In this special episode of Small Biz in 15, Shawn Hessinger, the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends traveled to Austin, Texas for ZohoDay 2022 to interview Zoho Product Manager Tejas Gadhia who discusses low-code and no-code solutions and how small businesses will can use them to improve their workflow.
When to Use No or Low-Code Automation
Shawn: When we say no code and low code, what are we really saying? What? What is it? What do we mean when we say it’s no code or low code apps?
Tejas: Low or no-code is a term I think has gotten a little bit muddy because now everybody wants to be a low-code vendor. The way I separate them is that no code product is purely driven by point & click configuration.
So this could be anything that just points and click, drags and drops, creates something and has some fields and customizations. Your workflows should be easily configurable by simply typing in some criteria and adding in actions.
Low code for workflow takes that and ups the ante a little bit where the foundation is still no-code drag and drop capabilities, but the added benefit or the low-code part of it is generally through some abstracted scripting language.
Another way I differentiate a scripting language from a programming language is: if you’re kind of familiar with Excel and its formulas, and maybe even in the macro space, then that is like the low-code space for you. I think most people are pretty proficient in Excel and are kind of scared by the code word of the low-code, but a good product will have a good scripting language that makes it very easy for somebody to pick up and take advantage of very quickly.
Shawn: How easy is it to build an app with a low-code or no-code solution?
Tejas: It’s super easy, but more so, I think there’s been a big shift. We’re now actually the smaller the organization, the more nimble and actually they have access to better software than large organizations that gives them a big leg up in order to really kind of growing faster than their maybe larger competitors.
And what I mean by that is local tools, specifically as a small business owner, maybe, let’s say less than 50 employees and even smaller, the more nimble it is. On the other hand, the larger you get, the more administrative stuff you have to get into. But the smaller you are, the more control and knowledge you have of whatever process it is you’re trying to solve. And low-code lets the process owner who is the key stakeholder define the process created, and more importantly, rapidly make changes to it.
Shawn: Can you just give a couple of examples, maybe from your own experience of things that you’ve seen customers do with a low-code or no-code solution?
Tejas: I’ve seen the simplest things or the most complex things. I’ve seen a simple registration form and I’ve seen ERP systems and everything in between.
Any time someone’s getting started, I always tell them to start with the registration form. Start with something as simple as possible, and sometimes even personal things like to give it a go.
Like my sister got married five or six years ago, give or take, and she wanted an RTP system for her wedding. I said, “All right, well, we looked in the market. Indian weddings are a little complex. They have like all these events and different people are invited to a different event, whatever.”
And so, it was kind of difficult to find a good solution in the market. And I was like, you know what? I kind of know low-code, no-code tools pretty well. Let me build something for you real quick. So we built a system with logic in there where people can register, you type in your email address and so on. But it’s like a non-work-related thing that lets me think about what is the workflow, and what the process is going to be like.
And it gives me that confidence when it comes to a business. And I can translate those same questions that are asked like what happens next? what should happen before? what data do I need to make sure is present in order for it to work and so on.
Shawn: Let’s take a concrete example of a business that might not be terribly technical in terms of what they do—say, an installment company. What is a no-code or low-code solution that they’d want to put in where they don’t want to hire a whole technical team on top of everything else they have to worry about?
Tejas: A lot of people who look at low-code, no code-solutions, they kind of go with this build first mentality because they want to problem solve and fix their own things; build it themselves from scratch, in other words. I sometimes believe there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
So sometimes for a customer management and installation company, maybe it’s good to have a CRM and have your low-code tool augment or expand upon an existing CRM functionality. You can build a CRM in a low-code fashion. You have some tables for contacts and leads and deals. You’re working on installations and appointments. These are all, you know, CRM foundations.
But sometimes it’s best to leave that part to the CRM and then focus on creating a customer experience for…maybe the installers that are going out there in the field, having a way for them to check into a location, add pictures and take notes of whatever it is that they’re installing, have a customer sign for it on the spot. These are all kinds of ways that are outside of the CRM scope, but kind of where the Low-Code X factor kind of is.
I want to say there’s a one size fits all, but I almost always tell people to make sure they check the market out, and see if there’s something that does exactly what you need it for before you go into this build-first mindset.
Do You Need to Hire Someone for Low-Code Development?
Shawn: I’ve talked to small business owners who use low-code, no-code solutions and they still end up hiring somebody to help with the process. Is there a benefit to low-code, no-code if you’re going to have to hire somebody else just for the time constraint as opposed to going and hiring a developer?
Tejas: I think working with the developer or partner is not always a bad thing. At least it’s someone to just bounce ideas off of and make sure you’re doing something the right way. The problem is finding a really good developer or partner that is sort of on the same wavelength as you.
But you want to make sure someone is not upselling you or telling you the wrong thing, all that kind of stuff. But for working with the partner, in general, there are things that you can build that might be time intensive to build, but you also want that person to bring an added expertise of solving a problem that you wouldn’t think of yourself.
Shawn Hessinger: Say I want a low-code or no-code solution, how do I know what to look for? How do I know if I’m getting something really as simple as you’re saying that I’m going to be able to build myself or if they’re using that as a marketing term, and maybe it’s not really?
Tejas: It’s always hard to cut through the marketing. Especially nowadays as marketing getting so big. Good things to ask is whether it’s the only thing they make or one of the many things they make.
Another thing to ask is the history of evolution and whether it has been getting better over time. For example, is it actually adding more features you could use that seem reasonable? And are their features what you see providing value in your type of business?
And by that, I mean is it something like a new feature with some AI capabilities that provide some on-trend analysis or predictions? Or is that new functionality an NFT marketplace you got to help figure out which features are actually providing value to my company and align with the type of things you’re looking for in the long term?
Another thing to consider is how your interaction with that company and how that relationship is because these low-code platforms are very proprietary and you can’t really move from one to another, the second you sign up for one and you start building on it and you’re like, maybe there for a year or whatever, that company kind of knows they’ve kind of got you by the grips. Namely, you are signed up for a one-year contract, you’re getting renewals of 10% to 20% year over year because you’re not going to go anywhere since they know they have you. That shows a lot about their company ethos more than any marketing blogger or anyone else can do.
Be sure to check out our video Small Biz in 15: On Location with Zoho Product Manager Tejas Gadhia to find out more details on how using point & click configuration can help automate your workflow.