The landscape for software development and the industries dependent on software is in a constant transformation. Just a few years ago, concepts such as e-commerce, digital transformation and fully automated and online onboarding are moonshots. Moreover, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced us to assess, relearn, reimagine and adapt to situations that were so foreign and unimaginable pre-crisis; adverse effects to business activity were felt across nearly all industries. The need to quell business complexities, simplify operations and let businesses be it big or small increase productivity and efficiency have become the catalyst for the rise of low code solutions, which have been gaining traction in recent years.
What is Low Code?
Low code, or low code development platforms, are process development solutions, software development tools and utilities that allow programmers to build solutions and applications with minimal manual coding. These are largely considered as part of fourth-generation programming languages aimed at providing languages that are more programmer-friendly, potent and versatile, notwithstanding the fact that most of them are domain-specific. By employing visual editors and other guides that eliminate repetitive coding tasks, these tools foster an increase in productivity and efficiency. Instead of building solutions from scratch with hundreds of lines of code, low code platforms present a visual interface where users can just put together workflows and functions from which code will be generated.
These are designed to generate fully functional programs as solutions for business needs in automation and process re-engineering for generic or semi-canned actions or set of actions; additional tweaking and manual coding may be required for specific or bespoke functions.
Some advantages of employing low code platforms are:
- Reduction of development and testing timeframes
- Expediting of solutions delivery
- Establishing of common rules and a generic framework designed to address common business needs
- Minimizing of cost for initial application setup, staff training, solutions deployment and maintenance
One practical way in which low code platforms help businesses is to bridge the gap between an organization’s business team without technical knowledge and capabilities and the I.T. Or development or technical team with the required coding skills but without the full grasp of the business requirements. This misalignment can be potentially resolved with these platforms by providing an environment where agile and rapid development and solutions delivery can happen.
The need for low code is becoming prevalent now more than ever because of the focus shifting to small and medium enterprises and the decentralization of software development.
How Does It Work?
The full cycle of software development is slow, tedious and costly even with agile approach for development management. It would also require employment of a highly technical team where the size will increase depending on the goals, expectations and delivery timeframe. Moreover, when you add the challenges and complexities of change request management, issue tracking and resolution and software maintenance into the mix, the intended solutions could then become issues themselves.
Low code development platforms minimize the need for a large scale development and deployment team and could even eliminate the requirements for highly specialized or full-stack set of developers. Admittedly, not all business needs or industries are suitable for low code, but a company may start with some business processes that can be streamlined or automated with the help of low code. Basic business or operations driven processes would be a good place to start.
The main gist of low code is to empower developers with a visual tool wherein drag and drop functions can be used to build programs for utilities and websites. There will be no need to have an in-depth knowledge of programming languages, expert knowledge and use of technical coding and nitty gritty manual coding.
These low code platforms come with canned and built-in codes and templates in a programmer and user- friendly interface. These will allow a guided building of a solution wherein pre-defined steps and actions can be ‘programmed’ to come up with an end-to-end application, just like building and arranging pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or building toy blocks.
Typically, a low code development platform will have three elements:
- Visual user interface with drag and drop functions: This interface will allow users to plot the workflow of a business process by identifying steps, milestones and stages and the needed input and output.
- Integration points and API accessibility: Every business process will require input, that could from another process or an external source, and an expected output. These input and output points may come in the form of data that will be fetched and stored into a database, forms and files that will be saved in a directory or will trigger the start of another process,
- Framework or application manager: These platforms offer a utility to develop applications, assemble solutions, debug issues, publish and maintain the programs. Whenever a change in the process is needed such as a defect or an enhancement, the platforms should be easy to learn and use.
- Workflow testing and prototyping: these platforms could help streamline devops and enhance business agility by automating configuration and testing if workflows and releasing of minimum viable products and prototypes with the goal of frequent and agile release of program iterations.
Here are some common business problems that have low code solutions
The following are several business cases for which low code can provide a viable solution:
Most of the time, an organization allows a multitude of applications and solutions instead of an application suite where solutions are provided by one provider in an integrated and unified ecosystem. These could be due to the staggered acquisition of solutions, the difficulty of purchasing software, the challenges of letting go of legacy systems and the cost of getting all solutions from a single source. These applications should be integrated into a seamless ecosystem with minimal or no manual process.
There are solutions that would serve as integrators, using input or an event from one system and using it in another system using business logic.
Low code platforms can be used to automate processes that can be considered repetitive, tedious or manual functions that can be transferred to digital processes. Some examples of these are:
- Employee, customer, and onboarding
- I.T. Services self-service portal
- Knowledge turnover and training
- Code generation
- Implementation of New Platforms
With new innovations such as augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT and conversational interfaces, the need to provide customer-centric and a multi-channel customer experience has significantly increased.
Majority of websites offering products and services offer chatbots and automated communication with customers and potential leads. These can be implemented with the use of low code software.
- Smart Processing
Two tenets behind the low code ideology are efficiency and saving on expenditure. Some low code platforms capitalize on these principles by using high level of abstraction in terms of program building while speeding up delivery and deployment. Notable examples of these are:
- Google’s Appsheet and Appian that allows mobile application development
- Claris Filemaker, a tool that allows database access and data manipulation
- Salesforce, an enterprise application development platform for specializing on CRM and ERP
Target Market for Low Code Platforms
Low code platforms could prove beneficial and ideal for small and medium enterprises, especially for organizations with a lean I.T. team or those that cannot rely on employ highly specialized technical employees.
There are a number of business needs and processes to which low code solutions can be applied. From HR processes such as employee onboarding/off-boarding, training, payroll, time off management and appraisal, to I.T. systems such as ticket monitoring and resolution, request management and project administration, to sales, marketing, document management, as well as main business tasks, low code solutions can be beneficial tools for all facets of a business.
The following industries are the main target market for low code platforms:
- Software development
- Financial organizations and banks
- Media and Publishing
For the past couple of decades, the number of utilities, platforms and scope of technology has soared. The software ecosystem and I.T. department if organizations have evolved into complex and intricate ecosystems. This transformation, along with the need to empower all individuals including non-technical resources and the drive for rapid deployment and building of solutions has given rise to the low code ideology.
To come up with robust applications that can address the business needs, integrate different systems to coexist and streamline processes, low code can be used by personnel from an organization’s I.T. department, business team or even visionaries.
Industries are rapidly evolving, markets are ever changing, customer experience and expectations are transforming; this signals the need for solutions and digital strategies to adapt to the changing times.
The goal is to have the proper mindset, reassess the different aspects and workflows in the organization, and always be on the lookout for what can be enhanced, improved or automated. And this of course also calls for the usage of tools that can make this adaptation as fast and efficient as possible, such as low code platforms.