Low-code and no-code software development, which allows people to build applications by configuring graphical widgets and data fields instead of sifting through obtuse programming languages, has become broadly popular among state IT agencies, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers said Thursday.
In a preview of its annual survey of its members, NASCIO reported that low-code and no-code development was a crucial tool as states ramped up their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and that CIOs believe it will be one of the most impactful technologies in the coming years.
“As we all know by now, the pandemic came on fast, and suddenly states were faced with unprecedented challenges that needed to be dealt with urgently,” the NASCIO report reads.
From the early days of the health crisis, city and state governments dabbled further into using low-code development as they were pressed to rapidly scale up services like unemployment insurance, rent relief, nutrition assistance and small-business support, as well as to build out platforms for coronavirus testing and vaccinations. New York City, for example, partnered with a firm called Unqork, which likens its interface to “Lego blocks,” to build an early infection-tracking platform and, later, a rental-assistance portal.
Low-code and no-code development has also caught the attention of officials such as Ohio CIO Katrina Flory, who told StateScoop in June that the techniques have been useful “where there were some manual processes that needed addressing and systems that weren’t quite up to the task.”
According to the NASCIO report, 31% of state CIOs said in this year’s member survey that low-code and no-code development will be “the most impactful” emerging IT area over the next three to five years. That’s roughly equal to the combined responses for artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, which collectively got 30% of votes. By comparison, NASCIO’s 2020 survey saw 61% of members naming AI and RPA as the most promising field.
Low-code and no-code’s ability to cut down on development time — especially during the pandemic — was a major selling point, too. One state CIO said it took application development times down from 18 months using traditional methods to an average of 11 days.
The report describes no-code as being ideal for “business users” capable of designing and constructing “functional but generally limited” apps without needing to write a single line of code. Low-code development is increasingly preferred by professional developers who use it to streamline and simplify the delivery of enterprise-level programs by minimizing the amount of hand-coding required.
“Low-code is going to get you 70-80 percent of the way there, and you’ll need to code the last 20 percent,” one NASCIO corporate member is quoted as saying in the report. The report shows that Nebraska CIO Ed Toner employs a team of developers dedicated to handling state agencies’ low-code needs.
The outlook on low-code and no-code development is not without drawbacks, though. Many vendors in the field use a per-user pricing structure that can quickly drive up costs, especially if the application being developed is going to be used by a large population — though some companies offer other enterprise-level pricing models.
“States should avoid using LC/NC for applications that are low value and high touch if the pricing is based on users,” the NASCIO paper states. “Licensing every employee to use the app would be extremely cost-prohibitive for the value.”