What is the Difference Between Low-Code and No-Code Automation?

Luke Walker
August 2, 2023

Low-code and no-code automation have emerged as the galvanizing and – at times – oppositional forces behind most of the operational transformation happening in companies today. While these technologies appear similar and are often packaged together, they are fundamentally different in approach, capability, and target audience.

In this article, we want to separate the two, in order to pin down a clearer understanding of both low-code and no-code, who these technologies serve best, and what factors should be taken into consideration when deciding on a no-code or low-code approach.

No-Code and Low-Code: a Brief Look Backwards

Although 2021 was earmarked as the “Year of No-Code”, no-code’s origins actually extend back as early as the 1980s, and in fact, 2006 had already claimed the “Year of” title. 

Some consider Microsoft Excel as the first “no-code” product. Its 1985 launch allowed users to manipulate and visualize data for the first time without writing any code. 

In 2003, however, it was Wordpress who first brought no-code to the masses. With Wordpress, non-developers could use prebuilt templates and WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editors to create and launch their own websites, representing both the origins of no-code on the internet, as well as the first, widespread iteration of “drag-and-drop” application building. 

Low-code’s origins go back a bit further yet, with the introduction of Fourth-Generation Programming Languages (4GL) in the 1970s. 4GLs were introduced as a means of “humanizing” programming languages, and paved the way for the emergence of rapid application development (RAD) platforms in the 90’s and 00’s. 

The term “low-code”, however, was first coined in 2014 to describe the use of visual, agile, and rules-based tools and pre-built elements to speed up application prototyping and delivery. “No-code” has arrived as a formal counterpart to low-code within just the past 5 years.

What is No-Code Automation, Broadly Speaking?

No-code automation is a development approach that completely eliminates the need for manual coding. Using exclusively pre-built functions and templates, no-code apps allow non-technical users to build applications that cater to their specific business needs, and no developer or coding is required.

Previously, many no-code automation apps were limited in overall capability and customizability. The limitations of templates and pre-built elements required that users modify their business requirements to work within the confines of the no-code app.

Today, however, no-code applications offer massive libraries of pre-configured elements, and much greater customization capabilities. For that reason, many businesses are turning to no-code applications to handle increasingly complex and business-critical use cases – a term coined “no-code operations”.

What is Low-Code Automation, Broadly Speaking?

Low-Code automation, on the other hand, is an approach to application development that usually requires some hand-coding. With visual modeling and drag-and-drop building interfaces, however, low-code apps offer a much more speedy and user-friendly approach to application development and business process automation.

Low-code automation apps are accessible to any user with limited coding knowledge. For example, an automated workflow can be designed visually and the basic elements can be assembled using drag-and-drop. However, the set up of integrations and installing of the app on your customer-facing website will likely require a user to write and paste in snippets of code following developer documentation.

How Low-Code and No-Code Automation Differ

While both low-code and no-code automation apps streamline the solution development process, their usability, functionality, and flexibility vary significantly.

User Proficiency

Low-code platforms still demand some level of coding proficiency, making them ideal for developers who want to expedite the app development process. No-code platforms, however, are perfect for business users with no technical know-how as they require zero coding skills.


Low-Code platforms offer more flexibility in terms of customizability because of the coding element. They provide an extensive range of options to fine-tune applications according to specific needs. No-code platforms, though user-friendly, may be more restrictive due to the absence of a coding interface.

Speed of Development

No-code platforms generally allow for a quicker development and deployment of applications, as they bypass the need for writing code, and their mainstay features are ready to go “out-of-the-box”. Conversely, low-code platforms, while faster than traditional coding, may take longer than no-code platforms due to the coding elements involved, and the overall increased complexity of low-code app UIs.

Making the Right Choice: Low-Code vs No-Code

The choice between low-code and no-code Automation depends largely on your organization's specific requirements, the use case(s) you are looking to build applications for, and the human resources (specifically, tech-savvy ones) that you have available.

No-code platforms are more suited for organizations that prioritize speed and ease of use over customization. They empower non-technical users to develop their applications, breaking the IT bottleneck, and enabling a more democratic approach to application development.

Low-code platforms are a good fit for businesses that want the freedom to customize their applications extensively and have the necessary coding skills in-house. They offer the balance of simplicity and increased speed, with the power of custom code.

Use Cases for a No-Code App Approach

Task & Project Management

No-code task and project management tools are ideally suited for team coordination and ad-hoc (non-recurring) collaboration activities, as well as personal task management, notification automation, and project documentation 

READ: What “Work” Actually Means - and Why It Matters for Process Management

Building a Corporate Wiki

There are many options for no-code platforms designed to help companies set up and maintain their corporate wiki. Other tools like Notion offer a freemium wiki template that can be installed and shared in minutes, with no coding whatsoever. 

Gathering Customer Feedback

Requesting, collecting, structuring, and analyzing customer feedback is a highly-detailed and manual process that can be made extremely simple and fully automated using a number of purpose-built no-code survey apps.

Visualizing and Leveraging Data

Solutions like Airtable offer “spreadsheets on steroids” that allow you to model, visualize, and leverage your data, using predefined reporting and modeling templates. Note: advanced data modeling and report configuration is not self-explanatory, and will likely require coding skills.

Automating Email and Social Media

Whether you use a no-code enabled CRM or a function-specific email or social media tool, you can automate the majority of your customer and market-facing communications, and you shouldn’t have to write a single line of code.

Use Cases for a Low-Code Automation Approach

Onboarding New Employees

What on the surface seems to be a “necessary evil” of doing business, is often in reality a time-consuming and complex process, with many tasks, deadlines, technical and non-technical stakeholders involved. There are also many, many deliverables: forms, signatures, licenses and accounts, training sessions, equipment, and much more.

That's where low-code workflow automation comes in. An automated workflow acts as the “thread” that runs through the various stages of the onboarding process – connecting the teams, systems, stakeholders, and the new hire, simultaneously prescribing the steps of the process,  and facilitating and documenting their completion.

READ: Bulletproof Your Employee Onboarding Process Using No-Code Workflow Automation

Customer Order and Escalation Handling

A low-code order fulfillment workflow consists of several integral components that work together to streamline the process end-to-end. Components can be modular parts of a comprehensive, low-code software platform, or single-point solutions integrated into the broader system.

READ: Automated Order Processing - Key Components, Benefits, Implementations & Measurement

Customer support automation

As customer expectations continue to rise, the centricity of customer service in leading business strategies will continue to increase.

One effective solution is low-code workflow automation, which can streamline support processes, reduce errors, eliminate double work, and save crucial “customer-focus” time for customer service teams.

READ: Bulletproof Customer Service with Workflow Automation: a Brief Guide

Customer onboarding 

Though many organizations have dedicated customer success teams in charge of onboarding, far fewer will have integrated customer success operations as an indispensable part of their business operations. Add to that the simple truth that the more you grow and the more customers you add, the faster that quality onboarding becomes a real challenge to maintain.

Low-code automation offers a solid alternative to manual onboarding. With automated workflows, a customer onboarding process can be 100% prescribed and integrated with your CRM and payments systems, while simultaneously incorporating essential “human” elements to make the experience feel highly personalized.  

READ: Customer Onboarding: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly + How to Get it Right [Updated 2023]

Compliance Reporting

Low-code automation offers an efficient and reliable solution for businesses looking to cover all of their compliance and reporting requirements, without spending too much money, time, and human resources on it.

By automating compliance operations workflows, companies can carry out compliance processes in a more “hands-off” and streamlined way, saving time and reducing human errors – regardless of the industry or regulatory framework. 

READ: Streamline the Compliance Program with Workflow Automation

Note: A suggestion would be to invest in a no-code platform that offers a robust range of customizable and more powerful “low-code” functionalities. Platforms on this list emphasize the usability and speed of no-code applications, but offer developer tools and “custom blocks” which open up an even broader range of use cases and integrations.


To summarize, both Low-Code and No-Code Automation have their clear strengths and are both powerful assets for digital transformation. It's crucial to understand what both technologies can offer, and also to map out your solution development process before investing in a tool to get you there.

If you’re still unsure on where to start, have a look at the following article which explains the use cases and opportunities of “no-code operations” in more detail:

READ: Understanding No-Code Operations: A Comprehensive Guide

About the author
Luke Walker is the Product Marketing Manager at Next Matter. He is a longtime process hacker, and writes about marketing, business digitization, leadership, and work-life balance. When he's not at work, you can find him listening to records or climbing rocks.

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