In recent years, the low-code revolution has taken the tech world by storm, offering unprecedented opportunities for businesses of all sizes to streamline their digital transformation.
As the pace of innovation accelerates, low-code platforms have emerged as a game-changing solution that empowers organizations to build, deploy, and manage applications with ease and efficiency. In this article, we’ll delve into the crux of the low-code boom, explore the driving factors behind its meteoric rise, and most importantly, how companies can capitalize on this thriving technology to stay ahead in today’s highly competitive landscape.
The rise of low-code solutions
In the past, every aspect of an application needed to be hard-coded. For example, modifying the size of an image requires you to manually change some parameters of the code. This can be extremely time-consuming — and even frustrating at times.
A growing trend soon emerged to build platforms that could solve problems like this. Forrester first coined the term ‘low-code’ back in 2014, which refers to platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment. Essentially, low-code aims to make software development more accessible to the masses, even for those without any experience in the field — also known as citizen developers.
Business applications that are tailored to an organization’s needs have seen an exponential increase in demand, and this may exceed the current supply of software developers. The Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report 2022 stated that up to 70% of digital leaders cited a skills shortage that prevented them from responding to changes within the industry.
One possible solution could be the low-code application industry, which Gartner expects to grow 20% in 2023. Instead of typing out everything in an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), low-code platforms transform lines of code into a visual experience. Most platforms utilize a drag-and-drop interface with some reusable components, so anyone can easily grasp what the functions are, even if they do not have a good understanding of the programming language syntax.
Low-code vs. No-code
A low-code platform offers more flexibility than no-code, as it allows for manual coding on top of the visual interface. While no-code platforms can be extremely easy to use, their customization options can be limited to the pre-built templates that are available.
Low-code allows developers to create applications that are more robust and better suited to the organization’s specialized needs. Furthermore, these platforms are still accessible to citizen developers with no coding experience, as the bulk of the functionality operates under the drag-and-drop interface.
A popular example is WordPress, which enables you to create a fully-functional website without manual coding.
Moreover, it provides the functionality to add custom HTML or CSS code to your website to improve the design beyond a generic template, and this added flexibility may be the reason why 43% of all websites in the world use this platform.
The benefits of low-code platforms
Low-code has the potential to transform the software development process, where it is no longer restricted to the IT department in companies.
Here are several advantages that a company can gain by utilizing low-code platforms:
- Improving developers’ efficiency
- Streamlining daily tasks
- Increasing communication and collaboration in a cross-functional team
- Enabling companies to adapt to changes quickly
Improving developers’ efficiency
A major concern arising from the boom of low-code platforms is that software developers may no longer be relevant.
However, instead of “stealing” their jobs, low-code platforms actually have the ability to enhance a developer’s skillset. Based on a report by 451 Research, low-code has the capability to cut down development time by about 50-90%.
Solutions like Mendix can automate complex processes during the entire application life cycle, particularly during the testing and deployment stages. Repetitive tasks can now be handled using convenient drag-and-drop modules, instead of tedious line-by-line coding.
The platform offers other tools including an AI-powered bot that provides real-time guidance along with other automated testing services. The upshot of all this is that developers’ time and attention are now freed up for higher-level tasks that require greater expertise.
Streamlining daily tasks
Apart from coding, low-code platforms can help to simplify daily processes. As a business grows, workflows start to become more complicated as it serves more customers and hires more employees. Having greater visibility of every process is key to ensuring that inefficiencies are reduced.
Appian allows businesses to model processes using a visual platform, making it easier to understand what is happening on the ground. Rules can be easily defined using the drag-and-drop interface, enabling certain decision-making processes to be automated.
Moreover, Quickbase facilitates the integration of several applications, including Google Docs, Dropbox and Slack, into a unified platform. This eliminates the need to switch between multiple applications to access data, resulting in a more streamlined and efficient workflow.
Increasing communication and collaboration in a cross-functional team
Low-code platforms can act as the common ground between software developers and other departments within the company. This may result in stronger communication and collaboration within a cross-functional team, so development projects are better aligned with business goals.
Now that citizen developers have the ability to create simple applications even with limited coding knowledge, this may reduce the need for a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) document — one that outlines all of the functions to be included in the application. It is possible for the citizen developer to create a working prototype of the application using platforms like Microsoft Power Apps.
Copilot – the AI tool integrated across Microsoft’s Power Platform – allows anyone to describe the features they want the application to have in a conversation with the AI bot, and the application will be built without having to enter any line of code.
Instead of a written document, developers can reference a visual example. This may be more effective for them to understand the exact functionalities required in the application.
Reducing the barriers to communication could lead to greater collaboration amongst the different departments, and this was reported in Microsoft’s Low-Code Trend Report 2022, where 81% of respondents mentioned that low-code has led to closer collaboration across multiple disciplines.
Enabling companies to adapt to changes quickly
Changes are bound to happen in our volatile world, and low-code platforms enable businesses to be more responsive to changes. Applications can be quickly built and modified to meet shifting customer demands.
With roughly 59% of global website traffic coming from mobile devices, a company may want to develop a tailored mobile application for its customers. Low-code platforms enable stakeholders to preview how the application looks and functions right from the beginning of the development process. Ultimately, this saves precious time compared to waiting for the entire application to be hard-coded.
Buildfire allows for mobile applications to be built from pre-determined templates, and they can cater to different types of applications, including events, fitness, or e-commerce apps. Moreover, Buildfire SDK is an additional feature that allows for third-party API integrations and added customization that a software developer can take advantage of.
Addressing the Gaps in Low-Code Solutions
Despite their numerous benefits, low-code platforms have yet to become the dominant approach to software development, emphasizing the continued importance of skilled software developers — especially for intricate tasks.
Low-code solutions excel when addressing familiar challenges with readily available, pre-built functions. However, they may struggle to tackle more complex, unprecedented problems that require customized solutions. This is where the technical expertise of a software developer comes in handy, as they will be better equipped to solve the issue.
Google’s AppSheet is excellent at creating simple applications that read data stored on spreadsheets. However, there are certain limits to its data size. Moreover, it has a limitation of 100,000 rows, so this may be a challenge as the company scales and increases the size of its database.
While low-code makes it extremely easy to create applications, things can start to look the same if every business uses the same platform to develop consumer-facing applications without customizing details. The interfaces may be similar, so businesses may find it difficult to create tailored user experiences for their customers.
For example, a shortcoming of Wix Velo is its lack of customization options, as users have no access to its source code.
There is also the issue of being locked into one platform. It is in every platform’s interest to ensure that you remain in their ecosystem. Most of them utilize proprietary technology that is not open source, making it a challenge to migrate your data to another platform.
Despite its shortcomings, low-code is a trend that is here to stay. Gartner projects in their “Harness the Disruptive Powers of Low-Code” report that 70% of new applications being developed by enterprises will use no-code or low-code technologies by 2025. Citizen development is a skill that may soon be essential for a business to thrive, as they step up to develop simple applications to improve processes within the company.
As more and more platforms are popping up, it may be best to look at all of them with a discerning eye, and thoroughly evaluate which platform is able to meet the needs of the company — both now and in the future.