Digital technologies are transforming businesses and challenging how competitive advantage is created. Social, mobile, analytical, cloud and internet-of-things (SMACIT) technologies make developing applications and innovations both more time intensive and more resource intensive. They also shift companies’ focus to multidisciplinary teams that bring together non-IT and IT professionals with different work styles, cultures and backgrounds. At the same time, companies have to struggle with a shortage of developers and technical specialists. To meet these challenges, a lot of companies are already turning to low-code development platforms more and more.

Low code, a coding approach that requires little or no coding knowledge to create applications, is becoming increasingly popular among businesses. Low-code development platforms (including Mendix, OutSystems, Microsoft PowerApps, ServiceNow or Simplifier) enable citizen developers – in other words, people with little or no programming knowledge – to take a more active role and create applications independently.

What’s the origin of low-code and how does it work?

The term low code was first coined by Forrester in 2014. It describes platforms that are easy and simple to use and that enable any user to develop software applications. The roots of low-code development can be traced back to the 80s and 90s when computer-aided software engineering (CASE), rapid application development (RAD) and business process management (BPM) tools were developed. What distinguishes low code from these tools is its broad applicability to a wider range of software applications, as well as the speed of change, agility and flexibility it enables during development.

Low-code development platforms (LCDPs) facilitate the development of software applications based on graphical user interfaces, declarative programming and drag-and-drop development.

  • Graphical user interfaces: The logic is defined using basic modelling principles (for example, using graphical user interfaces) instead of complex code syntax.
  • Declarative programming: A user defines the end result – in other words, what is to be achieved – and the LCDP effects how it’s achieved. This is more intuitive and easier to use than traditional hand-coded imperative programming languages, which are more complex and require a range of skills.
  • Drag-and-drop development: The applications are created based on drag-and-drop logic. Users create the applications by connecting triggers and actions – prefabricated low-code components.

Important things to consider when implementing low code

Our adesso experts support companies in implementing low code based on four key dimensions:

(1) Evaluating the scope of application:

Low code can be implemented in a wide range of applications, from simple process automation tasks to advanced IT applications. Companies need to take the scale and complexity of the application into consideration due to the fact that more complex tasks require greater expertise and more powerful LCDPs. Simple applications (for example, importing data from an Excel list) can easily be automated using low code. More complex tasks, on the other hand, such as building the front-end of an IoT platform, require additional thought and specialist knowledge, as well as a more powerful LCDP platform.

(2) Defining the target users:

Since LCDPs enable employees without IT skills to assume a more active role in the development process, companies need to analyse which employees can benefit the most from using low code. First of all, low code can help non-IT professionals/business managers automate simple tasks. It can also promote innovation at the same time. Non-technical employees who have contact with customers (for example in sales or business development) are given the ability to develop and/or sketch out a prototype solution that captures customer requirements. Secondly, low-code can also be helpful for more tech-savvy employees, such as those who work on developing algorithms, young developers who have just graduated or interns who also have little experience with programming.

(3) Choosing the right platform:

The wide range of available LCDPs and solutions makes it difficult for companies to choose the right platform. Companies should consider the following two aspects when deciding which platform best suits their needs:

  • General purpose versus domain-specific: While most known LCDPs serve a general purpose (for example, Simplifier or Mendix), there are some that are domain-specific. Alteryx, which offers end-to-end automation of data analyses and machine learning, is one such LCDP.
  • Citizen user versus professional user: Some LCDPs, including Mendix and OutSystems, are more focused on development and IT and support more advanced functions, such as software testing, scrum project management and much more. These platforms are better suited for professional users. They require citizen developers to undergo a certain amount of training and develop skills and/or competences before they can make optimal use of them. However, there are other platforms, such as Appian or Google App Maker, which are in fact not suitable for complex requirements, but are more intuitive to use. They make it possible for citizen developers to create an application quickly.

(4) Training courses for promoting a mindset focused on IT architecture:

While low code makes it possible for every person in an organisation to develop applications, not every user can develop complex and/or advanced applications. For these applications, having a mindset that’s trained on IT architecture is of key importance. Organisations that use low code for complex and larger applications have to ensure that their employees have a mindset that’s focused on IT architecture and that they make the right architectural decisions in order to ensure optimal functionality and data management. Otherwise, the applications will quickly run into problems with scalability and performance.

Summary

As Chris Wanstrath, Co-founder and CEO of GitHub, said: ‘Coding is no longer the main event. Creating software is the main event. Coding is just a small part of it. [...] the future of coding is no coding at all.’

Low-code development platforms (LCDP) offer an excellent opportunity for companies to innovate and democratise the development of software applications. They enable citizen developers to assume a more active role and promote collaboration and co-creation between non-IT and IT professionals with different work styles, cultures and backgrounds. At the same time, LCDPs help companies compensate for the shortage of developers and technical talent.

Our experts support companies in implementing low code, assessing the scope of application, defining target users, evaluating and selecting the most suitable LCDP and conducting training courses to promote a mindset focused on IT architecture.

Picture Ainara Novales

Author Dr. Ainara Novales

Ainara Novales holds a PhD in Digital Innovation from Erasmus University Rotterdam (Netherlands) and advises companies in the manufacturing industry on strategic issues related to product and service innovation and digital transformation. Her focus is on the innovation and implementation of digital business models based on digitalised products (IoT products). Before her doctorate, she worked as a production engineer in the electronics industry.

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