Will ChatGPT make low-code obsolete?

Romy Hughes thinks that ChatGPT could do what low-code has been trying to achieve for years – putting software development into the hands of users

It is fair to say that most of the conversations around ChatGPT sit in one of two camps: it is either the technology revolution that will save the world, or the Pandora’s Box which will eventually destroy it.

Putting those extremes to one side, the more pertinent issue is ChatGPT’s potential to make some jobs obsolete, particularly software-development jobs.

‘ChatGPT could provide a way for users to make more significant changes to applications … to achieve far more than low-code ever could’

Conversations like this are as old as technology itself. Anything “new” goes through the same cycle – it starts with intrigue and interest, followed by fear and resentment, until eventually being accepted and embraced as the new normal way of doing things.

While we are still firmly in the hype cycle when it comes to ChatGPT and other natural-language AIs, there are some real-world benefits from the technology right now.

One of these is its potential to achieve exactly what low-code has been attempting for years: the democratision of software development.

ChatGPT developer use case

Fear over jobs could be seen as a fair response to a technology with the potential to be as ground-breaking as ChatGPT. But this fear is misplaced because it focuses on the wrong outcome.

The question should be less about how ChatGPT will replace jobs, but how it will help existing jobs. And not just any jobs. For the first time, we are looking at a technology which can be creative.

Unlike technologies of the past which typically automate or speed-up a repetitive process (manufacturing, logistics, transportation etc.), ChatGPT does something entirely new – enhancing the creativity of the user. While we can debate whether this is true creativity or not, ultimately if the outcome is the same, is it not still creative?

Think of how ChatGPT could help a software developer crack a particularly challenging piece of code, or how it could optimise existing code. It can also help developers be more creative by reducing the repetitive/boring part of their jobs so they can focus on the parts they love, leaving them more time to flex their creative muscles.

Going beyond the developer use case, and ChatGPT has the ability to democratise coding itself by providing a way for non-coders to develop applications themselves – in much the same way that low-code promises, but on steroids. This “democratisation of IT” promises a new wave of innovation by enabling organisations to create new processes without the new to engage with IT at all. ChatGPT could achieve the same outcome as low-code but in half the time.

ChatGPT vs low-code

Low-code has long promised to democratise software development by providing a way for non-coders to develop applications themselves. This “democratisation of IT” promised a new wave of innovation by enabling organisations to create new processes without the new to engage with IT. While low-code has already achieved some great things in the applications that have implemented it, the amount of change it can deliver is fundamentally limited by the choices made by the developer. The developer still chooses which aspects of the application can be configured by the user, so the user still has no fundamental access to the code.

While this has been low-code’s strength (since users cannot damage the underlying code if they can’t access it), users are still beholden to developers to do anything significant.

ChatGPT could provide a way for users to make more significant changes to applications, potentially enabling organisations to achieve far more than low-code ever could, and in half the time.

Communication breakdown

There is a much broader outcome to this development beyond letting non-developers build the applications they need. Think about the most common reason for an IT project failure. It is not down to poor delivery or mismanagement (although these will naturally contribute); at the fundamental level, most IT projects fail because they don’t deliver the outcomes which users wanted.

This happens because users failed to convey exactly what they wanted, and IT failed to ask them the right questions to find out. The requirements get lost in translation because technical and non-technical people speak entirely different languages. There is a communication breakdown.

The communication breakdown between technical and non-technical people creates a gulf in every organisation i.e., between those who build and maintain IT, and the wider staff who use it day-to-day. In a scenario where the message is too often “lost in translation”, ChatGPT could be the interpreter. ChatGPT can bridge the gap because users won’t need technical skills to realise the changes they want.

Build the ChatGPT business case

How should the implementation of AI systems like ChatGPT into organisations be managed to ensure the best outcomes? What are the steps organisations need to take to manage this transition?

Delivering change into an organisation is fraught with challenges and uncertainty. Like any project, it is important to start with the fundamentals of what you’re trying to achieve, not the technology you want to use.

No matter how much you want to use ChatGPT, you must start by defining the outcomes you want to achieve and working backwards from there. How you achieve these outcomes is a technical decision which comes much later.

If one of your questions is to enable change to happen faster and to be more adaptive to the needs of the company, then ChatGPT may well form part of the answer.

Just remember to define the problem first, build the business case and then evaluate the various solutions to achieve those objectives. Don’t get carried by the hype.

Give ChatGPT the space to fly

ChatGPT has the potential to be the bridge between technical and non-technical users in every organisation. ChatGPT has the potential to bridge the gulf between these radically different types of people in order to speed up organisational change. But it is crucial for technologies such as ChatGPT to sit within the domains where they will have the best chance to flourish. Like low-code, ChatGPT must sit within the non-technical domain; it needs to move out of the IT realm to reach its potential.

ChatGPT was born out of IT, but its natural home is with non-technical users. Is your IT team ready to let go?

Romy Hughes is director of change management consultancy Brightman

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