancements to allow connections to back-end systems.
Improving data processing
No-code platforms also enable managers to accelerate legacy data-processing bottlenecks and simplify labyrinthine, time-intensive data management processes. For example, many banks still rely on their operations staff to manually download information from a number of large, legacy processing applications after the market closes, enter it into a set of complex spreadsheets, run the necessary Excel macro-enabled analyses, and, based on the output, prepare the required regulatory reports for daily submission to key country regulators.
A single business analyst was able to automate one bank’s data processing flow in six weeks using its no-code data-wrangling platform, eliminating manual steps previously needed to produce clean data. This clean data was then validated by a set of Python code to determine whether a regulatory report was required. By empowering an analyst to automate the daily process, the bank reduced both the overtime costs to execute the process and its regulatory risk, given that a report generated via machine logic is vastly less likely to be submitted with an error than one manually generated by a human.
Improving risk management
Many companies discovered during the pandemic that one way to improve risk management is to reduce manual processes, especially those on paper. In insurance companies, intake processes, customer questionnaires, and even systems can vary by underwriter and whether email or phone calls were used for communication. With limited upfront data validation, customers might repeatedly be asked to provide supplemental information.
By going paperless, in just 12 weeks one insurer was able to accelerate the turnaround time for customers’ insurance policy quotes by a factor of nine. Using a no-code platform, a business team created a digital intake solution that supported quoting, policy binding, and issuance. They leveraged underwriters’ workflows to simultaneously update employees, third-party agents, and customers on outstanding actions. Analysis of the data collected helped them identify ways to further improve the customer experience.
Develop a no-code strategy
Managers are just beginning to discover the many ways that no-code platforms will enable them to have more say in charting their companies’ digital future. It’s important that businesses develop strategic plans to drive the digitization agenda with this emerging tool. The more companies invest in platforms to empower their nontechnology employees to participate in application development and expand their products’ technical toolkits, the more business users can contribute to increasing the speed of digitization.