Who is building the future of work?

A new take on low-code’s promise to empower teams, liberate IT and continue to scale the human endeavor.

When AI and machine learning began to flourish in the 1990s, what promised to be a game-changing technology was still behind lock and key, relegated to a small handful of educated practitioners. But as processing power increased and data came rolling in, more companies and individuals felt empowered to grasp that technology for their own gain.

Today, there isn’t a single field or industry in which machine learning is not regularly deployed. From a grad student searching the stars for exoplanets or a medical college looking to computers to improve diagnoses, we’ve simply absorbed the tech into our collective endeavor, and been better off.

I believe that the low-code movement has reached this same critical juncture.

If we’re going to fulfill low-code’s ultimate promise of custom, scalable enterprise apps that anyone can make, we’re on the right track, but there’s still some work to do.

How low-code development needs to evolve

As it stands, low-code is an approach that has made it easier for developers and IT to launch new applications. But if it’s going to be as universally embraced as AI, it is going to address three primary problems:

  1. Ease of Use. Our low-code tools need to be designed so that anyone can use them. This might send shivers down the spine of an IT admin, but in the end, it will also lighten workloads for developers everywhere and ensure that every member of the organization can bring their unique perspective into the new digital future.
  2. Accessibility. Automation should not be held behind lock and key. Users should be empowered to design, test, and launch the solutions that they need to perform better. At the same time, IT can set ‘guardrails’ to keep new apps and workflows scalable and to spec.
  3. User Ecosystem. Without a sizable ecosystem, low-code initiatives tend to fail. What’s more, users should be encouraged and even assisted in sharing their low-code solutions with other teams, departments, and companies.

Making it easy: More power to more people

The old adage is that IT spends only about 20% of the time innovating, and 80% of the time ‘keeping the lights on.’ I don’t think that this is the case, but either way, the goal is to get that innovation percentage up as much as possible. That means empowering the entire ecosystem with low-code tools they can use to take back their flow.

Remember: Work means something different to everyone, and it’s always evolving. For example, you are the only person that can tell me about the specific brand of noise or friction that is slowing you down during the day. But that means that you are most qualified to come up with a solution.

That’s why these tools should be in everyone’s hands. It gives the company a way to address meaningful business problems that might otherwise go unmentioned.

Sensible guardrails: Offload your innovation with confidence

In the past, IT has been rightly hesitant to keep a tight grip on company software. After all, if someone builds an app for their department that doesn’t work with the existing IT infrastructure, then it doesn’t matter that it’s actually addressing a meaningful business problem. It won’t scale.

Empowering non-techies with low-code tools can work if it’s inside of a solid IT-designed framework. For example, at Slack, we’re working to help admins control the flow of data in and out of apps running in Slack, allowing them to set access controls for every user. It’s essentially a safe space that they can play around in, without having to worry about governance, compliance, or security. They can sort of play around in there and build the things that they need.

Healthy ecosystem: An engaged and empowered user community 

Perhaps the most important metric in whether or not a company will succeed in a digital-first model is engagement. Whether it’s a customer, a partner, or an employee, it’s essential that users engage with the system that you’ve put in place for them.

This is why so many low-code providers choose to link themselves with an existing user ecosystem, like Sharepoint or Salesforce. Having an existing ecosystem to plug in to makes it easier to ignite the level of engagement and innovation that you’re looking for. Also, these ecosystems should be able to transcend organization. If someone builds a great tool for managing PTO, they should be encouraged to share it with anyone that can use it. It’s about helping people solve problems, so we can all enjoy our work that much more.

With the new Slack Platform, for example, we’re giving developers and everyday business users alike the power to customize the Slack experience to suit their unique needs. Using the power of low code and automation, we’re making it easier for people to go from ideation, to testing, to rollout in as few steps as possible. Put simply, we’re bringing the power of innovation into the hands of everyone, and giving them an important role in creating the future of work.

Humans need to be scaled up, not scaled out

Let’s be clear: The world isn’t going to get any slower, or any less noisy, and try as they might, no one is going to figure out a way to just code us humans out of the equation.

To meet the moment of this unprecedented digital transformation, we need to unlock our best and finest tools for everyone to use.

After all, we’re just these squishy, watery, under-evolved things. We just want to make things easier for ourselves. We want to be more attentive. We want to be more productive. We want to build better spaces for one another, digital and otherwise.

Low-code can get us there. But only if it belongs to everybody.

Want to dig into the low code trend more? Check out the sessions happening at Slack Frontiers 2021, which you can view on demand here.

Steve Wood is SVP Product Management at Slack.

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