This content is part of the Essential Guide: No-code/low-code app development evolves from loathed to loved
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No-code, low-code tools are here to stay. Deal with it.

Like it or not, no-code and low-code (I dub thee NCLC) application-development tools that allow line-of-business departments to navigate around IT’s army of highly trained, expert analysts and coders are not going away. It’s time to face reality.

According to a brand new study published today (May 2, 2016) by research house Vanson Bourne, The NCLC movement continues to gain traction. Among its key findings, the study notes that “63% of line-of-business respondents report that their department has either deployed, or considered initiating, application projects without the knowledge of the IT department.”

Now there’s a dose of new reality.

Just last week, Microsoft ended the private beta period for its PowerApps platform, opening up the NCLC tool as an unrestricted beta to anyone who wants to try it. Prominently displayed on the PowerApps website is a potent tagline: “Connect the things you already have, build apps without writing code, publish and use on Web and mobile.” Among the services to which you can connect are Salesforce, Dynamics CRM, Dropbox, Slack, Twitter, and Azure. And for the true evil scientists who really want to stick it to IT, custom APIs also make the cut.

“Power to the people,” is not just a cultural touchstone of the 1960s, it is the reality of our software as a service, mobile computing, distributed way of digital life.

PowerApps joins a long list of NCLC tools already widely available, but slapping the Microsoft name on something so potentially potent provides an enormous vote of validation for the technology. The CEO can finally go to the CIO and ask, “What about this?”

And there’s the rub. NCLC tools can benefit IT, or they can hurt. OK, Mr. or Ms. CIO, how do you plan to deal with it?

Ignore it. Woe unto you should you choose this strategy. NCLC is here to stay. You just can’t be seen as sticking your head in the sand. You can’t decree that all development must occur under the auspices of IT. You’ll be viewed as obstructionist, recalcitrant, and behind the times. You’ll be seen as an old-school CIO thinking in old-school terms. (Hint: You may already be viewed that way).

Ignore, but remain aware. That’s a half-step better. Departmental app builders are going to build apps. If you choose to consider those apps as a department’s illegitimate spawn, at least you should know what they’re doing and accessing. Stay wary, stay leery.

Acknowledge, but provide no aid. Admit it, denial is futile. Move beyond willful blindness. Sure, you’ll be secretly happy when an NCLC practitioner hangs himself or herself. Try not to rub your hands together too gleefully as you ride in on your white horse to rescue the project.

Embrace and be loved. Choosing to set people and departments up for success will win you friends and respect. When you admit that IT hasn’t the time nor budget (nor inclination?) to do a particular project, and follow that with support for a particular NCLC tool and maybe a written set of best-practices recommendations, you’ll rightfully be seen as a forward thinker that allows departments to react at the speed of business. Among the users of PowerApps that Microsoft is touting are Bose and Xerox. Clearly they’re on board with the concept of NCLC.

As an old-timer who grew up writing code in an MIS environment that wielded vise-grip total control over every aspect of apps and data, I admit embracing NCLC isn’t easy. But, it’s necessary. “Power to the people,” is not just a cultural touchstone of the 1960s, it is the reality of our software as a service, mobile computing, distributed way of digital life.

What’s your opinion of NCLC development tools empowering line-of-business departments? What do you see as the ramifications? Tell us, we’d like to hear from you.