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Harnessing low-code/no-code in the public sector


by Michael John

How low-code/no-code solutions could create better services for everyone

The public sector, like most modern industries, is reliant on digital applications (apps) to help manage services, make them more efficient and to support staff.

Using apps to help improve services is not a new phenomenon. However, the ways in which they are developed has changed rapidly in recent years. One of the biggest of these changes is the emergence of low-code/no-code platforms. Low-code tools enable users to create software applications through a graphical user interface and configuration options, rather than through traditional programming languages. No-code platforms take this one step further, allowing those with no knowledge of programming languages to build applications through simple to use tools like drag and drop functionalities. 

Both these solutions make app development more democratic and open to everyone. They enable those with less technical expertise to create tools that can benefit their organisations. Almost anyone can use them to create applications if they know what they need and are looking to achieve. 

For the public sector, these platforms can allow staff and government bodies, particularly at a local level, to more easily develop unique apps to help improve services. For example, imagine if frontline NHS staff at a trust needed an application to improve patient flow. Low-code/no-code could allow them to build, test and use that solution, even if they don’t have in-depth programming/development knowledge. At the same time, if this app is successful, the results could be shared with other trusts, benefiting staff and patients across the country. 

These tools would not only be beneficial to those in the public sector in non-technical roles. For digital, data and technology (DDaT) teams, using these platforms would allow them to speed up projects and quickly mobilise to meet any immediate challenges. This is because a lot of the coding processes for apps, which can be both time consuming and complicated, is removed. It means apps can be rolled out much faster than when using traditional methods. 

The challenges and misconceptions around low-code/no-code

Despite the potential benefits, take-up of low-code/no-code has been slow in the public sector. This is because a lot of  focus is on developing large, overarching applications that can be used across different bodies. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to development like this means that specific user needs can go unmet and end up only providing benefits to a select few. This is particularly true for those working at a local level or on the frontline of services. 

At the same time, the public sector’s natural instinct is to work with big players in the industry to develop their applications. There’s nothing inherently wrong about taking this approach. But it can mean that the needs of those that will be using these solutions are not addressed as they are unable to input into development or share their experiences. This is because decisions are made from on-high, rather than through a user-first approach.

Security may also be causing concerns. Low-code/no code apps are created using, and also store their data in, the cloud. A lack of in-house control over these platforms and where they store information may put some off using them. They may be worried that their data will be attacked or leaked. For a public body that holds a lot of valuable, personal information on individuals and organisations, this could be very damaging. But it’s important to note that most services, both public and private, are cloud-based, so these fears can be misplaced. 

Finally, some may simply be unaware of what low-code/no-code platforms are. After all, they’ve only recently come into the mainstream of app development and people will not know how they can benefit their departments.

Empowerment through education and excellence

So, how can we demystify low-code/no-code platforms within the public sector? The first step needs to be education and changing mindsets. There’s a wealth of partners and tools that can help public bodies get a better understanding of what low-code/no-code is. From consultancies through to online webinars, these tools can provide departments and teams with the confidence they need to start incorporating these platforms and harnessing their benefits. 

Training and upskilling staff is equally as important. Low-code/no-code tools are designed to make app development more accessible. But that doesn’t mean that using them alone will produce results. Public bodies must first teach their employees how to identify where new apps could create more efficiencies. Then, they need to provide them with the necessary skill set so that they can go away and use low-code/no-code platforms to develop the apps they need. Lastly they must also train employees to harness the wealth of valuable data these apps will create so that the insights can be shared with others.

Giving more individuals and teams the ability to develop apps is a positive thing. But having a wide range of people across the country creating and using different tools could cause confusion and be a safety risk. To avert this, the government should look to create a centre of excellence for low-code/no-code to set standards and processes for using these platforms. This would ensure that everyone, from frontline developers to whole DDaT teams, has a clear understanding of how to use these solutions and create apps in a secure, consistent way.  

Apps play an important role in most of our lives, making tasks easier, more efficient and cost effective. This is no different for the public sector. Through working with digital partners, education, training, and setting standards, public bodies will be able to effectively utilise low-code/no-code, helping them to create even more and better digital applications that benefit everyone. 

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Michael John

Technical Director

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