Many software vendors claim to offer a low-code development platform. In fact, one independent analyst compiled a list of more than 85 vendors in the low-code space as of April last year.
Many of these so-called “low-code vendors” talk about the benefits of low-code development platforms in general terms on their web sites and sales materials. In doing so, they gloss over the fact that not all low-code vendors’ products offer the same capabilities.
To be clear, the benefits of low-code and the benefits of self-identifying low-code development platforms are not perfectly 1:1. Low-code is a technology, much like the wheel. The wheel by itself isn’t terribly useful. But, when applied properly, wheels help us perform tasks seemingly impossible before.
It’s the same with low-code. Low-code is applicable to nearly any use case the enterprise can throw at it when coupled with capable supporting tools and framed within an intelligent low-code development infrastructure.
Basic Low-Code Development Platform Functionality
A good mechanic with a bad set of tools is still a good mechanic. However, without the right tools, it’s going to take him much longer to fix your automobile, and the likelihood the work is subpar is greater.
Similarly, a good developer can write great code with only a common text editor. But, with a full suite of tools built to complement developers’ own work habits, she can create far better applications, and faster.
In order to pass the "low-code platform" sniff-test, most low-code solution providers offer a set of standard capabilities. In its recent report, “The Forrester WaveTM: Low-Code Development Platforms For AD&D Professionals, Q1 2019” Forrester referred to this necessary functionality as “table stakes.” Included in its “table stakes” capabilities are the following:
- Development services for basic web and mobile applications
- Basic data management and mapping
- Development process support
- Application and identity administration
Some no-code solutions also offer the same, or similar functionality. However, no-code solutions are, by their own admittance, exclusive to certain use-cases and built for a particular subset of users. For that reason, we aren’t including them in our discussion here. If you would like to learn more about no-code solutions and how they differ from low-code, you can read our blog on the topic.
In truth, only a few low-code solutions can address the web, mobile, and core systems use-cases enterprises require.
The Top 5 Low-Code Platform Advantages for Enterprises
One large analyst firm ranks low-code platform providers against more than 190 criteria to determine which vendor(s) offers the widest range of low-code capabilities and benefits.
We don’t have time to cover all 190 low-code platform benefits here, but we do want to cover some of the biggest advantages a true enterprise-class low-code development platform has over no-code platforms or niche low-code solutions that are suitable for only a narrow range of use-cases.
Of all the benefits of low-code development, the ability to significantly and positively impact the delivery of new software and applications is the most important. In his August 2018 blog post, Why You Need To Know About Low-Code, Even If You’re Not Responsible for Software Delivery, Forrester VP and Principal Analyst, John Rymer, wrote that low-code offers the potential to “make software development as much as 10 times faster than traditional methods.”
Several time-saving capabilities found in some enterprise-class low-code development platforms include:
- Drag-and-drop functionality that lets you build apps faster using pre-built user interface (UI) functionality and designs, business processes, logic, and data models for full-stack, cross-platform apps.
- Integration with third-party tools that developers already rely on thanks to easy-to-implement APIs and components.
- One-click application delivery that automatically tracks all changes and handles database scripts and deployment processes without the time-consuming involvement by teams of developers and integration specialists. (Note: This functionality is not available in all low-code platforms)
2. Appeal to a Broad User-Base
Low-code development typically allows users to build applications in their preferred native coding language or using the visual modeler. Modern low-code platforms include the latest in third-generation language (3GL) support, giving professional developers the choice of using low-code’s inherent capabilities for faster app development (e.g., pre-built code modules, UI templates, etc.) with the option to switch over to hand-coding when they need to build something not included in the solution’s design library.
Some low-code solutions come with ample pre-built functionality and code that even non-professional users can build simple applications. These users are known as “Citizen Developers” or “Business Users.” Simply put, these users are technically minded enough to understand how to use a visual modeler to create applications, but they lack the professional developer experience necessary to build more complex applications, at least initially.
However, the ability to work entirely within the visual environment, even as a professional developer, is a big draw for those looking to save time over traditional hand-coding.
3. Automated Governance
Since we are on the topic of Citizen Developers, one unique selling point of a truly enterprise-class low-code solution is that it includes built-in governance capabilities. What this means is that the low-code solution is administered and managed by the organization’s professional IT team. So, while business users can certainly use the solution to build apps they feel the organization needs, nothing can be deployed without the final involvement and approval of IT. Think of it as “managed freedom.”
Sometimes business users have amazing ideas for new business apps. But also, sometimes getting those apps greenlit by IT is difficult due to existing backlogs or budgets. This can give rise to “Shadow IT”, a term used to describe unsanctioned business users building (or sometimes just downloading) apps and using them as part of their daily processes, but without the knowledge and approval of the IT department.
Governance controls make it possible for business users to skip the front-end involvement by IT (with ITs knowledge that it’s happening); develop the app on their own and then involve IT on the backend when it’s time to test and deploy the new app. This lets IT satisfy the desires of business users for apps that help them with their daily tasks while also ensuring that the organization’s processes and data remain under the close scrutiny of those who are entrusted with its security and success.
4. Tight Support for DevOps
Traditionally, there are two distinct groups within IT: developers, and operations. Developers create applications. Operations is more complex. For simplicity, consider “Operations” as everything IT does that does not involve writing code, either manually or using a low-code solution.
These “non-code” tasks include things like security vulnerability scanning, testing, integrations, hosting, backups/disaster recovery, analytics, etc. An enterprise-class low-code development platform helps IT connect these disparate groups so that everyone can work together on a single platform and towards similar goals.
Some areas where an enterprise-class low-code platform excels is in the areas of:
- Deployment: An advantage of using low-code is that it can speed up the entire deployment process. When the code has been built and tested, with the click of a button, the code undergoes a dependency check to ensure that any connected code won’t be negatively impacted upon deployment. Passing the dependency check, the entire code is immediately deployed and updated, including the user interface (UI), database, workflows, and everything else needed to run the application.
- Analytics: Another benefit of low-code development platforms is the ability to easily embed feedback mechanisms into your apps. Once deployed, you can begin to track and analyze metrics such as usage, issues with availability, and overall sentiment. With low-code’s ability to quickly iterate based on feedback, you can identify problems or necessary changes in real-time, and build and deploy them across your entire user-base at once.
- Management: Professional developers use a multitude of different apps and systems to do things like code changes, versioning control, and continuous integration. Low-code development platforms should provide these capabilities directly, or better yet, allow developers to integrate with the tools of their choice. This extends the capabilities of the low-code development platform, but in ways that are already familiar and comfortable for the people using it.
5. Advanced Multi-Channel Capabilities
The benefits of B2C applications are well-documented. They offer the ability to extend an organization’s physical presence online and in doing so, make it easier for businesses and customers to interact. This can also create challenges. How do you scale your services, support, and knowledge base to support an always-on, always-available demand economy?
This is where the benefits of low-code shine. With an enterprise-class low-code solution, you can create multi-channel touchpoints that include traditional web and mobile apps, but with the advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning functionality built-in.
The addition of chatbots, and all the functionality of a live call-center, without the cost of a live call center, built into your web and mobile apps, let you quickly scale up to meet your customers’ needs.
Beyond the Low-Code Platform Pros and Cons
There are certainly differences in low-code vendors’ solutions and that’s to be expected. OutSystems pioneered low-code more than 15 years ago and since then, there’s been no shortage of both new and legacy organizations eager to stake their claim. And so far, it’s working.
In OutSystems 2018 State of Application Development (SOAD) report, out of more than 3,000 respondents, 34 percent said they were already using a low-code solution, and 9 percent said they were about to start.
In our 2019 Application Development Trends report, out of 3,300 respondents, 41 percent said they were already using low-code with 10 percent planning to soon.
There is no doubt that adoption and awareness of low-code and the benefits of low-code development platforms are on the rise. Savvy business leaders are already developing strategies for low-code in their own organizations; 51 percent according to OutSystems research. The other 49 percent could face answering to the board and shareholders as to why the competition is stealing market share in the not too distant future.
As Forbes contributor and analyst, Peter Bendor Samuel put it, the role of the CIO is changing to match the new corporate charter focused on, “...building out and operating the new digital platforms and new digital operating models that are reshaping the competitive landscape.”
For the 47 percent of respondents in OutSystems 2019 SOAD report who said they are not currently using low-code, their number one reason for not using it was because they weren’t familiar with low-code platforms. Their other stated worries–will it scale, security concerns, and fear of vendor lock-in–while not unfounded given the performance of some low-code solutions, have certainly been debunked by industry analysts and vendors like OutSystems.
In addition to those covered here, the benefits of low-code development platforms are well documented–improved and consistent user experience, faster ROI, increased productivity–the list goes on.
If you still aren’t sure whether or not Low-Code is for you, we invite you to learn more about the benefits of low-code and the benefits of a low-code development platform, by visiting us at OutSystems.com.