The public sector has become increasingly dependent on digital applications (apps) to manage and improve the services it provides, as have most sectors in recent years. Apps have been the norm in many industries for a fair few years now, but how they are created has evolved significantly. More recently, one of the biggest changes to app development has been the use of low-code/no-code platforms.
For those who don’t know, low-code tools allow users to create software applications through a graphical user interface and configuration options, rather than traditional programming languages. No-code platforms take this one step further, allowing those with no programming languages skills to build apps through easy to use tools like drag and drop functionalities. Both these solutions make the development of apps more open and democratic, allowing those with less technical knowledge to create platforms that can benefit themselves or their organisations.
For the public sector, low-code/no-code will allow more employees and government departments to create apps to help improve services. For example, imagine if frontline NHS staff in a specific region needed a tool to improve the flow of patients through their hospital. Using low-code/no-code tools would allow them to develop an app to meet their needs, then test and implement it, even if they don’t have in-depth programming/development knowledge. At the same time, if the app works, the results could be shared with other hospitals and staff to implement so that it can benefit others.
These platforms would also benefit those working in more technical roles. For digital, data and technology (DDaT) teams, low-code/no-code will speed up projects and allow them to easily make changes when challenges arise. This is because they remove large parts of the coding processes, which are often time consuming and complicated, meaning apps can be rolled out and altered much faster than through more traditional development processes.
However, takeup of low-code/no-code has been limited in the public sector to-date. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of attention in the public sphere is aimed at developing large, overarching applications that can be utilised by various departments and individuals, rather than empowering smaller teams to build and use their own solutions. At the same time, the sector tends to look to work with big industry players when it comes to app development. These are not necessarily bad approaches to take, but they can result in the needs of specific user bases not being met or addressed as they have limited power and control.
Security is also likely to concern some. Apps developed using low-code/no-code are created on and store data in the cloud. Lacking direct control over this data will make a few people hesitant as they will be concerned that valuable or sensitive information could fall into the wrong hands. For departments which hold vast swathes of citizens’ private data, these fears will be heightened. However, it should be noted that a lot of services are cloud-based these days, so these fears can be overstated.
Finally, low-code/no-code platforms have only recently become popular in app development and many in the public sector may not know about them and their benefits.
To demystify low-code/no-code in the public sector, we first need to be educating departments and staff. There’s a wide range of partners and learning materials available which can provide public bodies and individuals with a greater understanding of low-code/no-code. Whether it’s watching training videos or working with consultancies, these tools will allow teams to build their understanding and confidence to incorporate these platforms and harness them effectively.
Next, education must be supplemented with training and upskilling. Though Low-code/no-code platforms make app development more open, that doesn’t mean just simply picking them up and using them will allow you to create brilliant apps. The public sector needs to also teach people how to identify where problems lie, then provide them with the right skills so that they can go away and use low-code/no-code platforms to develop apps to solve these issues. At the same time teaching staff how to utilise the wealth of valuable data these apps will produce will mean that insights can be identified and shared with other departments, helping ensure everyone can benefit.
Lastly, while democratising app development will have its benefits, having various people or departments across the country creating and using multiple platforms could be confusing and potentially dangerous. To avoid this, the central government set clear standards for the use of low-code/no-code tools, creating a centre of excellence. This would ensure that all public sector departments and workers have a clear understanding of how to use these solutions and create apps in a secure, consistent way.
Apps play a central role in many industries and this is no different for the public sector. Through working with digital partners, education, training, and standardisation, public bodies and workers across the country will be able to effectively utilise low-code/no-code, helping them to create more and better applications that make everyone’s lives and services better.