No-code software development is shaking up the process of app-building. Put simply, it offers an approach where you can build apps with little or no coding involved.
It's a highly intuitive system, which makes use of visual interfaces, drag and drop and pre-configured modules. This means that, even with no formal experience of coding, you can produce a professional and functional app.
And, the best part is that it's very quick. Without having to code your app line by line, you can turn an idea into action in a short timeframe and then work on refining it.
For NHS trusts, this is especially important. Bringing in third-party developers is often process-heavy and the red tape involved can severely slow down a project. Giving a clinical or innovation team that capability saves time and empowers staff.
In a world where NHS trusts must race to automate and digitise patient experience, how are no-code apps helping to speed up innovation in the NHS? Here are our top five no-code benefits for NHS trusts.
Hiring development agencies isn't cheap and neither is recruiting more development staff in-house - but these are the common options when you're developing each app from scratch.
If the requirements of your app change and they're outside of the agreed scope, external agency costs will soon mount up.
Using no-code equips your existing teams by giving problem-solving capabilities to non-IT professionals. Even if you don't have coding experience, you can learn to build an app and quickly make changes. The cost savings on external agencies or recruitment soon mount up, with project costs being reduced by up to 10 times.
It's worth checking the licensing fees before you choose which no-code platform to use too. With App Rail, NHS trusts purchase one licence at trust level and have unlimited users and apps under that licence, creating significant cost savings.
Standard app development involves coding many things from the ground up. Development teams often end up re-inventing the wheel as they don't have time or budget to build libraries of common functions. Functions that are unique to the individual app can be fiddly to develop and slow down overall progress.
While no-code platforms come with a wealth of Out Of The Box (OOTB) modules and reusable functions, bespoke elements can easily be factored in.
A good example is <%= link_to "UHCW NHS Trust’s requirement", uchw_speakup_case_study_link %> to enable its staff to raise anonymous concerns about their work environment. For this, they needed a custom plugin to allow users to remain anonymous while being able to communicate with ambassadors. At App Rail, we created this within a matter of days, so it was seamlessly integrated into the overall app development.
Traditional development is documentation heavy. It requires detailed specifications, wireframing, visual design and business requirements. That’s a whole lot of effort, both from the people building the app and the stakeholders, which can take the energy away from the creative process.
The intuitive functionality of no-code means that all that time spent writing requirements can be fed into creating the actual app.
No-code is designed to be agile, with drag and drop functionality that's simple and quick to master. It comes with OOTB plugins of core or advanced functions that are reused by different apps. For example, App Rail provides plugins for NHS Login and FHIR compatible EPRs.
Most app development also involves scoping out how to integrate into other platforms and devices. But no-code platforms come with multi-device compatibility, again reducing the effort needed to complete your app.
When you're using a traditional development process, there's a lot of effort required to continually review progress. If you decide to alter the scope of the original project or take a different direction based on user feedback that can mean raising a Change Request (CR).
For many trusts, the time involved in issuing change requests can be prohibitive. They may even put it off to avoid falling into a time-consuming and expensive procurement loop. This not only disincentives innovation, but it risks developing a product that isn't fit for users.
On the other hand, no-code gives you the power to make the changes easily. That means you can react to user feedback quickly
Changes are made in a sandbox or fork, so they can be tested while the main app is still operational. You can then merge them when you're ready
The other advantage is that team feedback can be incorporated iteratively without the need for CRs. When <%= link_to "UHCW NHS Trust built their SpeakUp app", uchw_speakup_case_study_link %>, this was a crucial factor.
The app was prototyped by a member of the innovation team, who built the basic structure, including the steps for each screen. Then, as her team provided feedback she was able to develop new iterations by adding and removing screens based on what they asked for.
Most NHS trusts aren't short of ideas of apps that could be useful to their stakeholders. What often holds them back is either the procurement process, where a new tender must be issued for every new project, or the lack of capacity due to other projects
If you're ambitious about developing a range of apps, you could easily find yourself with a number of different external partners, which you have to recruit and manage separately
The other issue here is that none of the different agencies you appoint will be working together, meaning they miss opportunities to share learnings. This also leads to a considerable amount of work managing these different relationships
Taking management of external teams out of the equation frees up your time to focus on what it is you're building. It's easy to build multiple apps concurrently on a no-code system and we see many NHS Trusts developing five to ten apps a year with App Rail.
Building apps in NHS trusts is often hindered by lack of capacity, policies and procedures, which can be at odds with the agile nature required by tech projects.
Using a no-code approach takes away many layers of complexity, leaving trusts with a simple structure where they can develop their apps independently and lean on our team for support and guidance.