Oliver Kohl, 44, is Agilebase’s Chief Technology Officer. No code enables Agilebase users to “create systems which match their lived reality,” he says.
What is no code?
“No code allows people to create software to accomplish tasks without writing programming code, such as Java, or C sharp. It’s lowering the barriers. You can do things more efficiently and much quicker with no code.”
Why did you decide to make Agilbase no code?
“Back in 2004, we had a customer who wanted a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. We looked for one and installed it and started using it. The customer wanted to do things with it. They said, ‘Can we put our training records on it? And they couldn’t because it was a fixed system. You could create your own data tables, but the ability to link them together and build larger systems wasn’t there. I thought that was disgraceful. It wasn’t ambitious enough. It was bad. We went and got grant money from a European scheme called Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). Our company paid for the other half of the development. Then we made Agilebase.
“I didn’t want to write the system tailored to this customer for scratch, and then be unable to use it for any other purpose. No code was the answer.
“My original thinking was that if we wrote a no code system we could use it to write systems for everyone quickly. It was a way to rapidly get solutions for customers, rather than having to write from systems from scratch each time.”
What happened next?
“I came across a robust database called PostgreSQL It was pretty exciting at the time because it was an open source database with the full power of the enterprise-class systems such as Oracle. You could take your Oracle system, migrate it to PostgreSQL, and the same commands and language would work. PostgreSQL is free. Oracle is many, many dollars.
How powerful is PostgreSQL?
“Straightaway, you get a lot of power as a user or as a company using it. You can immediately store all your contact records, accounting records, training records, records of machinery, and maintenance. It’s pretty hard to find off-the-shelf software that can do everything. And if you do find other software, you then have the problem of needing to connect it which is itself quite large task.
“Agilebase, was a pretty thin wrapper around the PostgreSQL database. It was a way to build the PostgreSQL database without writing the SQL code, Java code, or anything else. “All we needed to do was write the use interface on top of it. That lets you say, ‘I want to create the table called X.’ And it lets you set has fields for that.”
Have you added to the interface since those early days?
“We’ve added automated workflows and API’s to make it easy to connect to other systems. Anything you might do in spreadsheets can be transferred over and connected. That’s an issue with a spreadsheet because you have one spreadsheet for contacts, and another of sales inquiries. It’s easy to get out of sync and have sales inquiries for contacts that don’t exist and vice versa.”
What do you think the benefit is of no code?
“It started as a benefit to us because we could offer solutions to people. Then customers wanted to start using it themselves. And we encouraged them. They are at the coalface, using data in their organization. We’re not experts in how their procurement process might work or anything else you might be using the system for. They know what they need to do. They should be the people who are building it.
“For the customer, the benefit is that they can create systems which match their lived reality, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole using an off the shelf system designed as a lowest common denominator system.
“We saw the people building the software were not those in the IT departments. They were people who were from non-IT backgrounds. They are diverse. We’ve got an even set of male and female users, we’ve got young and older people, people from arts and humanities backgrounds, people who have not had the need or opportunity to use or create IT systems in the past. They get different skills. They can progress their careers and make themselves invaluable to their organizations.
There were around 2.6 million low or no-coders in 2021. That number is likely to grow by 40% a year until 2025.
“There were around 2.6 million low or no-coders in 2021. That number is likely to grow by 40% a year until 2025. That’s three times as fast as the developer population. These citizen developers are at the forefront of digital transformation.”
“The organization itself benefits. They get to make processes more efficient. They increase the skill levels of staff without having to employ new staff.
What’s the future for no code Agilebase? What about harnessing artificial intelligence?
“People believe AI will replace human work, but I do not agree. When artificial intelligence and people work together towards the same goal it is powerful. Look at chess. It’s impossible for a human chess player to beat an AI chess player. But if you take teams of humans and AI working together in chess, those are the ones that beat the other competitors – AI or humans. And that’s been the pattern.
“We are launching new features of Agilebase, including learning videos and prompts within the system to encourage people to take themselves from Citizen Developer to Software Architect. AI will help them in that journey.”