Our partner Omnext just announced a new service for customers to help them understand the code maintainability of applications they build with OutSystems. This begs the question, what is maintainable code when we’re talking about a low-code platform? In this post we’ll highlight why this is a very relevant question to be asking, and why companies like KPMG (who build many low-code applications and happen to be “OutSystems 2018 Partner of the Year”) take this seriously.
Speed vs. Quality
Speed versus quality is a classic balancing act that applies to the process of building software. For those who prioritize quality, it makes sense that there would be a healthy skepticism of development platforms that promise greater speed. “If a platform helps a developer build software 10 times faster, surely this will lead to quality issues,” might be the thought process.
To address this concern, it’s helpful to substitute the word “speed” with “automation.” The speed increases delivered by low-code development platforms relate to things developers no longer have to do. Various studies show that as much as 60–80 percent of development time is spent on repetitive activities. The way we write code to take data from a database table and present it on a screen doesn’t vary much from screen to screen. The way we ensure a screen displays well regardless of form factor tends to be the same for each screen. The way we ensure security, internationalization, accessibility… you get the picture.
There are many accelerators already built into the leading IDEs to help automate these types of activities by generating various snippets of code. Low-code development platforms extend this further by allowing developers to visually model solutions without even having to write code. The platform takes care of all the repetitive stuff. Does this mean the developer is no longer coding? Absolutely not. The developer still has to model the logic and data of the application, design the screens, connect to data sources, maintain good architecture, and so on.
Speed vs. Control
This claim of 10x development speed is often perceived negatively by developers who worry they are losing control over the “code” of their application. I think of it differently. My first coding job was in assembly language, and it took forever to do even the most basic things. When macros were introduced to automate instruction coding for assembly, there was a similar concern from developers: “I don’t like it! I’m losing control!” When I transitioned to C++, I didn’t once miss loading registers or trying to squeeze code into a 4k segment—I was able to focus instead on what the software needed to actually do. Then came Java. No more worrying about garbage collection or wrestling with apps that needed to run on more than one operating system or platform. This felt like nirvana compared to before.
Back to Quality
Growing up in the U.K., the phrase “more haste, less speed” was commonplace, and I never really thought too much about what it meant. Thanks to automation, low-code enables a much higher degree of “haste” than lower-level programming languages. You can deliver meaningful outcomes to the business faster compared to manual coding. But, like any programming language, a developer rushing to deliver solutions with low-code can make mistakes. “Speed” without quality can result in a poor architecture that, in turn, leads to issues in areas like performance, security, or maintainability.
So, how do you ensure quality with a low-code development platform? It turns out that it isn’t really that different compared with traditional programming languages. Best practices are defined that have to be checked, either manually or, better yet, with automation.
Omnext is a company focused on providing automation solutions that ensure the quality of software written in over 30 different languages. They have developed a solution for OutSystems customers based on the ISO-25010 guidelines for software maintainability and quality supplemented with OutSystems-specific best practices. They help organizations answer the following types of questions across a portfolio of OutSystems applications:
- How has the maintainability changed since the last sprint?
- How do the code quality and productivity of my scrum teams differ?
- How can I reduce my maintenance costs?
- To what extent are components re-used?
Omnext Fit Test provides a snapshot of an app’s current software risks. Customers can also sign up for a regular cadence of risk scans with the Stay Fit program. Results of the analysis are presented in an elegant dashboard within the Omnext Portal. A point-based scoring system makes issues easy to identify.
Omnext has developed their own ORQA index, a quality score based on the impact of any best practice violations and the effort required to resolve them. Adapted to include OutSystems best practices gathered from years of experience across large portfolios of applications, this index can be used to help prioritize any remediation efforts.
By comparing points-in-time, you can see whether new issues are being introduced as your teams deliver new releases. To facilitate the fixing of issues, the Omnext Portal provides more detailed views to help pinpoint exactly where in your OutSystems model those issues were found. Since organizations may have different standards, custom rules are also supported to further tailor the results of the analysis.
Tangible Benefits of Understanding Quality
Intuitively, we want our software to be of higher quality. When it comes to security and performance, the potential repercussions of low quality are self-explanatory. Low-code maintainability may have some less obvious benefits, but they, too, are important.
Applications that are built following best practice guidelines are likely to last longer and add value to their users for a longer period. They are also easier to adapt to changing requirements.
It is easier to maintain an application that is built well. Less time spent on maintenance means extra time available to deliver new, high-value functionality.
Well-architected elements are more likely to be used again, and reuse can increase productivity.
Sharing quality insights with your development team helps them understand how to architect higher quality applications, raising the overall skill level of your team.
Ultimately, while the higher level of abstraction enables much greater speed, developing with low-code is not that different compared to writing code by hand. Quality still needs to be built into your development practices, and by automating your quality checks, further efficiencies can be gained.
To find out more about how Omnext can help you identify opportunities that might be hiding in your OutSystems applications, check out their website. For a limited time, they are offering a free Quick Fit Test scan of an application. For those who need more assistance, Omnext has partnered with KPMG so you can take advantage of their depth of experience with OutSystems. KPMG will conduct expert reviews of an organization’s applications and draft up detailed improvement reports.
Now, go in haste.