The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for digital transformation. Digitalization, process automation and workflow management have become crucial to business survival. To cater to these needs, low-code application platforms have risen to become a necessity. Research firm Forrester predicts that by the end of 2021, 75% of development shops will use low-code platforms, up from 44% in 2020. (Source: Forrester Predictions 2021: Software Development, October 30, 2020
). It is no longer a matter of IF, but rather WHEN and HOW a business adopts a low-code approach.
Low-code application platforms allow for software applications to be developed faster with less, or even zero, code. What was mere promise in years past, have become proven solutions helping to address urgent needs in critical times. This was especially apparent at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis response, where Forrester mentioned in its report:
“The first months of the COVID-19 crisis reaffirmed for AD&D pros that low-code and digital process automation (DPA) can speed development of bespoke applications, but there was more. Appian, Joget, Netcall, ServiceNow, and other low-code platform vendors also demonstrated they were a great option for delivering full solutions — acting faster than the big vendors of packaged applications (including software as a service [SaaS]). The experience turned on its head conventional wisdom that starting with a package and then customizing is the fastest way to acquire software solutions.” (Source: Forrester, Prescriptive Low-Code: The New Quest To Marry The Best Of Packaged And Custom Apps
, by John Bratincevic and John Rymer, October 30, 2020)
In March 2021, a Forrester Now Tech report was produced to understand the vendor landscape for low-code platforms. According to Forrester:
“General-purpose low-code development platforms allow application development and delivery (AD&D) professionals and their business partners to automate and continuously adapt their customer journeys, operations, and experiences — quickly. Thus, these product platforms are vital to digital business.” (Source: Forrester Now Tech: General-Purpose Low-Code Development Platforms, Q1 2021
, by John Bratincevic with Chris Gardner, Rob Koplowitz, Andrew Dobak, and Kara Hartig)
To further emphasise the importance of low-code today, here is one of the key takeaways from the same report above:
“COVID-19 made one lesson clear: The volume of applications necessary for digital business and the need to constantly adapt those applications are beyond the speed and responsiveness of even the most agile development teams — when using code. Use low-code tools to directly address the development backlog and empower business-led development.”
What types of low-code application platforms are there?
There is a wide range of low-code offerings, and Forrester separated the market into 2 functionality segments:
Low-code for professional developers (LC4PD) is targeted primarily at professional development teams. These platforms are usually quite flexible, but at the expense of complexity which means professional developer involvement is mandatory.
Low-code for business developers (LC4BD) is targeted at business users and is also sometimes termed as “no-code”. These platforms are typically simpler, but often support more limited use cases and lack customization capabilities.
No-code empowers business users, but what’s the downside?
For many organizations, low-code for business developers appear to be heaven-sent. These platforms are simple to use, and are designed to empower even non-technical business users. Kind of like Excel on steroids.
However, this simplicity often comes at a cost. And that cost is often the flexibility to meet more complex requirements. What if there is a need for integration to a back-end system? What if some part of the current user interface is not suitable and a different one is required?
A no-code solution may have been developed quickly to solve a pressing business need, but what happens when the business starts to realize that they need more functionality or features that the platform is not designed to provide?
Therein lies the rub. Many no-code platforms are great for getting simple things done, but are simply not designed to scale either in terms of functionality, or usage, or both. For these requirements, the low-code for professional developers segment platforms are more suitable, but these are typically too complicated for non-technical users.
So is there a gap here to be addressed? In an ideal scenario, a low-code platform should offer not only simplicity, but also the flexibility and extensibility to achieve more. There is actually a big group of users that have not been fully capitalized on, and there is an inevitable requirement to scale over time, so there are a few additional points to consider when choosing a low-code platform for business developers:
#1: What about non-coder IT? Empower IT, not just business users
Not everyone wants to be a full-fledged coder or professional developer, yet would like to be a creator. There is a large segment of IT or MIS professionals who may not be focused on hardcore coding skills, but with the right platform, would be able to create amazing apps and solutions. How can organizations leverage this untapped potential? By choosing a low-code platform that is flexible and extensible
enough to empower these IT power users, while also allowing collaboration with professional developers to integrate and extend functionality when required.
#2: Start small, and extend
A low-code platform should allow users to quickly solve simple use cases, and then extend into more complex business requirements as needs arise. With an extensible platform, any user (even non-IT business) can start for small use cases, either from scratch, or even download and customize ready-made solutions from an “app store” or marketplace
. Power users and more technical IT/MIS professionals can then take it further and extend into more complex use cases. For more complicated scenarios, professional developers can be engaged to extend the platform with functionality and for integration to external systems.
#3: Grow and scale
When talking about growth and scale, it is not just in terms of business use cases. It also needs to take into account the IT infrastructure perspective. For example, how would organizations scale the low-code platform to handle increasingly complex applications, load and usage? Cloud-native technologies like containers
container orchestration are often being regarded as the future of enterprise IT as it helps to build and run applications in the cloud. Combining low-code with cloud-native technologies
will potentially accelerate application development and deployment at an unprecedented scale. Also, how would a low-code platform fit into an organization’s infrastructure, which might evolve over time? An open low-code platform
would offer significant advantages in utilizing existing IT investments in cloud environments, operating systems, application servers, directory servers and databases.
Open source, open standards and open plugin architecture
; Support for a variety of OS, application servers and databases; Cloud-native ready and various deployment options e.g. On-Premise, On-Demand Cloud, Certified OpenShift Operator, Red Hat Marketplace, Docker, Kubernetes, Cloud Foundry, G Suite Marketplace, AWS Marketplace, Azure Marketplace.
With the need for rapid application development and delivery to solve critical business needs in these challenging times, low-code platforms have become a necessity. It is all about choosing the right low-code platform to suit an organization, not just for immediate needs but also for future growth. Empower users, start small and scale!
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