In a time when digital transformation has become a business imperative, most companies can't survive without a steady stream of new software solutions. Fast and efficient development of innovative applications is now the lifeblood of almost all modern corporations. That's why the low-code approach to software development is rapidly assuming a dominant position in today's application development landscape.
Low-code enables developers to quickly produce massively scalable, performance optimized, reusable, secure, and easy to maintain applications at a far lower cost than is possible using traditional software development methods. That's why the already substantial impact of low-code in the software development space will only grow in coming years. According to Gartner, by 2024 low-code will be used in more than 65% of all software development.
For that reason, any business or IT leader involved in producing or using business software can benefit from gaining a good understanding of low-code development. So, in this article we want to take a quick look at what low-code is all about, and how low-code platforms produce their unique benefits.
What is low-code?
The distinguishing feature of low-code is that it is a visual, rather than procedural, method of software development. Developers create apps with the desired functionality simply by selecting items from an array of pre-coded modules and templates, and dragging and dropping them into an appropriate logical arrangement on the visual canvass of a Graphical User Interface (GUI).
As much as 90% of a low-code application's logic is supplied by the pre-written modules, leaving only about 10% to be hand coded to fit special requirements or interfaces. The result is a design process that is up to 10 times faster than traditional methods. And that means lower costs and higher productivity.
Benefits of low-code for professional software developers
This visual modeling approach allows users who may have business expertise but no coding skills to quickly and easily produce apps that automate their workflows. Perhaps more importantly, it allows professional coders to produce complex and sophisticated business applications by adding relatively small amounts of hand-written code to their low-code designs.
Not only is low-code dramatically faster than traditional coding, it also allows designers to rapidly make adjustments at any point in the development cycle if the requirements of the project change. It also provides the ability to rapidly adapt apps to meet future changes in the technological or business environments without having to discard months or even years of previously produced code.
In addition, because the visual nature of low-code development allows both software developers and non-technical end-users to have a common understanding of the design, they can work together to produce visual prototypes that are closely aligned with actual operational requirements. This level of collaboration, which speeds up the development process while minimizing costly mistakes, is a unique benefit of the low-code approach.
But how do low-code platforms perform this magic?
To find out, let's take a quick, high-level look at the architecture of a typical low-code platform. For our purposes, we'll use the architecture of eSystems partner OutSystems as a representative model.
Overview of low-code platform architecture
The OutSystems platform is an integrated development environment (IDE) that allows for everything about an application—the logic, user interface, process flows, integrations with external tools and resources, and more—to be visually designed on one screen. Developers interact with a desktop IDE that connects to an OutSystems environment housed either in the cloud or in an on-premises data center, and which runs in a standard application server environment—either .NET or Java EE (J2EE).
Although the OutSystems arrangement differs in some details, for our purposes we'll consider the typical low-code platform to consist of four basic elements: a design interface, an integration interface, a compiler, and a deployment controller. Let's take brief look at each.
This is the desktop environment that developers use to visually assemble their apps. It features hundreds of pre-built components, widgets, user interface patterns, and screen templates that provide all the functions necessary to completely define a software application. Developers (including business process experts with no coding skills) can model all aspects of the design, including business logic, workflows, user interfaces, security rules, and more, simply by using the GUI to drag and drop modules into the appropriate arrangement.
The integration interface allows professional developers to create custom adapters to fully customize and extend the design by integrating it with external APIs, libraries, web services, and databases. In the case of the OutSystems platform, the integration environment works with Microsoft Visual Studio to build custom .NET components, and with Eclipse to build custom J2EE components.
The compiler converts the design's visual model, including all dependencies, into the corresponding standard C# or Java application code.
In the case of the OutSystems platform, the code generated is optimized and fully documented. It requires no runtime interpreters or engines. There is a direct mapping between the visual model assembled in the design interface and the generated source code, so that the structure of the visual design, including all documentation, is preserved. The compiled code can be extracted from the OutSystems environment to run on its own, eliminating the threat of vendor lock-in with the platform provider.
The task of the Deployment Controller is to coordinate the deployment of the generated code across all front-end servers, of which there may be several. The front-end servers, which are where the code is actually executed, are standard Web Application Servers: either Microsoft IIS or Java Application Server.
How low-code and eSystems help you achieve a successful Agile adoption
The standard methodology for modern professional software development is Agile, which involves a continuous cycle of design, deployment, user feedback, and updating. By allowing users to "play" with working screens, and refine the design under actual job conditions, eSystems low-code makes the visual prototyping that is essential for Agile success quick and easy. And by facilitating collaboration between app developers and workers, our solutions minimize the risk that the resulting software will fail to meet the real needs of end-users.
eSystems can help your company become a low-code powerhouse!
Here at eSystems we specialize in helping companies like yours take full advantage of the capabilities and benefits of low-code development. We work closely with our best-in-class partners, including not only OutSystems, but also WaveMaker (the preferred low-code platform for professional coders), and integration and automation specialist Workato, to produce low-code solutions for almost any business or IT requirement.
With eSystems you are always in the driver's seat, retaining complete control of your development, security, testing, production, change management, and digital assets. We support your ideas by working closely with you so that our IT solutions fit your business purposes, providing you with great applications that can continue to work autonomously even when core systems are offline or in maintenance.
Our experts are eager to help you navigate the low-code environment. Contact us today to find your path towards digital transformation with low-code.
WRITTEN BY: Simo Taleb | Lead of Automation & Integration Business Unit