Digital transformation is increasing pressure on IT to innovate more quickly and efficiently so organizations can improve processes and create new products. With only so many IT bodies and so many hours in a day, there’s a not-so-new tool they are frequently turning to: low-code development platforms.

Low-code platforms are designed to speed application and innovation delivery and also help facilitate IT’s ability to move to public clouds, according to Forrester Research. Today, more vendors have low-code development platforms and products with increased capabilities.

These platforms can be used to meet the demand for both customer-facing and workplace apps, observes Isaac Sacolick, president and CIO of digital consultancy StarCIO, and author of Driving Digital.

With a limited IT talent pool, the platforms are also enabling the “citizen development” movement, which refers to putting them in the hands of employees who are often tech-savvy millennials with no formal computer science or software engineering background.

There are some fundamental differences between low-code development and citizen development. It comes down to who is developing the app, says Sacolick. Sometimes, the user of a low-code platform is a software developer looking to build an app instead of using Java or .net or native code, to be more productive and provide access to capabilities that otherwise would be more difficult. “A lot of low code is about mobile development,’’ Sacolick says. “Speed to market also is a driver.”

The need for speed has also led to a rise in “citizen data scientists,” who might be business analysts with an interest in quantitative measures, who are also being given access to these platforms, adds Greg Layok, a managing director at consultancy West Monroe Partners.

They’re already generating reports for people on the business side. With a low-code development platform, citizen data scientists can do things like develop a cross-sell tool, for example, with a machine learning algorithm that makes product recommendations, Layok says. This way, salespeople can make recommendations to customers on cross-sell product opportunities.

What’s interesting about low-code development platforms is they give business people the power to use data science to develop apps, he says.

Finding data scientists and people with a statistical background who also understand your business is hard, Layok says. Now, the tools have gotten better and easier to use so organizations don’t need classic data scientists to create all of them.

»Related content: The advent of the citizen developer, ZDnet

Cons of using low-code platforms

That said, because these tools are being used outside of IT, they could wreak havoc if disciplines and procedures are not put in place or followed, like quality control measures and guidelines for how to test an app.

Putting tools in the hands of business users also means you run the risk of them changing things on the fly, so IT must set up governance and best practices to avoid those issues, Layok says.

The downside to low code is when platforms don't deliver the productivity improvements that offset the costs to procure and support the platform, says Sacolick. In addition, low-code platforms are typically engineered toward a class of applications and capabilities. If business sponsors push strict business requirements and implementation rules, then they might not be feasible or easy to implement in the selected low-code platforms, he adds.

To succeed with low-code development and get the promise of productivity, quality and speed benefits, there needs to be a collaboration between the business requirement and the platform's capabilities, Layok says.

When considering the use of these platforms, think about underserved departments that aren't getting enough support for their workflows or information needs, he advises. If those departments have people with some technology skills, and the department heads are supportive of building out technology-backed solutions, then a citizen development approach might work.

Organizations then need to consider what business needs are targets and look for platforms for citizen developers—or what Forrester calls low-code for business developers—who excel at the required capabilities.

Low code and the citizen developers it produces will be critical to the next wave of IT innovation, ZDNet notes, as well as efforts to stay the course with digital transformation today.

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor specializing in technology and business. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of the online technology magazine Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week).

»Read next: Rise of low code in IT's need for speed