Small businesses spend about nine percent of their annual revenue on technology, three times the percentage spent by large enterprises. According to one study, more than half of small business owners would like to spend more on technology, which seems to support the view that software is a critical driver for growth, revenue and operational efficiency within this segment. However, small businesses spend little or no money on low-code platforms or resources needed to manage and scale custom apps. Why don’t small businesses use low-code?
In reality, small businesses use low-code platforms to build applications and services, which we know by looking at the size of select Zoho Creator Platform customers. Still, most small organizations remain wary of the perceived cost and complexity associated with creating custom apps. This is truly high-end, where midsize businesses and enterprises can use the talents of IT to build specialized, coding-heavy apps and deep systems integration, all of which are highly scalable and permeate the company’s technology infrastructure. None of this matters to the average small business owner, but if this article accomplishes one thing, it’s dispel the myth that low-code app development is just for IT and can’t help small businesses.
Is building an app too difficult for a small business?
What we found by looking at Zoho’s Creator Platform customers is that many small business users have developed, deployed and managed critical applications with little or no coding experience. Non-technical business users have created everything from workflow automation software to custom sales tools to customer databases to recruiting systems, all of which add tremendous value to their businesses and clients. Analysts predict this is where low-code is headed: away from IT and into the hands of citizen developers. Gartner estimates that by 2024, 80 percent of technology products and services will be built by professionals outside of IT. This reality is quite possible as long as non-technical users are comfortable with low-code platforms, which is already happening, albeit slowly.
How do you make apps without code?
Take the example of building a sales app… Using Zoho’s Creator Platform, users can drag and drop various data fields (customer name, seller name, contact information, date of sale, product description, line items, etc.) onto a digital workspace within a single window. Users can then manage permissions and security settings by individual field or for the application as a whole from a drop-down menu, avoiding data duplication along the way. Most low-code platforms also feature visualized blueprints, which allow users to manage the data flow and trigger actions and automation by adding or removing steps along any business process or procedure. For example, if a potential customer sends the company an email with information about a product, the low-code application can be programmed to automatically send a form response while also notifying a particular sales agent based on certain customer criteria, such as the time or location. Initial app creation is no more complicated than launching a website builder landing page, and the benefits for small businesses are exponential compared to out-of-the-box tools.
What are the advantages?
The immediate benefit of low code adoption for small businesses is the cost. These organizations already spend the highest percentage of their revenue on technology, so cutting that spend by developing mission-critical applications that improve the customer experience, for example, has a major impact on companies with tight margins and precious capital and resources. Custom apps also allow small businesses to be more strategic in their sales, recruiting and customer retention strategies, improving data flow and consolidation. As low-code users become more adept at developing tools, the complexity of their apps and how well they integrate into the larger software ecosystem increases. Rather than trying to extract customer information from a spreadsheet and expose that data to analytics to gain actionable insights, low-code users can develop centralized databases that automatically integrate with business intelligence solutions to measure when and how customers buy . The same can be done for internal teams as well: building tools that evaluate performance and inform strategies based on good data so that the company can be more effective and productive.
Is it worth it?
It can be difficult for any small business to look beyond today’s concerns and invest in something systemic and perhaps a little mysterious. Embracing low code doesn’t have to be disruptive, and returns on investment can be fast as long as users and businesses commit to change. One of our Creator Platform customers was able to increase employee retention after reconfiguring the sales software, making the system easier for agents to use and subsequently happier for agents. Another small business user could forego the cost of an enterprise ERP and achieve huge operational and productivity gains simply by moving away from spreadsheets and building custom apps that minimized manual data entry. Like anything, starting from scratch is scary, so small businesses are encouraged to start small, build one application at a time with a specific intent and purpose, all while managing expectations in those early adoption months and years.
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