Intro to Low-code: The Transformative Potential for App Dev

Low-code development platforms enable the creation of software applications using far less program code than would typically be needed versus traditional computer programming languages. Software development is often a lengthy and complex process so low-code’s promise to simplify, accelerate and reduce the cost of application development is a very attractive proposition for busy software teams.

Forrester Research coined the term ‘low-code’ in 2014 and use it to define development platforms that “enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training and deployment.”

In this two-part blog series, we’ll look at the transformative potential of low-code for enterprise application software development. We’ll discuss the challenges faced by enterprises looking to exploit technology to deliver competitive advantage and what that means for IT departments who need to rise to this challenge. In addition, we present the top five things to look for when selecting a low-code platform and finally, we’ll look at how to deliver on the promise of low-code software development.

Enterprise Application Development Challenges

The Business

Business is changing at a faster pace than at any time in history. New entrants are redefining the rules of engagement and disrupting markets where the terms of reference may not have changed for decades. For market incumbents and new entrants alike, building a new model is the holy grail. Stealing a march on the competition and establishing yourself as the leader in a new, high growth market. For many business leaders, technology is seen as the way to make this innovation happen. Come up with a new model and use technology to establish it quickly and make it work. Minimize the costs and maximize the profits.

For established businesses though, working through the change presents additional challenges. Existing processes, roles and systems may need to be totally re-imagined through the transition. Legacy systems will need to be carried forward as new systems and applications are created to support the future business model. The amount of work laid at the door of IT both to support the existing business operation and create the new business environment is more than many can cope with.

Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of business. It’s fundamentally changing the way the business operates and delivers value to its customers. Digital transformation may include many elements such as:

  • Automating new processes
  • Updating legacy systems
  • Removing paper-based, manual processes
  • Creating new applications to support future business
  • Deploying new systems in innovative and flexible ways

Contrast this with the reality that many businesses core processes are still run on spreadsheets that may start small and then grow and grow to become unwieldy monsters that go far beyond their initial intent and scope. Modern systems need to support modern working methods, which can mean transforming these outdated processes to enterprise-grade, maintainable and reliable apps.

That means taking information to wherever key people and processes exist (including customers and suppliers) even in remote and hard to reach places. Applications need to be adaptable and mobile. Moving applications to mobile devices or the web and deploying them in the cloud to get the scalability and flexibility required is a large part of most digital transformation strategies.

The challenge for business is clear. Reimagine, redefine and reinvent the business process to win customers and outsmart the competition. Most of all, do it quickly or be beaten to the punch by the competition. Use technology as the enabler and the driver. The challenge is not easy especially when time is short, but the rewards are clear.

Pressure on Software Teams

The enormity of change technology has brought about in business over the past fifty years cannot be underestimated. Yet the pressure on IT to deliver business transformation has grown as the pace of market change has accelerated. That has meant that software application backlogs have grown whilst resources have become stretched and budgets tightened.

IT backlogs grow as the application maintenance burden grows. Studies have shown that application maintenance can typically consume up to 80% of an application’s total life-cycle costs. For many developers then, maintaining existing applications is the bulk of the work and tends not to allow time for the addition of new skills.

Building new modern systems requires many different skill sets and that’s a challenge for IT managers looking to recruit the people with the right skills. For modern web, cloud and mobile applications, dozens of technologies often need to work together and finding developers with all the skills is both difficult and expensive. This often results in many developers needing to be recruited. Each one with a different skill set.

IT then have a number of challenges to overcome in order to be the driver of change and enable the business transformation needed to be successful in the future. These include:

  • Workload and backlog
  • Access to new and constantly evolving skills requirement
  • Developer productivity and a reduction in the maintenance burden

It’s important that the innovative changes that have the potential to make transformative change to the business don’t get put off because of short-term concerns.

Developer Challenges

Software developers have their own set of challenges. The greatest is probably the pace of change in the software development industry. With the move to modern software development on the web, mobile and cloud, new languages, frameworks, plug-ins, modules and components appear almost weekly. How can developers keep on top of all the options available and how can developers ensure the choices made of which to use, are the right ones in the long-term?

Building a new generation of modern applications may require significant re-skilling of the development team. For maintaining existing applications, there may be little opportunity for developers to add new skills. Some developers will embrace the change, whilst others will prefer to stick with what they know.

For the business, having developers that really understand the business process, can work closely with business people and can deliver on their requirements, is what really makes developers valuable. There is an opportunity for developers to gain business analysis skills if that is something that interests and motivates them.

Low-Code Software Development to Address the Challenges

The introduction of low-code software promises to help:

  • For business, it can allow applications to be created far more quickly than traditional methods. As a result, the business model can be re-engineered quickly and allow the flexibility needed to react to changing market dynamics and conditions.
  • For IT, low-code promises an easier way to build applications and a faster way to deliver them to the business without being held up by an inability to find the right skills and resources. Thus, development backlogs can be reduced and the perceived value to the business will be improved.
  • And for developers, low-code offers the chance to build new, modern applications without having to learn a multitude of new development tools and languages and at the same time, bringing them closer to the business. Low-code offers a new way forward where developers can focus on learning the business and delivering apps as opposed to the next web framework.

Continuing to learn, implement and support the latest and greatest development languages and open-source frameworks is no longer viable. Low-code software development can be the means to catalyze the transformation of the business using technology as the driver.

  • Low-code development platforms can help enterprises in a variety of different ways:
  • Faster development
  • Digital transformation
  • Reducing the maintenance burden
  • Adopting mobile
  • Cloud computing
  • Skills management

Low-code enables the creation of a new breed of applications designed to support the changing needs of the business, faster than ever before. Even as underlying software technologies may change, low-code shields developers from those changes allowing them to focus on the business needs to drive change through new technology and software applications.

In part two of this blog series, we will discuss the steps in getting started with a low-code platform.

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