In this day and age, citizens across the globe expect governments to provide them with electronic public services (e-services). But, those things aren’t created out of thin air — they require suitable tools and human expertise.

The human factor poses substantial challenges, though, and one of the main problems is the growing shortage of IT specialists. According to a recent survey by Gartner, IT executives consider the talent shortage as the most significant barrier to the adoption of many emerging technologies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the global shortage of software engineers might reach 85.2 million by 2030. In addition to the ongoing shortage of IT specialists and limited funding, ensuring the continuity of IT projects has also become an obstacle to success.

An additional problem that arises in the development of public sector e-services is the lengthy procurement processes. This obstacle is inevitable when government institutions involve external partners in further system development. Combining the duration of the procurement process and the implementation phase may lead to adverse results, such as the service installed no longer meeting the expectations of the citizens it was designed to serve.

Overcoming barriers

A common denominator that can significantly contribute to overcoming these barriers is the so-called "low code" development platform. Low code needs to be defined and simplified. In essence, it’s a tool, or set of tools, that allows users to quickly create the solutions, processes, and services they need and minimize or even eliminate programming when making changes. The distinguishing feature of such tools is the ability to use graphical programming instead of traditional programming, a visual model where the sequences of various components are arranged, determining the system’s operation flow.

Like many other modern terms, it can be interpreted in different ways, and user expectations for such platforms can vary widely.

The essential advantage of these tools is the ability to overcome the shortage of specialists. Low-code tools can be efficiently used not only by experienced programmers but also by IT specialists from other fields, such as systems and business analysts, IT administrators, and testers.

Low code is not “no code”

The name “low code” implies that it doesn’t require strong programming skills. Therefore, clients planning to use the platform may be under the impression that anyone on the team, even someone without any programming experience, can create new applications or services. But, the reality is that, although the creation of new processes in low-code platforms is simplified, programming or configuring complex components is not completely eliminated from the development process — this advantage is only found in “no code” platforms. Typically, using no-code platforms requires no programming knowledge — all you need to do is arrange the components properly in the graphical environment, like building blocks.

However, along with this significant advantage of no-code platforms, there is an equally significant drawback: They are suitable for creating only relatively simple solutions.

When it comes to meeting the complexity of state e-services and the need for integration with the systems of multiple different institutions, the capabilities of no-code platforms are no longer sufficient. Additionally, low-code platforms often offer the same no-code capabilities in solving simple tasks.

What is the benefit?

So, if low-code platforms still require the input of IT professionals, while public institutions continue to retain the services of external service providers, what is the benefit of using such platforms?

State-level e-services are complex and, in many cases, are integrated with other systems. The establishment of such services cannot be accomplished with the capabilities provided by no-code platforms alone. Thus, compared to services programmed by external IT specialists, low-code platforms enable the creation of a larger number and higher-quality complex services at a lower cost and in a shorter timeframe.

It should be noted that even though the integration necessary for cross-institutional digital interaction cannot be achieved without more advanced programming, low-code platforms are still well-suited for the task, especially during the prototyping stage of new or improved digital services. Low-code allows e-service owners to independently, quickly, and cost-effectively assess whether their expectations will be met, make necessary adjustments, and obtain management approval for the implementation of planned changes.

Over the past few years, cost-benefit ratios have been increasingly emphasized in public corridors. The attitudes of institutional leaders toward return on investment and the flexibility of implemented systems are changing. This shift demonstrates that public institutions understand the importance of electronic services and are ready to learn and adapt.

It is evident that the development and maintenance of e-services require significant resources and specialization. From a cost and benefit perspective, low-code platforms become a tool that enables achieving digitalization goals faster and more efficiently, saving both time and money.