The democratization of software with low-code/no-code platforms
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Low-code/no-code platforms are empowering enterprise agility, quicker development turnaround times, and accelerating business outcomes — and it’s the focus of the latest Transform Technology Summit. And automation, the promise of low-code for creators, and creating great products, was the focus of the chat with Airtable co-founder Andrew Ofstad and Zapier product manager Chris Geoghegan, “How Zapier Uses Airtable to Transform Product Development & Deliver Great Customer Experiences.”
“We all know in the industry how hard it is to find developers to build software solutions to power our teams,” said Airtable co-founder Andrew Ofstad. “No-code lets anybody build compelling software solutions without having to be a developer or rely on IT. There’s that shortage, that gap in the market, that no-code tools are helping to fill.”
Airtable, the platform used by Netflix for marketing, by Intuit for research and insights, and by A&E for content planning, lets teams build their own workflows and modernize their business processes without any code.
“We founded the company in the belief that the people doing the work within companies should be the ones that are building and configuring their software, not programmers, and not have their work dictated around hard-coded software,” Ofstad explained. “The focus for us has been, how do you make these software concepts easy to understand for business end users to lower that floor of adoption, so that anyone can have the powers that a lot of us in Silicon Valley have as developers, and let anybody build their own software?”
Zapier is a no-code platform for automating work by connecting more than 3,000 apps and services in automated workflows. Launched in 2011, they’ve grown to support more than 3,000 apps on their platform, including Salesforce, Google, and Airtable.
“No-code and low-code are relatively new terms, but the problems these tools are solving aren’t new,” Geoghegan said. “Being able to provide people with simple tools that didn’t require a ton of technical knowledge meant they had the building blocks to create a workflow or a process that was important to their business, and sometimes even an entire business. Ultimately this allows teams to move faster. It lets them innovate. Putting the power into the hands of these folks on the front lines facing these problems — we think that’s where innovation is best going to take place.”
Ofstad also points out that the person that best knows how the software should work and how it should be used in their team is the person on that team — not a developer for a third-party company or somebody in the IT department. That’s because too much can be lost in translation between the business side and the tech side. Another benefit is agility, when the team that owns the software can customize it to adapt to their needs on the fly.
“They can constantly innovate and iterate on their processes as the conditions of the business or as their mandates change,” he explained. “They can quickly change the software to adapt to the way new processes work and move faster and innovate more in their company than they’d be able to with a team of developers they’d have to go through, or an IT department that often has a big backlog.”
Low-code/no-code and industry trends
The pandemic rocked most industries, and woke them up to the need to go digital first, spanning industries from media and entertainment to health and fitness, commerce, and more. Because of that, launching a new company can cost far less, with a much broader reach — but also a larger competitive field, on a global scale.
“With that shift, there’s a continual need for innovation,” Ofstad said. “You’re competing against so many players in this global space that you constantly have to innovate to stay alive. That’s driven the need for digital products and software and solutions that let you move faster and coordinate at a larger scale with your teams.”
Additionally, the massive, accelerated digital transformation companies are going through today means that more and more knowledge work revolves around software for teams, and that’s become a huge component of how companies innovate and win. Knowledge workers are growing savvier than ever about software, adopting more products within their workplace at a higher level of sophistication.
Ofstad points out the shift in how companies like Zapier and Airtable think about this problem as well. A lot of effort has gone into how to simplify complex processes — in Zapier’s case, integration between services and triggering action workflows and broader workflows in business, and for Airtable, the software application stack for building team workflows — and making them easy for users to leverage while simplifying software creation.
Geoghegan also explained that the pandemic has created a perfect storm for low-code to democratize software development, enabling people regardless of their role or their background, to solve the problems that are right there in front of them. The pandemic also has people taking a deeper look at how technology is changing the way they work.
“Businesses are changing as a result of COVID,” he said. “It’s given us all this collective moment to rethink how we’re building the businesses that we’re building. During this time, we’ve seen how quickly change can happen. Sometimes during the pandemic, it was week-to-week. Low-code platforms gave us all the ability to be more responsive to change, regardless of your role.”
The future of low-code
“I think the next generation of founders and business owners aren’t going to be people with a ton of engineering experience,” Ofstadt said. “They’re probably going to be teachers building software for teachers, marketers building software for marketers. We’re going to see some really exciting innovation coming from that.”
There will also be a greater diversity of people and ideas represented in technology to build the next generation of businesses. He predicts that we’ll shift from the typical business suite of Powerpoint, Excel, Word, and more to something like Zapier, Airtable, and Webflow touted as part of people’s skillsets going forward.
“I’d just love to see more and more of these creative and ambitious systems thinkers being empowered to build within their companies without having to do the very arcane work of writing a bunch of code and having studied computer science for four years and so on,” Geoghegan said. “I’d love to see more resumes that have Airtable and Zapier as top skills, not just the Microsoft Office suite of things. I’m super excited to see a new generation of people create with these tools. That’s the most satisfying part of working on a product like this.”
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