Do you remember where you were when you first saw QuarkXPress and thought, “This is going to change publishing forever”? Or saw your first nonlinear video editor, such as Adobe Premiere, and thought, “This is going to change video production”? Or saw Movable Type, a forerunner to WordPress, and thought, “Now everyone can be a content creator”?
Over the years, pivotal innovations in media technology have eliminated obstacles of time, expense or skill. Many of you reading this may not remember a time before desktop publishing in print (1986), nonlinear video editing (1991) or blog software (2001). Prior to those inventions, it was hard and expensive to be a publisher or broadcaster.
As enabling technologies have changed the ability to create, however, much-needed technology to solve business problems has escaped the publishing industry. Dependence on vendors and internal development teams has hampered innovations in business operations and models.
Many calls I’ve received lately have gone something like this: “Can you help us? We built a [fill-in the blank] over the past 10 years and we’ve recently lost our developers. We can’t hire developers in our market anymore and none of the code is documented.” That is usually followed by: “We’ve never outsourced or offshored before but we want to explore that option.”
The pandemic changed a lot of things in technology that we are only now understanding. Once remote working became the norm and expectation for developers, if you were a media company in Bismarck, North Dakota, and had in-house developers who were local, you wound up competing against every other company in the world for those developers. Proximity was no longer an advantage.
This theme was not unique to local publishers. Offshore development companies felt similar pressure. As big tech moved more business offshore to large development houses, smaller shops felt similar pressure regarding acquisition and retention of development talent.
It was less about shortage and more about the economics of software development. Since there was more demand than supply, software developer salaries skyrocketed. According to Salary.com, the average U.S. salary for a junior developer as of November 2022 is $82,167, and $124,433 for a senior developer.
Flying under the radar during this time, accelerated by this shortage of development resources, was the low-code/no-code development movement.
What is low-code/no-code development?
Low-code/no-code development is a movement that has been building over the past 10 years as a solution to allow both information technology specialists and nontechnical users to develop purpose-based tools within organizations.
Prior to the LC/NC option you had to hire developers or use off-the-shelf solutions to solve problems. Imagine you wanted to build an order management system or a classified management system. Your options were to hire a developer to write from scratch or use an enterprise system and then pay the vendor or system integrator to develop a custom integration or extend the feature set. Both options were extremely costly.
Many “enterprise-grade” LC/NC tools allow IT departments to build administration panels, database management and reporting tools. Said tools are usually enterprise-priced with a high license fee and/or an expensive seat license fee. They have traditionally been used to solve data management problems.
How big is the LC/NC industry? According to Gartner, the industry was estimated to be $13.8 billion in 2021. The fastest growing segment is Robotic Process Automation, which automates the movement of data from one application to another. The most commonly known RPA platforms are Zapier and IFTTT (If This Then That). Also, the abundance of applications that use Application Programming Interfaces, better known as APIs, to be interoperable with other applications has accelerated RPA use.
There has been a recent trend in LC/NC beyond internal, IT-centric tools toward the creation of web applications and more public facing web apps. Perhaps the most notable no-code platform has been Bubble.io, which received $100 million in funding in 2021. Bubble is a no-code platform on which you can build software-as-a-service, or SaaS, products beyond just prototypes and minimum viable products, or MVPs. On a recent LMA Digital Club call, Vi Friebertshauser, local TV veteran turned SaaS CEO, described how she rewrote her platform Homads using Bubble.
Is LC/NC a panacea for local publishers? It could be if you follow some guidelines:
- Don’t build what already exists! Just because you can build something doesn’t mean you should.
- Build only what can be a clear strategic and revenue differentiator.
- If you built something custom in the past and you hesitate moving it to no-code because it has so many features, move only the features you need today. Move the rest over time or use the migration as a way to simplify workflow.
- Learn to use open standards and common tools that exist: Google Sheets, Airtable, Zapier
- Don’t try to “boil the ocean” with your new app. Make it do a few things well and export data using APIs into other apps/processes that do things well.
Is no-code perfect? Not yet, but it will solve 90% of problems in technology enablement. I urge you to take a look at it. It is every bit as game changing as desktop publishing, non-linear video editing and CMS tools were in the right hands.
Guy Tasaka is the managing director of the LMA Technology Resource Center. Have a media technology idea or challenge you want to discuss with Guy? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.