As digital transformation becomes the norm across all industries, the tools that enable this transformation become increasingly important. For companies who decide to deliver digitization projects through in-house teams, one of the options to consider is using an app development platform. What IT leaders have come to realize is that as the rate of required digital transformation increases, quick development of custom software becomes essential, and traditional software development practices cannot keep up with the increased demand.
In the last decade, low-code development platforms have emerged as a solution to this problem, and their popularity has only grown. Forrester estimates the size of the low-code development market will grow to $21.2 billion by 2022. This guide takes a look at what exactly low-code development is, how low-code compares to no-code, the benefits of using a low-code platform, and how low-code has contributed to the democratization of technology and the emergence of citizen developers.
So, What is Low-Code?
Simply put, a low-code platform is a tool that allows developers to build an app using a visual drag-and-drop interface, along with a small amount of coding. The app UI is built through dragging and dropping components (e.g. buttons or text input fields) onto a virtual app screen. Some code is then necessary to build logic within the app. It is this minimal code requirement that gives rise to the name ‘low-code’. Using a low-code platform greatly increases the speed of developing an application – up to 10 times faster than using traditional development methods.
Low-code platforms reduce the time it takes to build, deploy and change an application. To do this, market-leading low-code platforms have the following technologies to accelerate your speed to market:
- A visual IDE: An integrated development environment where the user can define the UI, data models and workflow of the application, and where they can add manually-written code where necessary.
- Drag-and-drop screen editor: Drag-and-drop speeds up the time of development, and allows non-professional developers to build out screen layouts.
- The ability to build out Integrations and server-side tasks: A way to build server-side tasks including getting data from apps to existing systems
- Write once, deploy everywhere: The ability to deploy an app to a variety of platforms (iOS, Android, WIndows), devices (mobile, tablet and desktop) and to the web.
- Security and scalability: A good platform must have strong and comprehensive security standards in place, as well as having the ability to be deployed enterprise-wide. SOC 2 Type II audits are the norm for attesting to strong security standards.
Low-Code vs No-Code
While there are similarities between low-code and no-code platforms (some analyst firms even group them together), there are some important differences. As the name suggests, while you need to write some code with low-code platforms, with no-code platforms, no coding is required. Apps can be built using only a visual user interface and dragging-and-dropping components by developers that have no programming experience.
No-code solutions are similar to e-commerce website building products (such as Wix and Squarespace) that have pre-built pages that can be used to launch a website in minutes. However, there are a number of disadvantages to using a no-code platform. Apps built with a no-code platform are very difficult to customize and offer no unique functionality. This can be an issue if your goal is to digitize more than one business process as part of a digital transformation initiative.
Democratization of Technology and Citizen Developers
Low-code and no-code platforms have significantly contributed to the democratization of technology. This phenomenon, according to Wikipedia, is “the process by which access to technology rapidly continues to become more accessible to more people.”
Technologies such as low- and no-code development platforms have enabled people that may not be trained as software engineers or developers to be a part of building software that previously required this expertise.
These non-technical app builders are often referred to as “citizen developers”. There are positive and negative views of citizen developers, and this probably depends on your point of view. Business users see a way to develop needed applications themselves, while IT sees an environment for shadow IT to thrive. Interestingly, a 2018 survey by CIMI Corporation showed that organizations considered 54% of citizen development projects they undertook to be a failure after the first year, based on at least semi-formal IT audits. Adopters rated another 28% of these projects as having marginal results. Less than 20% of survey respondents said they considered their citizen development projects a clear success.
The Benefits of Low-Code
The benefits of using a low-code platform are plentiful, both for developers and business users. These benefits include:
The speed at which low-code platforms allow business-critical apps to be built is probably the most obvious benefit. Full-stack development with a visual-based approach allows for faster time to market and shorter iterative update cycles. As mentioned above, it can be up to 10 times faster to use a low-code platform versus traditional development. This leads to a domino effect where more solutions can be launched in a given time, speeding up digital transformation initiatives and, finally, giving the organization a competitive advantage.
Aspects of low-code that leads to rapid development include:
- the drag-and-drop functionality that allows you build apps faster using pre-built user interface; and
- faster integration thanks to easy-to-implement APIs and components.
Improved Organizational Agility
Over time, companies that build their solutions on a low-code platform will become more agile due to the speed that apps can be launched. Agility is becoming more and more important for companies that want to keep up with an ever-changing technological landscape, and maintain their market share.
We previously spoke about citizen developers, and that more users can now play a role in application development. Where this does not lead to shadow IT, low-code can be a tool to facilitate greater collaboration between IT teams and business users.
Enable Standardization and Better Governance
A low-code platform can enable standardization within IT across an organization. Due to the ability of companies such as JourneyApps to provide a platform on which complex business apps can be built, many of the required apps can be built on a single platform. With all the apps being built on one platform, IT can control the administration of apps — allowing for better governance of solutions throughout the company.
Lower Costs and Higher Productivity
With the ability to build more apps in less time, costs decrease. But, that’s not the only driver. Low-code development reduces the need for more developers, reducing hiring costs. For example, as Kenneth Reilly writes:
“Using a low-code platform, a software architect with some coding ability, could single-handedly design and build a complex business application for their company at a fraction of the cost of hiring expensive developers or contracting an external firm to handle the design and development responsibilities.”
And, the right low-code platform can make everyone in the organization—not just IT—more productive. Time is removed as a barrier to innovation.
Low-code development platforms are an exciting option for both IT teams and business users. Those with technical experience, and those without, can build software solutions ranging from simple workflow apps to complex, enterprise-wide solutions.
IT teams should seriously consider low-code for their app development needs — it is an excellent choice for anyone who requires custom software rapidly, or who does not have the team nor budget to build their whole stack the traditional way.