As an organization, when you want to develop new applications you can work with a package supplier or even develop a custom solution (or have one developed). A low-code platform is an interesting hybrid solution. Such platforms allow you to build the application you desire without any coding skills being required. But what do you need to watch out for when choosing and implementing a low-code platform? How do you ensure that the platform is in alignment with your IT environment, that the return on investment is adequate and that you are not delivered into the hands of a single supplier?
Low-code platforms (also known as rapid application development platforms, RAD platforms or no-code platforms) are nothing new. They have been on the market for a long time and have proven to be mature and durable products. OutSystems, Mendix and Betty Blocks are examples of low-code platforms. Moreover, larger software/SaaS packages like ServiceNow, Salesforce and Pega offer extensive low-code options. Low-code platforms are gaining popularity among mid-market and enterprise organizations alike.
The low-code approach allows developers to make use of a graphical user interface and to set configurations instead of writing traditional code. This not only makes development simpler – and accessible to non-IT experts – it also speeds up the development process because applications are built from visual blocks of existing code. Often, it is still possible to add manual code.
That sounds like the best of both worlds – and it can be. In addition to being extremely user friendly, low code has a number of other benefits compared to developing everything yourself or buying ready-to-use software.
Low time to market and investment. Given that the productivity of low-code platforms is two to five times higher than that of the traditional software development process, new apps, websites and enterprise applications can be developed very quickly. The low time to market means it is possible for clients, managers and other stakeholders to see fast results. Thanks to, among other things, agile development and continuous delivery (delivering new products and sub-products quickly in short cycles) it is possible to respond quickly to market opportunities. Being able to develop applications faster also means that investment costs are significantly lower.
Low project risk. Low-code platforms provide many standard functionalities like security, data protection, search options and integration with other systems. Standard functionalities for specific sectors or business functions are also often present. The development process is transparent which means that end users are involved in the project earlier, and any inconsistencies and other problems are identified sooner and resolved immediately. All this means fewer risks and allows your organization to focus on your business goals.
Automatically browser-access enabled and ready for mobile devices. The applications created on most low-code platforms are automatically customized for smartphones and tablets. It is also easy to modify applications so that they can be accessed via a browser.
Is it then all roses? Not really. Although low code definitely has an attractive side, there are also challenges. In the first place, you need to buy a low-code platform. This means that organizations have to decide what platform to choose, and make an out-of-pocket investment before a start can be made.
There is also danger lurking in the relative simplicity that low-code platforms offer: instead of sophisticated solutions being developed by IT professionals, developers using low code can be tempted into quick fixes. Good IT professionals are used to developing and testing software in accordance with an architecture and to taking time to determine its usefulness and the need for it. The ease with which low code can be used may lead to undesirable shortcuts being taken: people talk about “power tools for power fools”.
Scalability is also an important area for attention. A flexible low-code platform makes use of a cloud-based architecture that is scalable in terms of design (web-scale architecture). This architecture enables an organization to build, in an agile way, systems that provide a high degree of availability and flexibility and that support continuous delivery. This is becoming a must-have in enterprise software development, but not every supplier offers these features. The extent to which scalability and flexibility are an integrated part of the platform’s functionality is therefore a major consideration when choosing a low-code platform.
All this means it is important to make well-considered choices about everything related to low code. Let us mention a few matters that we believe you should in any case watch out for.
Your choice of platform, the related specific development tooling and the expertise required in this regard, involve the risk of vendor lock-in. To avoid this, you need to perform a risk analysis. For example, it is important that your internal organization can maintain a proper overview of what is developed on the platform and that the activities are well documented to prevent a black box from arising. It is also advisable to apply a certain degree of modularity and layering, for instance a data layer that remains separate from a workflow layer. This means that not all software is based on a single platform and, in the future, it will still be possible to switch low-code platform for certain modules.
The decision to set up a low-code platform has far-reaching consequences. That is why it is advisable to develop a strategy and deliberately choose the right partners.
Finally, if you want to use low code optimally, we suggest that you set up your organization based on DevOps. This way of working does full justice to the speed and control that low code provides.
Quint is a specialist in the fields of IT strategy, platform selection/contracting and DevOps. We can help you to choose the low-code-platform that best matches your organization and to select one or more partners that can assist you in developing applications. We can also use our knowledge and experience to help you set up and organize a DevOps environment, if so desired.