I recently spent a few days speaking with vendors and studying their success stories, many of which centered on deployment of low-code development platforms. It’s becoming clear that low code could be a game changer in the future of software development, possibly even accounting for more than 65% of software creation activity by 2024, according to Gartner.
In fact, low-code development platforms may prove to be the missing piece in businesses’ renewed urgency to accelerate their modernization efforts. As the pandemic unfolded, it revealed a disconcerting reality: Many businesses lacked the agility to respond to unplanned global events and overnight lurches in customer demand.
As organizations increasingly embrace cloud and automation platforms for mainstream requirements and shift to Agile software development processes, low-code may well prove to be a key acceleration tool to meet their goals of modernization.
Low code is a visual approach to application development that enables any developer —regardless of experience level — to leverage reusable components and model-driven logic to rapidly build and deploy applications. These platforms eliminate the need to write code by abstracting the tedious plumbing and infrastructure tasks typically required in application development and replacing them with visual drag-and-drop tools and process modeling, reusable components and real-time collaboration.
Decades ago, low-code technology was known as rapid application development (RAD) and business process management (BPM). While RAD tools promised to dramatically reduce the time required to build an application, however, they lacked the ability to integrate into critical back-end systems, data and ecosystems of enterprise reusable components.
Today, with the rise of public and private cloud services, document-based databases like MongoDB, serverless computing, container-based technologies and formal methods such as session types, there’s less programming required to communicate with back-end and external systems and services. This makes it easier to integrate, deploy and manage applications and take advantage of a rich ecosystem of production-ready components.
What’s more, most application types align with low-code development platforms: Only applications that are deployed on a mass scale or contain novel capabilities are outside of the low-code scope.
A Modernization Companion
Several low-code vendors have infused artificial intelligence (AI) into their platforms and now offer features such as integration with semi-structured and unstructured data sources, and “next-best action” advice in various business workflow scenarios. Some have also built out branching conditions, exception handling and many other capabilities that typically require more seasoned professionals to hand-code.
Most companies have moved at least some of their applications and infrastructure to the cloud for agility and scaling, and many have created robust microservices and API ecosystems for their enterprises. Low-code platforms easily and seamlessly integrate with these services and provide a simple way to visually create modern applications.
My team recently conducted a deep-dive analysis of the actual benefits of low-code platforms in real-world application development. We used a dataset of 100 projects throughout 2019 and 2020 that shared a similar profile. Of these, about 10% used low-code technologies. The data set also included the shift to remote work that was driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The results were interesting. We found a 15% to 20% productivity increase for the low-code group vs. those that used normal Agile development technologies. Even considering the typical caveats for a study of this type (small data set, diverse project types, etc.), these results map with what frontline developers are saying about the benefits of low-code, which include:
- Speed: Low-code platforms enable companies to create software at the speed of ideation. While this goal has been the aspiration of many prior technologies, low-code platforms have empowered developers in business and technology to create, iterate and release applications in a fraction of the time it takes compared with traditional methods.
Opinions vary on the degree of acceleration low-code enables, but most agree it’s in the range of 10X to 25X, with significant reduction in software developer time. With the ability to build more apps in less time, costs also decrease.
- Innovation and business agility: Innovation has traditionally been costly and slow, as it’s required senior developers, senior domain experts and business product experts to collaborate on creating something that then needs testing. With the speed of low-code, businesses are free to experiment with new products and services and create supply chains that more quickly adapt to market changes and customer needs.
- Automated deployment and governance: One of the key features of low-code platforms is the ability to produce modern software with built-in automated testing, deployment and security (DevSecOps). The application is ready to run on the cloud or other locations, as appropriate.
The automated governance included in this approach provides a regulated environment that allows IT teams to control and monitor the application’s adherence to requirements and policies for performance, operations and security. In fact, some low-code platforms use AI to inspect the applications for quality and reusability.
- A diverse workforce: Low-code development reduces the need for more experienced developers. Rather than needing to recruit and hire high-priced software developers, businesses can focus on growing a population of early-career developers and provide them with the accelerated learning of business domain fundamentals, data definitions and relationships, and capabilities like low-code development. Doing so will create a scalable, engaged workforce that will help grow the company.
- Development for all: Low-code platforms introduce the case for the “citizen developer” and “citizen data scientist” movement, which refers to non-technology employees who are often tech-savvy millennials with no formal computer science or software engineering background. With a deep understanding of the business domain and data, these new “programmers” can become critical members of the technology ecosystem and contribute their own applications and reusable components.
However, the company needs to mitigate the chaos that can ensue without the appropriate guardrails and governance. Early adopters of low code are learning that along with the significant automation capabilities of these new platforms for compliance and security, they need to harden these processes before they move from an experimental to a scaling phase. Because manual code reviews and compliance will not support the speed and scale that low code promises, companies will need to automate these key processes.
An Accelerant for the Post-Pandemic Future
The future of application development is right around the corner. From our work with clients across the UK, Europe and Asia, low-code development platforms are gaining traction and establishing a well-deserved role in enterprises across all industries.
In fact, these platforms may likely be the key to accelerating businesses’ modernization plans and become more agile — which has become non-negotiable in today’s post-pandemic era.
With a strong business case, an empowered business and IT team, and automated governance in place, you can start to shift your application development to match the speed of change.
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