In today's environment of rapid technological innovation, digital transformation is a strategic necessity for most companies, large and small. In fact there's a recently coined cliché that says, "today, every company is a software company." So, rapid development and implementation of new software solutions is critical to any company's ability to stay ahead of the competition in its marketplace.
But developing new software applications as it has traditionally been done is a complex, time-consuming, and costly enterprise. That's why there's a growing trend toward the use of low-code development methodologies that allow a company to create the business solutions it needs at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional development methods.
What is low-code development?
Actually, low-code development is far from new. For example, workers who are not professional programmers have been developing sophisticated Excel spreadsheets, often involving complex macros, to solve their business problems for decades. But modern low-code development environments are now taking that paradigm to an entirely new level.
For all but the simplest projects, a traditional software development process typically requires workers to write hundreds or thousands of lines of complex code to implement the behaviors they require in their applications. Today's low-code platforms, on the other hand, use pre-written code modules and templates that allow users to develop sophisticated business applications with minimal amounts of additional coding.
Low-code development platforms feature a user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI), and a selection of pre-built software components, code modules, and templates. Developers design the business process logic and workflows they want to implement by using the visual interface to drag and drop components with the required functionality onto a visual canvas.
With this approach, the development platform typically supplies about 90% of the logic for the application, leaving the user to directly code only about 10%. As a result, low-code applications can be produced much more quickly, and with far fewer bugs or errors, than with traditional development methods.
The difference between low-code and no-code development
Although the two are often conflated, there's a significant difference between the low-code and no-code models.
A no-code development platform is designed to allow implementation of the desired functionality without any additional programming. This enables users with few technical skills to develop comparatively simple applications to solve immediate business problems. However, the limited flexibility inherent in this approach makes it ill-suited for developing software that must perform highly specific or complex behaviors, or which must interact with pre-existing external applications.
A low-code platform, on the other hand, allows users with some programming skills to write code to provide a level of functionality that's not obtainable using the pre-built modules and templates alone. For example, connecting with preexisting applications, or with data sources such as databases, might require specific coding to integrate with the APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) defined for those resources.
Interestingly, a recent study found that 24% of users engaged in low-code development started with no programming skills or experience at all. Many of them are business analysts with no technical background.
What's wrong with the traditional way of developing software?
In today's fast-changing business environment, companies that continue to rely exclusively on traditional software development methodologies run the risk of losing ground to their competition.
Marketplace disruptions, in the form of both opportunities and threats, appear with unprecedented rapidity. Businesses that fail to react just as quickly can find themselves unable to keep up with changing marketplace requirements. And since almost all business processes today rely on specifically targeted software solutions, being responsive to an ever-changing business landscape requires the ability to quickly deploy new or updated applications.
The problem is that the traditional way of developing software is no longer up to the task. In the past, the code development process required entire teams of highly skilled software analysts and developers who followed a standardized process. This usually involved milestones such as gathering requirements from end users, analyzing workflows, and then implementing a project plan encompassing the creation, integration, testing, deployment, and ongoing maintenance of the necessary code.
That entire process typically was (and is) costly, error-prone, and most importantly in today's environment, time-consuming. That's why, as a McKinsey & Company report says,
"Large-scale IT projects are prone to take too long, are usually more expensive than expected, and, crucially, fail to deliver the expected benefits."
This rather slow and expensive methodology continues to be appropriate for large-scale, highly complex projects with relatively stable code bases. But when it comes to enabling agile and flexible responses to quickly changing marketplace imperatives, the traditional approach is simply inadequate. In today's environment, by the time an application makes it through the development process and is ready for deployment, requirements have often changed and the code may already be all but obsolete.
Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of traditional software development methods is that they require teams of highly skilled developers. With more than 900,000 IT jobs currently unfilled in the US, finding and hiring such workers can be extremely difficult. On the other hand, as Gartner notes,
"The skills required and application delivery times for [low-code application platforms] are low, compared with historical norms for application development."
Advantages of low-code development in today's business environment
The great advantage of a low-code software development approach is that in many cases it can completely replace traditional methods, producing significant benefits such as:
- Far quicker development cycles — Upwards of 90% of the required code is pre-built.
- Greater agility and flexibility — Applications can be quickly deployed or updated to meet rapidly changing business or operational requirements.
- Higher quality — Less hand coding leaves fewer chances to introduce bugs, and makes correcting coding and business process logic errors far easier.
- Greater productivity — Developers spend most of their time on understanding business process requirements rather than on the details of coding, integrating, testing, etc.
- Easier maintenance — With 90% or more of the application consisting of pre-built functions, the application is far less complex. Plus, with the GUI to help users visualize how it works, it's much easier to update.
- Greater security — The platform vendor will have skilled security professionals who regularly devise and apply security patches and upgrades to the platform in the cloud.
- Lower Costs — Because it involves shorter development and maintenance cycles using fewer people, low-code development is far more cost effective.
At eSystems we can realize these benefits for your company. We are specialized in low-code application development, from consulting for your needs to delivering low-code value of all kinds. Sign up for a demo to see what we could achieve together.
Is low-code development a fit for your company?
Does your company need new business solutions or applications to keep up in a rapidly changing environment? If so, low-code development allows you to make fast, strategic decisions and changes with immense flexibility. If you are thinking about low-code development, that's exactly where eSystems' superpowers lie.
WRITTEN BY: Reggie Rusan | Chief Technology Officer