lowcodeWhy should IT leaders consider low-code? As the digital agenda grows within business, so does the requirement for custom applications. Custom applications create unique experiences within organisations and contribute to business agility, value and experience. For example, an app for customers to view different products yet allows a salesperson to provide extras because approvals are automated, a workforce management app that allows you to take photos of an issue which AI can recommend a fix or an onboarding app in the emergency room and send the right data to the right people at the right time.

Having applications that specifically address diverse use cases within can significantly improve the experience for both internal and external customers. While COTS solutions may have similar capabilities, they often require compromises in functionality or user experience. On the other hand, pure bespoke development is often too expensive to be a practical solution. Low-code platforms can deliver a more cost-effective and efficient approach to custom application development, enabling organisations to achieve their unique business requirements without compromising on functionality or user experience.

What entices IT leaders to look into low-code?

An article mentioned low-code adoption will increase by 20% in 2023. Low-code platforms are an increasingly attractive solution for IT leaders, addressing several challenges organisations face when it comes to custom application development. Whilst the business is asking for digital capabilities that make them unique, creating applications aligned to these capabilities are often costly in terms of both time and money. Most importantly, the biggest threat custom application development poses is a reputational one if not executed correctly.

In today’s business environment, bespoke projects without proper governance can be a costly investment for organisations. However, governance is not just about managing the project, it’s also managing the business and their excitement for new applications. For example, when a pixel-perfect web portal is delivered, the immediate request is to deploy a native mobile version. This behaviour has grown out of the changing relationship between technology and individuals. Previously, people would bring the ‘cool’ technology from the workplace to the home, but now, the ‘cool’ technology from home is being brought into the workplace.

The skilled labour shortage presents challenges in delivering custom applications too. What exacerbates this challenge is the existing talent pool within organisations. They aren’t allowed to stay on projects for extended periods of time so when it comes to rotating the talent within projects, it’s easy to lose IP and the momentum to deliver the right things at the right time. This also extends to the cost control of managing onshore and offshore partners to deliver value. These frustrating experiences also present risk when it comes to retaining and attracting talent. I can only imagine a mining company trying to compete for talent with the likes of AWS or Google.

Low-code platforms not only provide a range of functional capabilities, they also include tools to make it easier to govern, maintain and scale applications. The promise of rapid application development through low-code platforms gives IT leaders a pathway to confidently tell the business that they can deliver the particular applications needed. So what is low-code?

What is low-code?

According to Gartner, low-code is a development approach aimed at rapidly developing and deploying custom applications through an abstraction layer. Based on this definition, platforms need to have model driven or visual development, the ability to develop the different layers of an application like interfaces, business logic, workflow orchestration and data modelling. It also needs simplified test, deployment and management of applications. Here is a high level overview:

Visual development language: This allows developers to create applications using drag and drop as opposed to traditional hand coding. It reduces the need to have extensive coding skills. For example, it may take a developer 4-6 hours to create a database model with high code or five minutes with visual development. This also builds a pathway for tech savvy individuals to use a low-code platform (think technical BA’s or power users of excel).

Workflow orchestration: When you abstract this process visually, it streamlines the development of these activities between the business and IT. For example, the HR department of an FMCG organisation processes hundreds of job applications which can be extremely time consuming.. Orchestration in low-code allows the HR team to share the process and empower IT to build the processes.

Integration capabilities: The ability to connect your low-code applications into other tools and services can justify its place in your technical landscape. Having SOAP, REST and ABAPI connectors help to glue applications together. For example building an offline mobile application for an insurance company that provides financial data in Oracle and customer information in Salesforce. This capability reduces manual steps (eg. the excel spreadsheet) and data inaccuracies in between systems. Low-code as a third party can provide a pathway to minimise the extensibility of core solutions.

Data modelling: Having the visual ability to improve data quality, reduce errors, and making it easier to work with data enables can contribute positively to decision making.

These key features of low-code platforms help organisations to create applications more quickly while reducing the reliance on specialised technical skills.

What types of low-code exist?

With my time in the industry across many of these solutions, I’ve grouped low-code platforms into three areas:

Low-code for Core Systems:

Providers such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce have massive ecosystems with a wide variety of digital capabilities. These platforms leverage low-code to extend core capabilities enabling businesses to quickly and easily build custom applications. One of the key advantages is not necessarily needing a reliance on specialised skills and allowing non-technical users to create applications. For example, a timesheeting app used by contracted staffers.

These software vendors argue that their customers should consider their core tools (ERP, CRM, Finance etc) and abstract anything that doesn’t in those with their low-code solution. This doesn’t take into consideration technical debt that can incur or the ability for these use cases to integrate outside of their ecosystem.

Low-code for Business Process:

Workflow centric platforms like Appian and Pega enable the rapid development of workflow applications with a primary focus on automating business processes. While the end-user experience may not be the primary focus, they still offer tools and features to improve usability and functionality. Given the complexities of workflows, these types of low-code tools leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to help accelerate development and automate repetitive tasks. These platforms can integrate with existing end-user experiences, enabling businesses to streamline workflows and improve efficiency without disrupting the user experience.

Low-code for User Experience:

OutSystems and Mendix are low-code platforms that focus on enabling the rapid development of custom applications with a primary focus on user experience. These platforms offer a visual development interface and a range of pre-built components to streamline the application development process. They also offer the ability to integrate with existing systems, making it easy to extend the capabilities of core solutions.

When considering low-code platforms, it’s essential to understand the different types available. Some low-code platforms are designed to quickly create custom applications, while others focus on automating business processes or enhancing the end-user experience. By understanding the different low-code categories available, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your organisation’s specific requirements.

Considerations for low-code in your ecosystem

The low-code promise is that it can accelerate and simplify the process of developing custom applications rapidly. Given that’s a broad statement, it can be difficult to understand how to translate that into something relevant. Through the conversations I’ve had in the industry - I’ve noticed successful companies consider the following when it comes to incorporating low-code in their ecosystem:

Alignment with business objectives around digital capability: It’s important to evaluate whether low-code can contribute positively to your ability to provide digital capabilities. This is paramount as the secondary benefits range from productivity, reduced costs, and improved customer experiences.

Evaluate platform capabilities: It’s crucial to ensure that its capabilities align with your team size, digital maturity, and overall strategy. Some of the essential capabilities to consider include drag-and-drop interface building, integration with different systems, workflow orchestration, and data modelling. By evaluating these capabilities, you can ensure that the platform can meet your specific needs and enable you to execute strategic goals.

Plan for governance and scalability: Using a low-code platform means you can build multiple applications across the organisation meaning it’s important to have a governance strategy in place to ensure compliance, security, and maintainability. Especially because teams can turn around changes to applications quickly. Consider how the platform fits into your overall technology architecture and whether it can scale to meet future needs.

In conclusion, low-code platforms provide a cost-effective and efficient approach to custom application development, enabling organisations to meet unique business requirements without compromising on functionality or user experience. As the digital agenda grows within business, the need for custom applications increases, and low-code platforms offer a promising solution to address the challenges that come with bespoke development. When evaluating low-code platforms, it’s crucial to consider alignment with business objectives, platform capabilities, and governance and scalability. Understanding the different types of low-code platforms available can also help make an informed decision that aligns with an organisation’s specific requirements.