Power to the people!

Successive waves of technological disruption have dramatically changed how organizations create value for customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Cloud, mobile, and SaaS have profoundly impacted the cost and speed dynamics of delivering new digital customer experiences. At the same time, they've moved computing power away from the mainframe and into people's hands.

As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) become ever more pervasive, they're transforming the work people do and how they do it. As the Accenture Technology Vision 2021 "I, Technologist" trend makes clear, there's an undeniable shift underway toward democratized technology. This trend promises to unleash unprecedented innovation and develop new customer experiences created by those working closest to the customer.

image by Accenture, 2021

A new age of innovation

While this shift towards democratization has already proven to be powerful, in many ways, it's just a taste of what's to come. In this first report in a series exploring the impact and implications of low-code/no-code platforms, we're highlighting how their adoption could create a revolutionary movement even more disruptive than anything that's come before.

Low-code/no-code platforms (LCNC) are software development environments that enable people with little or no coding experience to build and modify applications. These platforms empower business users to quickly and easily deliver new capabilities on demand, without having to rely on hard-pressed development teams.

Low-code no-code (LCNC) promises to ignite a "Cambrian" explosion of user-generated innovation and creativity. In 2021 alone, LCNC platforms are predicted to account for 75% of app development, and this trend is likely to grow as 60% of current low-code/no-code users expect their weekly usage of the platform to increase; some as much as 30% or more. And it promises to be a record year for investment activity too, with around 128 deals worth more than US$2 billion.

Democratization on this scale marks a fundamental shift in who can innovate and create value from technology and how that value is created. Ways of working and managing/governing technology-based innovation would need to change completely. And enterprise IT, already deluged by preceding waves of change, should now be ready for the low-code/no-code revolution that's about to break out.

From "bring your own" to "make your own"

So, what's accelerating LCNC adoption? Principally, the relentless pressure to innovate and solve problems faster than ever. Nearly one-third (28%) of companies say that while they are currently delivering at the pace of business, they're doing so without proper tools and processes at scale. What's more, 20% of companies admit to having more than 50 initiatives in their backlog.

Clearly, this is unsustainable. Enterprise-wide access to the right technology tools is now important to organizations' ability to create and deliver exceptional experiences for their customers, employees and society. Our research highlights the massive impact this has on competitiveness: companies that can focus their entire organization—the C-suite, all functions, and every employee—around delivering exceptional experiences, outperform their peers by six times in year-on-year profitability over one, three, five and seven years.

From an IT perspective, the trends driving LCNC are familiar – the move from client-server to SaaS/cloud and composite apps, along with the shifting control of IT spend that's been gradually moving over to the business in recent years. Decentralization trends, such as BYO devices, have been in motion for years but were rapidly accelerated during the pandemic.

Remote working brought new requirements for secure environments to reflect the shift of the office into the user's home. At the same time, the consumerization of tech has changed user expectations about the entire experience of work, with easy access via apps and interfaces that give them more intuitive control over how and where they get things done.

In short, closed systems are opening out and a whole new set of people are engaging with technology within the enterprise and broader ecosystems. "Bring your own" is fast becoming "make your own" as a new set of citizen developers take advantage of rapidly advancing LCNC tools.

A movement whose moment has come

In many ways, LCNC is part of a continuum. Think about how Excel proliferated across organizations, bringing database functionality to ordinary users that, for the first time, gave them the freedom to work independently on their projects. Likewise, platforms like Pega, started the democratization ball rolling some years ago by providing easily configurable and customizable CRM and BPM capabilities.

However, today's crucial difference is the massive explosion of new use cases that offer the tantalizing possibility of unlocking substantial value potential. Our research among C-level executives shows that 73% see LCNC as drivers of new customer-facing applications, 55% see it creating new process flows that complement packaged products, and 50% see it creating new business rules and process controls.

image by Accenture, 2021

We know from them that benefits in three key areas drive LCNC adoption: ease of use, ease of integration with existing solutions/technologies, and accelerated value creation.

That's not all. Besides their significant potential for value creation and innovation across enterprises of all kinds, LCNCs could also address several persistent challenges. With many organizations citing a shortage of IT skills as a barrier to growth (46% of CxOs told us that the growing skills gap was a top factor influencing workforce strategy), LCNCs could go a long way to bridging the divide.

With a limited background in technology, citizen developers can build applications independently, which brings the potential for higher productivity and greater organization-wide collaboration.

Anarchy or utopia?

Revolutions can go two ways. They can usher in a better new world, or they can descend into anarchic chaos. To promote the former and guard against the latter, the IT function should take on a new role as it governs the roll-out of LCNC platforms—a role that would require a new operating blueprint.

Lower barriers to innovation should be enormously positive benefits from LCNC. But with development activity moving from the center of organizations to ordinary users at "the edge," IT needs to find a way to keep on top of where and how developments are taking place. Shadow IT is already a growing challenge, with 83% of organizations expecting it to grow over the next two years.

If not properly managed, LCNC threatens to proliferate the presence of embedded IT within the organization. To guard against that risk, IT needs to evolve to become innovation partners and funders, acting more like venture capitalists than gatekeepers.  We will discuss how IT can morph its role as promoters and collaborators of innovation in a subsequent report.

Security is and always will be a top priority, with many LCNC solution providers siting IT security and governance as the top barriers to widespread adoption (singled out by 88% of all providers and 72% of the C-suite in those organizations). And there's no question that more democratic and open approaches risk expanding vulnerabilities and attack surfaces. The impact? This changes the security footprint from perimeter-based controls to a security posture that permeates the whole organization.

Talent and skills, too, take on new dimensions in organizations embracing LCNC platforms. With nearly one in five business leaders citing "scarcity of technology professionals in the workplace" as a key limitation, CIOs and CTOs need to look beyond their traditional pool of technologists to a far broader community. They'll need to cultivate and nurture new talent networks that bring together citizen developers with their professional counterparts.

That means a much broader remit to boost the technology quotient (TQ) of the whole organization. Accenture's Chief Strategy Officer, Bhaskar Ghosh explains how "to maximize the return on their technology investments, leading organizations are improving their technology quotient, going beyond building pockets of excellence, to implementing a strategy for achieving enterprise-wide transformation."

Creative tension

Overall, LCNC offers a powerful new way to handle exponentially growing business demands for innovation to meet pressing customer and operational challenges. At the same time, without the proper governance and security, LCNC could be just another headache for already stretched CIO/CTO and CISO agendas. The opportunity is there. To seize it, companies need to start carefully planning now to harness the revolutionary power LCNC promises.

Stay tuned for our next update when we'll highlight LCNC's transformative potential for SMBs. The big question: will tech democratization through LCNC accelerate SMB growth so they can punch above their weight class and supercharge their ability to compete?

The article was originally published by Accenture.