For the past few years, low-code platforms have been on the rise in the wake of digital transformation, and especially since the beginning of the first lockdown.
Low code platforms allow non-technical users, or citizen developers, to build apps and processes without having extending coding knowledge. By using drag-and-drop features, business process maps, automatic code generation, and other visual tools, low code applications provide an agile development environment without the need for traditional coding. Low code offers many advantages to businesses and is becoming more and more useful in a world where everything is digital and online.
Hence, we have asked experts in the industry to share their insights on the rise and future of low code.
What is low code?
First of all, we have asked them to tell us the difference between low-code and no-code.
According to Greg Barnett, Founder of Clevops, low-code development platforms, and tools have been created to allow people without an engineering background to create products using a specific set of adaptable tools and workflows.
For instance, he adds, many organizations allow delivering product functionality using a pre-built framework that has been built by leveraging software engineering principles to automate workflows using a graphical user interface.
For Muhib Beekun, Portfolio Analyst at GE Healthcare, low code is made for the developer. It helps by quickly developing applications all the while maintaining a surprising degree of flexibility.
Jason Bloomberg, President at Intellyx, continues by saying that low-code tools are focused primarily on professional developers. Indeed, he tells me that there are visual development tools that help professional developers build applications more quickly with little to no hand-coding involved.
Hence, low-code accelerates their works, streamlines it, and makes it easier. It simplifies the integration and security and other aspects that slowed down developers but that aren’t part of the core business value.
On the other hand, no-code tools are aimed primarily at what we called citizen developers, who are not professional developers, Jason points out. They may be business analysts, specialists or graphic designers, etc., and they gain the ability to develop applications with no coding whatsoever. With no code, you don’t need to have software development skills; you can build straightforward applications in the context of the no-coding environment.
Greg emphasizes that no code primarily relates to frontend platforms, such as web flow and Wix, and Muhib says that it is for the end-user and feels more like an MS Project/Visio workflow. Indeed, he continues, you drag and drop functional blocks and the application will attempt to activate them. This has very limited adaptability and is typically for entry-level requirements to be provided to a more formal automation team later.
Thus, according to Jason, professional developers use low-code tools, citizen developers use no-code tools.
Historically, he highlights, the low-code tools were only good for building simple applications. They were limited in scope and the professionals using low-code tools would have to do a good measure of hand coding for a complex task like customer integration and user interface or things like that.
Yet, in the last few years, these two markets have started to converge, Jason tells me. The low-code tools are getting simpler and easier to use so more citizen developers can use these low-code tools. While the no-code tools are getting more sophisticated and adding new capabilities so you can build more sophisticated applications with them. Thus, this means that professional developers can be quite productive even with no-code tools.
Muhib also adds that the lines between low code and no code are very blurry, as even no-code applications will allow behaviors that are basic coding in nature. He highlights that it is more about the user/process than it is about the application platform.
Greg believes that low code is currently gaining more traction based on the successes of Website Builders such as Wix & Webflow. Indeed, adopting a similar model, and, a majority of product ideas and functionality are actually rarely unique, so many pre-built solutions can be applied to new ideas, products & functionality.
Moreover, the pandemic has created urgent requirements and a sense of urgency, Jason points out. As a result of the pandemic, everything had to be online. Hence, a lot of companies, and businesses, such as banks, were able to overcome these challenges by almost universally using low code. There’s no way to address this challenge with a hand-coding approach, he emphasizes.
Muhib adds that organizations are always looking for new ways to trim the excess and become leaner especially post COVID. Thus, one of the easiest ways to do that is to reduce the workload of their humans and trim headcount through the use of automation.
Hence, low code had already made its way into software development but the spread of the pandemic and the first lockdown definitely had a positive effect on the increased use of these platforms and tools.
How is low code beneficial?
There are a lot of advantages of using low code platforms and tools.
According to Muhib, low code applications are incredibly quick to develop and provide an excellent path for a development team to enhance existing applications. Hence, any end-user can create something to assist their work and hand it off to the appropriate team in such a way that it becomes the technical requirements for the next level of digital transformation.
Greg also highlights the fact that cost, speed, and maintainability are among the main benefits. Indeed, the cost of a low code production far outweighs the cost of having a team of software engineers building a product. Pairing this with the speed at which an organization would be able to prototype an MVP / POC.
For Jason, low code allows to streamline professional’s works and accelerate the process of building applications. It enables professional developers to be more productive. So, this can reduce application backlogs, which is a very positive thing for an organization, especially when the business is asking the development team has to create different applications and they are falling behind. Low code helps them catch up and make their work quicker and easier.
Moreover, Jason continues, these tools also facilitate collaboration among professional developers, the business users who might be working with the development process team as well as the business stakeholders, who are driving the creation of the apps.
The tools are more collaborative and more interactive. It also creates better applications and a more agile process.
But what are the drawbacks?
However, low code still presents some challenges that can be rather important.
For Muhib, one of the main issues with low code platforms is the governance of the applications themselves. Anyone might be able to design an app very quickly, but not everyone might be familiar with the requirements of GDPR or HIPAA and how the app might violate compliance with these. These applications, he says, may also not be easy to secure and could create unintended vulnerabilities in the infrastructure of an organization.
Jason also highlights that aspect by pointing out that one important challenge is for organizations to avoid shadow-IT problems where businesses create applications, but nobody is managing their quality, security. Nobody is keeping track of whether or not they are redundant with other apps other departments have created. It can create a lot of security, quality, and redundancy problems.
Yet, the best low-code and no-code tools are able to support the role of IT in governing these apps in order to avoid this shadow-IT problem.
Moreover, Jason adds that some professional developers can be resistant to low code because they have built their careers on the ability to hand-code. Hence, they now see low code as a threat, especially as less experienced developers doing their work.
From the perspective of IT management, Jason continues, this could also be a challenge. Indeed, they’ve spent a lot of time and money investing in professional developing teams and building complex apps that can take many months or even years to build. However, now these tools can build applications so much quicker, with fewer people. If organizations are doing it the hard expensive way, it can be a threat because it looks like they made bad decisions in the past.
Besides, there are so many different low-code tools on the market, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses so they’re always the challenge of finding the right low-code platforms for the kind of applications organizations want to build. It could be a challenge to find the right tool for a particular organization.
Finally, Greg points out that Intellectual Property is a considerable drawback to how low code can negatively affect an organization, along with the limitations of the selected vendor/platform. However, people will always find a way to bend a system to their needs and this would mainly result in an organization sacrificing a requirement due to the shortcomings of a low-code environment.
These are important aspects to consider with low code.
The future of low code
Greg believes that low code is here to stay in the long-term, especially in the time of a pandemic.
Organizations are adopting digital transformation more now because they have to, he continues, and there are so many advantages in doing so. Once an organization realizes that, a similar requirement that once would have required several contract engineers, a project manager, testing teams, etc can now be solved via a low subscription model. It’s game-changing.
However, with the rise of low-code, he thinks that there will equally be the rise of “high-code”. Low code will be the steppingstone, and, used for experiments proof of concept to justify a build.
Likewise, Muhib tells me that the explosion of diverse offerings in the low code space clearly indicates that businesses are embracing this development model. He believes it certainly has its place in organizations.
For Jason, it also does as low code tools are getting more sophisticated, they are incorporating AI, and making it easier for developers.
So, he continues, he thinks that end users’ companies don’t necessarily want to have a pro-development team if they can avoid it because that’s not their focus. So, for those organizations, low-code, and no-code are going to be increasingly important.
For a software organization, on the other hand, there will always be a role for hand coding because those are the companies who are creating value from the software itself. There is a role for low code in software companies as well especially for the user interface part. Yet, for the core app functionalities, there will always be a need for hand coders.
Special thanks to Greg Barnett, Muhib Beekun, and Jason Bloomberg.