Low-Code: The New Code of Software Development

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Low-code is an application development approach to design applications faster with a minimal amount of coding by hand. Low-code platforms allow users to develop applications using available blocks of code over the platform by "drag-and-drop" actions. This approach has been most

Low-code introduces the idea of using reusable blocks in a visualized manner. Today, every company needs software, and for many cases, they end up with a need for customized or inhouse software requirements. These requirements are fulfilled by lengthy software development processes with major time consuming and the tedious task being the coding part. Low-code platforms provide the capability to use pre-written codes or component blocks and implement business processes using those blocks through graphical user interfaces (GUIs). This cut the time of development by a huge percentage, with room for entertaining changing needs and maintenance at a lower cost in terms of time and capital.

 

Introduction

The term "low-code" was coined by a tech research and analysis firm called Forrester Research in 2014. Low-code platforms allow business professionals with limited coding and development knowledge to create and maintain a software application. The GUI-based development approach makes development very easy and requires much less time compared to traditional ways. Thus, low-code can enable dramatic digital transformations and collaborations across several units in an organization.

 

“You want to get world class technology, but then you need to get your own world class technology to build on top of it. The second part is about trust. You need to have trust in your supply chain. It applies to companies and countries. I am a big student of organizations that have had significant success. The core question is — what does it take? You need a core sense of identity and purpose. As software becomes part of every industry, it needs to mature, and be robust enough for different programs.”

-Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft

 

Why low-code? - Development time

Code design takes up a significant chunk of time in software development life-cycles (SDLC). Coding by hand has long been the standard way of doing all kinds of application development, which is time-consuming and lengthens life-cycle times. By using pre-coded blocks, developers can design the required software or business process to fit the requirements by arranging the blocks to fit the logic and flow, and can accelerate code deployment to one click. The platform takes care of compiling the code according to the design and deployment, with options for deployment to a particular application or all, as well as maintain multiple versions of the application. Low-code streamlines the design, implementation, and testing stages in life-cycles. The platforms include some of the capabilities like collaboration, design, and analytics to facilitate the whole or major parts of the life cycle.

 

Why low-code? - Customization

Regardless of the size of an organization, whether it be a company in a small basement or a multinational across continents, custom application development is essential for businesses at some point in time. They cannot count on off-the-shelf solutions to be suitable for specific business needs. Low-code development provides businesses to design and develop the software according to requirements, unlike vendor solutions with limited alterations to fit into business needs up to sum extant. In addition, low-code practices improve design extensibility, allowing minor or major tuning of existing components so that they can be used across different applications in multiple ways.

 

Why low-code? - Development ease

The philosophy behind low-code is not just time efficiency, but the idea that anyone can become a developer. Business users can start coding on their own. Even non-IT professionals or non-technical professionals can be hired, who give more emphasis on high-level concepts, rather than deal with the nitty-gritty of coding. According to ATC (The App Association), there are more software jobs available than qualified people, resulting in a shortage of developers and high costs associated with retaining one. With low-code practices in place, organizations can reduce their dependence on high-skilled software developers. This leads to effectively cutting back capital and human resource costs, without compromising the quality of their software designs.

 

Why low-code? Agile 

Another advantage of low-coding is how it enables rapid and continuous integration. Easy to manipulate blocks of code allow developers to create the design, and the platform can integrate the design and implement the code to provide the complete solution. Components of the application can be easily altered, while the platform takes care of the process from compilation to deployment with a single click of a button. This makes the entire process more agile concerning the speed of deployment and the ability to manage ever-changing needs. The platforms generally include tools to collaborate between teams and track details regarding the project like any other tool designed to facilitate the development life-cycle or provides a solution to connect such a system. Some tools even include reporting tools or ability to connect with reporting tools, with a layover of platforms' own user Interface (UI) to play around with reports and even real-time analysis.

 

Why low-code? Collaboration

Additionally, it also provides the capability and simplicity for different business units to collaborate among themselves and provide a base for making prudent business decisions that closely align with company visions. Visual modeling of workflows and capability to connect with multiple systems allows low-code platforms to work on a common platform on top of their existing system, making business processes more connected and easier to collaborate between multiple business units. The nature of blocks and capabilities allows the platform to develop a software solution for business groups in multiple domains. It can also be used on top of existing systems to connect the organization over a common platform for much better collaboration and support.

 

 

Low-code versus hand-code

Hand-code has been a traditional way of application development and has provided a great solution to date. In fact, low-code solutions are a product of hand-coded development with ideas to provided advantages above, but also to overcome shortcomings and limitations by the traditional method. Some of the challenges faced by organizations while developing solutions using traditional methods are listed below.

1) Traditional methods take a lot of time to actually deliver a solution that meets business requirements. With today's fast and ever-changing needs, businesses require a solution in a fraction of time compared to old times. Low-code reduces the time of development by easy design, and one-click compilation and deployment capabilities.

2) Traditional methods can customize the solution to a much greater extent than low-code platforms. Still, a long time to develop makes it challenging to tailor it to changing needs at the required pace. Low-code makes it easy to customize the applications faster and provide higher flexibility while developing the solution and maintenance.

3) Every application needs an update at some point, and that requirement has been a priority in recent times. Traditional methods take way more time to make any change or update an existing solution. Low-code provides an easy way to make changes and one-click to update those changes to all or limited applications using a particular updated part of the application or solution.

4) High cost has always been a limitation of traditional methods, forcing many companies to settle with cheaper off-the-shelf solutions to somehow alter business needs and fit readily available solutions or overspend on a custom solution, taking a huge risk either way. Low-code makes development way cheaper with cutting costs over the need to hire expensive experts and still provide a tool to create custom solutions according to business needs.

5) With higher costs, the organization needs a lot of capital and resources to complete the project. This calls for a bigger budget, making it challenging to meet this business requirement. Low-code, on the other hand, is cheap. It requires less time and resources, which will undoubtedly lower the budget and allow even small organizations to create custom solutions.

 

6) Unavailability or lack of qualified individual available, especially expert software developers, the process get slower, expensive, and still a good chance for unsatisfactory results. Low-code removes the need of experts and cuts the factor of lack of qualified staff out of the equation to a great extent.

7)Even after a lot of options available, traditional methods may end up with poor customer experience. Low-code platforms generally provide similar standards and even formats for customer experience, reducing the risk of poor customer experience.

8) More options for customization by traditional methods do come with a high risk of an inferior quality product in the end. Low-code platforms maintain specific standards across all its applications, providing a better idea of what to expect in terms of quality and reducing the risks associated with it.

According to a study published in The Forrester Wave: Low-Code Development Platforms For ADD Pros, low-code platforms addressed these issues with improvements shown in the figure below with significant growth of 21% compared to traditional methods. The ability to address issues and add capabilities by the low-code approach has made it one of the popular choices for businesses and the power to get custom results irrespective of the organization's size and resources.

 

 

Major Players

Low-code platforms have been in the market for a long time and the race for the best product is only going to get more competitive for major companies like Microsoft and Google have stepped in. According to the research, Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-code Application Platform, published by Gartner in August 2019, leaders of the pact are Mendix, OutSystems, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Appian. The figure below shows the Magic Quadrant for existing platforms, distributed among four quadrants, depending on factors completeness of vision and ability to execute. 

 

 

Mendix

Founded in 2005, Mendix is a low-code software platform, acquired by Siemens in October 2018. The philosophy behind the platform is to solve problems related to the complexity of software development and provide a new way of continuous transformation of ideas into new business ways. The platform supports features including visual development of application, purpose-built IDEs, collaboration, and AI assist. Currently, the platform has 135000+ developers and 4000+ companies using the platform.

OutSystems

OutSystems was founded in 2001 in Lisbon, Portugal, and is currently headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. The low-code platform allows organizations to develop and deploy omnichannel enterprise applications, facilitating faster built and deployment. The platform supports features including full-stack visual development, single-click deployment, in-app feedback, automatic refactoring, easy build mobile experience and support, and architecture support for scale. 

Microsoft

Microsoft has made a great footprint with its products in Operating System, Softwares, enterprise solutions, and cloud solutions. The giant has also stepped in the low-code platform race with its product Power Apps, providing with capabilities for faster application following a low-code practice. The platform allows users to start building apps right away using pre-built templates, easy to build approach with pre-built AI component, and extend functionality with Azure functions and other systems using connectors.

Salesforce

Salesforce is a cloud-based company known for its customer relationship management services and enterprise solutions. The company added the Lightning to its Customer 360 Platform, to facilitate low-code no-code capabilities to its portfolio. The platform is designed to customize apps according to business needs with capabilities including business process and flow design, easy mobile application deployment, and turning spreadsheets into an interactive cloud-based application. 

Appian

Appian sells its platform as a service for building enterprise software, currently headquartered in Tyson, Virginia. The platform is best known for its automation capabilities and is often used for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) based solution. Capabilities of the platform include intelligent automation, business process management, RPA, artificial intelligence, case management, integration with other systems, and mobility of application created.

 

Conclusion

Low-code platforms generally strive to achieve a goal of easy and faster development of application in the domain or function to be desired as an objective of the organization. The major platforms available today may be designed to achieve a different goal like process management and automation, UI/UX based application development, management software or any other, but what's different compared to traditional coding method is the time and resources it saves to achieve goals faster and better support today's fast and ever-changing needs. The ability of most of these platforms to connect with existing systems in the organization makes them more of an investment for better collaboration among business units over a common platform, and a sense provides a common language or communication link for units to work together and achieve business objectives with better results. Many of these platforms also include AI-based capabilities, collaboration, and reporting features to make the whole development and maintenance process easier and continuous. The Low-code platform has already proven its value to business among many organizations and is bound to increase in its popularity and applications in the future. 

What's next? Products with low-code have inspired a new category in the market by the name No-Code. Although not to as buzz as low-code, no-code may be the key to the next concept of software development, making the process even faster, easy, and agile. Low-code has also unlocked the potential for RPA, making it easy and accessible to organizations. RPA provides the capability to perform mundane tasks through robots, which do not require humans to perform the whole task but allows human interfacing as per requirement. RPA is a great tool to cut costs and increase efficiency to create a more robust system running 24 hours, and low-code has made that reasonable for businesses to pursue, reducing the complications regarding the development and maintenance of the robots and its environment.

 

References

 

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