Low-code for pro coders? The New Zoho Creator Platform and the Rise of Cocoding

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People often think that low-code and no-code development tools are something IT pros won’t touch. But developers know a good thing when they see one, and if a low-code toolset can help them get the job done faster without any hidden drawbacks, why wouldn’t they use it? With increasing pressure on IT teams to do more with less, professional coders are increasingly turning to low-code platforms to help them quickly deliver collaborative workflow automation. with professional colleagues – you could call it co-coding. A new version of Zoho Creator, launched today, is aimed at this market.

Alongside its popular CRM, productivity, and business software offerings, Zoho has built a strong foundation over the years for Creator, which since its first appearance in 2006 has offered a low-code route to creating custom apps. From its beginnings as an online database platform, competing with Quickbase and later Airtable, Creator has evolved to take on many additional features. This latest release now offers a fully functional low-code platform designed to appeal to IT professionals as well as line-of-business users – more on that in a moment.

In our conversations with Zoho customers, we often come across Creator users, who appreciate the flexibility of adding their own custom apps alongside Zoho’s out-of-the-box portfolio. But there is also a significant cohort of designer-only customers. Leading up to today’s launch, I was able to speak to one of this cohort last week. Gaurav Kakkar is a Systems Process Manager at Emirates Logistics India, a freight forwarding, supply chain and logistics company operating across 14 locations and employing around 300 people. He says he appreciates the flexibility and speed of the low-code platform:

If someone comes today and says, “Okay, we should make these changes,” it won’t take me very long. I mean, no more than a week to create these changes and upload them for everyone… They are also able to give me technical capabilities, plus they give me the flexibility to do my job at my way.

Several built-in apps in Creator

Emirates Logistics now has several apps built into Creator that automate various aspects of its operations and customer interactions. One of the main processes is freight forwarding, which by its nature involves large volumes of paperwork at every stage – “This industry runs on paper,” says Kakkar. Here, an application eliminated 60% of the documents that were printed by the freight forwarder. Instead, they are now stored in Creator, where they are immediately accessible to other departments that need them. The same app was also used to provide live tracking to customers. Kakkar explains:

This involves the back office team, the operations team who are on the ground, picking up the cargo, in ports or CFS [Container Freight Stations]. So we provided them with a creative mobile app. They simply fill out the form, click on the images right in the app itself, and that gets recorded in the submission. And it doesn’t matter [documents] they save or download are also visible to customers, in real time.

There are examples of Creator apps being used in virtually every business function. The sales team has one that has replaced spreadsheets to provide better tracking of sales calls. The pricing department uses an app to track quotes. Finance has an app that ensures compliance fees are paid on time. HR has several apps, including a company directory, an app to record inventory purchased and issued to staff, a COVID tracker that records each employee’s vaccination status, and others for recruiting and training. Essentially, Creator has become the go-to platform for business workflow automation.

Kakkar reviewed Zoho’s out-of-the-box wallet apps and is now using Zoho’s email marketing product, integrated with its own Creator-integrated sales call tracking app. But in general, he says it’s hard to make a business case for buying these fancier apps when it doesn’t require any new budget to build something simple enough for their needs in Creator.

More app building capabilities

Upgrading to Zoho Creator Platform is designed to appeal to IT professionals like Kakkar, who use its low-code features to help them speed up development while collaborating with business users. For each project, he first sits down with users to draw a flowchart of the process, along with sample screens if it’s a more complex application. Once the app design is agreed, he then develops the module and asks users to try it out for about a week to catch any issues. He then makes the necessary changes before deploying so that everyone can use them.

Today’s announcement brings more app building capabilities to the Creator platform, while adding better support for IT governance of the entire process. Highlights include:

  • The new platform extends to integrate blueprinting, integration, and analytics directly into Creator rather than having to use separate apps for these functions.
  • A single dashboard gives IT a view of all three stages of the application lifecycle: development, deployment, and management. Centralized governance helps IT establish guidelines covering things like role-based access controls, audit trails, backup options, and customization options, including localization and personalization. There are also dashboards to view and manage users and billing.
  • There’s new support for data integration, with smart import functionality that uses AI to speed up data transformation and management. A new Unified Data Modeling feature helps automate data integration with a unified data architecture and plug-and-play connectors.
  • Developers can now add premium BI functionality directly into Creator apps at no additional cost, bringing features such as predictive analytics, data alerts, what-if analysis, data fusion, and analytics conversational.
  • Other development capabilities include a drag-and-drop process graph builder, an integration status dashboard to help detect connection errors and bottlenecks faster, and new features without server – the ability to write, store, and execute reusable blocks of code built in Deluge, Java, or Node.js.
  • Integrated communication and collaboration to provide on-the-fly assistance to users, including messaging, sending files, sharing screens, and the ability to make audio and video calls.

my catch

Kakkar is typical of the growing breed of IT specialists who work closely with business teams, rather than locked behind IT walls. These business systems professionals focus on unblocking process bottlenecks and helping business users achieve their goals, using the tools that do the job best. This much more collaborative approach to app development requires a different mindset as well as new tools. As Kakkar explains:

My role is to understand business processes and automate them. I interact regularly with all the managers, as well as with the team directly working on a particular part. Can I try to figure out if there is a way to help them improve their particular process and bring it online?

Much of the low-code conversation assumes that business users can just build their own apps independent of IT, but I don’t think that’s a viable approach. The clue is in the name – it’s low-code, not no-code. When building end-to-end automation to support core business processes, some coding elements are unavoidable, be it for data transformation, integration, custom extensions, etc. In my opinion, a low-code toolset is a set where business users can build, try, and modify certain processes on their own, but where pro-coders can also step in and solve the tougher challenges that don’t are sure to surface.

That’s why I promote the term co-coding for this scenario. There needs to be close collaboration, communication, and cooperation between pro-coders and non-coders to define the right applications and then make them work reliably and efficiently. Even though all the development work is done by the pro-coders, like at Emirates Logistics, the toolset speeds up the process so there can be quick feedback and testing, and it’s not too much intimidating for non-technical users to participate with the support of their IT colleagues.

So the challenge for vendors like Zoho is to help their customers adapt to this new, more collaborative approach to app development so they can get the most out of Creator and other low-cost toolsets. coded. It’s not about putting IT professionals out of work, but about helping them work faster and more closely with colleagues across the organization to help them achieve their business goals.

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