Is there a low-code hole in your data management strategy?

The barrier to becoming a ‘data-driven’ organization — one that has the tools, abilities, and culture to act on data in real-time — is lowered.
4 December 2020

Data is constantly streaming through the business, and while once capturing it and cracking open its value was the reserve of a handful of data specialists within the ranks, today, everybody in the organization is expected to be reaping its value. 

Businesses have put the foot down on digital transformation and, for many, investment in a broad suite of powerful tools is top of the DX to-do list.  

The aim is to improve workflow and increase productivity by making data central, accessible, and easily shareable, but businesses can quickly find themselves stalling with software, applications, or solutions that carry a steep learning curve and high barrier to entry. 

Lacking the requisite know-how and confidence to employ powerful but cumbersome database solutions like MySQL and MongoDB, employees fall back to familiar tools such as Excel and Google Docs to share information, which while useful for small tasks, were not built for handling large quantities of metadata. 

On the balance sheet, the ‘data-driven’ business may have the gloss of one in the midst of a successful digital transformation. Under the surface, within day-to-day operations, the intended boost to productivity and workflow is suffering from a disorganized, ad-hoc approach to data handling — even the most intensive, expansive training programs would be tested to instill the confidence, skills, and discipline to leverage code-based database systems across the workforce. 

The rise of low-code data management

This is a problem that fostered the boom of low-code database management solutions, perhaps the most well-known of which is Airtable. 

Launching in 2015 with the goal of providing easier, mobile-friendly spreadsheet-like databases, the “workplace collaboration, and productivity platform” is now worth around US$2.6 billion. In 2020, the SaaS company database Latka estimates Airtable’s revenue is around $33.5 million this year. 

Airtable now claims to serve approximately 200,000 customers worldwide, including Netflix, HBO, Condé Nast Entertainment, TIME, City of Los Angeles, MIT Media Lab, and IBM, with its spreadsheet interface serving to help more users build their own apps without code. 

But this is just one of a rapidly-evolving startup market expected to accrue worth of more than US$45 billion by 2026, growing annually by 25% each year. It’s an ecosystem formed of low-code startups, and one tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are aggressively wading into through consolidation.  

Low-code database tools are now employed by coffee shops to SaaS vendors, ousting a previous reliance on spreadsheets to manage projects, budgets and customer leads. Spreadsheet database hybrids are familiar, intuitive, and powerful. Users are familiar with the layout and capabilities, without being off-put by the UI of more complex data management tools. 

And it is among smaller businesses — which make up some 98% of businesses worldwide — where the market power lies. 

Smaller businesses become data businesses

Small and medium-sized businesses don’t have the enterprise-level resources to invest in IT infrastructure, allocating budget, and resource to software development cycles and infrastructure maintenance, particularly when this might not be their primary business goal. Easy-to-use and affordable web-based databases offer the perfect solution for these companies. It helps them handle their day-to-day data sharing, data storage, and business analytics.

It means the barrier to becoming a ‘data-driven’ organization — one that has the tools, abilities, and culture to act on data in real-time — is lowered, and employees, regardless of skill, have the confidence to use it in a way that works best for their organization. 

“Low-code empowers people with zero technical skills to collect, manage, organize, and track data in an incredibly simple way,” said Annabel Maw, director of communications at JotForm, a low-code online database and form builder.  

“Today, entrepreneurs start businesses from their homes with one or two people and don’t typically have the budget to hire IT or data professionals. Having low-code tools give anyone the opportunity to manage their data in a way that works best for them.”

For larger enterprises, adopting low-code database solutions also alleviates pressure on larger organizations’ specialist data and IT teams, who spend less time on maintenance and the development of new databases when required, where previously there would be the significant time required on managing project implementation and requirements which would need to be constantly updated or redeveloped as needs change. 

While building data literacy among teams is becoming an “essential skill” in business today, having tools, applications, and solutions that are accessible goes, perhaps, the longest way in establishing that culture throughout the organization.