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What is low-code application development and why should businesses start paying attention?

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From ecommerce to the Internet of Things, technology has driven change in almost every aspect of business – prompting owners and managers to remake, rebuild, and reconstruct the way they run their operations.

While most companies feel reluctant to make the change, the rising popularity of low-code application development is paving opportunities for enterprises to digitize their operations, automate their workflows, and more.

For your company to capitalize on digital transformation, let’s look at what low-code is and what it can do for your business.

What is LCAD?

Low-code application development (LCAD) is an approach to software development that significantly reduces the amount of traditional coding required and the time it takes to produce an application. Instead of writing an application line by line using a traditional programming language such as Java or Python, a low-code application is created out of visual ‘building blocks’ that abstracts functions into visual interfaces. Applications can be created by using these building blocks as the foundation of an application and then only writing custom code for those parts of the application that are unique.

According to Gartner, “a low-code application platform is an application platform that supports rapid application development, one-step deployment, execution and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions, such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages.”

Why low-code?

The current global pandemic has seen a sudden push for organizations to accelerate their digital transformation efforts. It forced companies to adopt a remote working strategy almost overnight, embracing new collaboration technologies for employees, while creating new channels of communication or an entirely new service model for customers.

Organisations are making digital transformation their top priority, as they seek ways to cope with the operational slowdown, ensure customer loyalty, and digitize the way they run their business.

However, digital transformation initiatives can be yet another demand on the I.T. budget. Low-code application development can reduce the time and thereby cost associated with application development, integration and workflow automation.

Forrester advises that low-code development platforms “enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment.”

Low-code vs No-Code

Are low-code and no-code the same thing?

There can be some confusion when it comes to differentiating between low-code and no-code development platforms. Gartner has viewed no-code applications as part of the low-code sphere, because they can be very similar at a certain level. Forrester, on the other hand, views no-code as just an aspiration and “only sometimes a reality”.

However, what’s clear is that both development platforms provide the means to create software through the use of visual interfaces, making development accessible and understandable to a wider audience. The end goal is to empower users and promote increased productivity and efficiency.

But that’s where most of the similarities end.

Low-code is primarily designed for professional developers. It allows them to design applications with minimal code through visual blocks, akin to Lego bricks, with a drag-and-drop graphical interface to create applications.

On the other hand, no-code is designed primarily for business users or citizen developers who want to solve basic functional use cases. These are often simple tools capable of building small applications, which means, anyone in the organization with minimum technical knowledge can quickly create business applications.

Because of its nature, no-code doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility, which can pose a problem for organizations who want to customize the functionality of their application.

If you want a more in-depth look at the difference between low-code and no-code, check out this blog: Low-code vs. No-Code. What’s the difference?

What are the benefits of using a low-code application platform?

  1. They’re cost effective

    One of the foremost reasons why companies turn to low-code application platforms is the considerably lower cost of development. With the promise of lower risk and a higher return on investment, LCAD reduces the barrier to software development.

    The fundamental reasoning behind the cost effectiveness of LCAD is simple. Writing less code means less time is required to develop an application. If less time is required then fewer development resources are required = reduced cost.

  2. Collaboration between business users and developers

    Low-code can bridge the gap between IT and business departments, as it allows even non-IT members of your organization to have an understanding of the development process.

    This allows both business users and developers to provide inputs to a project, offering valuable insights from different perspectives, while also facilitating collaboration between teams. Developers can focus on technical issues, while business users can think of how the software can benefit their customers and end-users, resulting in better productivity.

    For example, a business user may be able to map out a workflow using visual tools, whilst the developer implements the services behind the workflow. Each stakeholder is able to contribute to the project where they contribute the most value. The business user is able to contribute his/her expertise on the business process whilst the developer is able to execute the logic behind the workflow without having to write laborious and repetitive cookie cutter functions.

  3. Frontend developers can become full stack developers

    With low-code, development roles between the front-end and the back-end become increasingly blurred.

    A front-end developer working on a web-based application is typically proficient in HTML and JavaScript whilst a back-end developer's language of choice may be Java, Python, or a popular emerging language such as Kotlin.

    With a low code platform, especially one that features polyglot functionalities, programming is democratized, and a front-end developer can now use the programming languages they are familiar with to implement the user interface as well as the backend services of the application.

  4. Spend more time where it counts

    Additionally, since low-code can hasten development, teams can spend more time gathering requirements, collaborating with business users and stakeholders, conducting user acceptance testing, and writing functional tests.

  5. Better Agility

    As LCAD reduces the complexity of the development process, businesses can speed up their software delivery and development cycles, allowing them to adapt to market changes quickly. And when developers are quick on their feet, they’d be able to address customer needs as well.

  6. Better interaction with stakeholders/business owners

    With the aforementioned increased speed and development capabilities, developers would be able to quickly coordinate and work with their stakeholders – business owners, partners, or even their customers – allowing for a more flexible development process.

    As they get more and more involved, stakeholders would have a better understanding of development cycles and can contribute insights on how an application can directly impact the business.

    This also becomes crucial for companies who work in industries that have heavy regulation and are working under strict compliance. With low code, organizations can react faster to regulatory changes.

  7. Low Maintenance

    LCAD applications by their nature tend to be more modular and contain less code in each service.

    The service-oriented nature of LCAD makes the applications easier to maintain as their interfaces are known, and they can be extended or changed knowing the impact it will have on their dependencies.

    Inspecting a service is made easier by simply having less code to inspect. A developer that has been tasked with updating a service that was not involved in the original development of the application will be better placed to understand and update an application when it was created using a low-code platform.

Should you invest in a low-code application platform?

If you’re still on the fence on investing in low-code for your business, here are some of the factors that you should consider that may help you decide.

  1. You use a lot of custom applications.

    According to McAfee’s Custom Applications and IaaS Trends report, every company is now a software company, as the average enterprise has 464 custom applications deployed today.

    Try to look at your organization now. You may discover that you’re working with a lot of custom applications in order to perform business-critical functions. With low-code application development, it can be easier for your organization to address any issues or create entirely new applications to keep up with your employees’ or customers’ demands.

  2. You’re working with legacy systems.

    While there’s nothing wrong with working with legacy systems (they may be crucial to the operations of your business), they may not be able to keep up with the increasing and constantly changing demands of your business environment and the customers you serve.

    A modern, low-code application platform allows you to migrate from legacy platforms faster and results in a smaller more manageable code base with a modern services based architecture that is easier to maintain.

  3. You can’t react fast enough to the market.

    New business opportunities may be presenting themselves. However, if you can’t build the services and applications to take advantage of the opportunities, then you may be left behind or worse — a competitor may beat you to it.

    LCAD allows your business to be more agile and react accordingly with services and applications that are timely and relevant.

  4. You don’t have enough developers.

    In 2019, Gartner’s Emerging Risks Survey found that “talent shortage” was identified by organizations as the highest risk they’re currently facing. Regardless of company size getting access to sufficient skilled developers to build and maintain applications is a major challenge.

    With LCAD, however, development can become more manageable with less coding done by a smaller number of developers. Moreover, if the LCAD platform supports a polyglot methodology then it increases the size of the talent pool that you can access as the platform doesn’t lock you into a specific programming language and skill.

  5. Your applications don’t talk to each other.

    Low code platforms often build applications with RESTful service oriented architectures. This means that the application that you create will more likely be easily integrated with the other SaaS applications, databases, and other systems in use by your organisation.

  6. You can’t keep up with industry standards, compliance, and regulation.

    If you find yourself struggling with keeping your systems up-to-date with complex industry regulations, then you may need the service of an LCAD platform to make your operations more agile. This will give you more time to prepare for any compliance shifts within your industry.

What’s stopping businesses from going low-code?

Paul Vincent, Director and Senior Analyst at Gartner, says an organization may be hesitant to go low-code “due to doubts over its integration with existing IT systems, typically solved through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs)”.

“However, the vast majority of low-code suppliers today allow existing services to be called through APIs, as well as provide their own APIs for access to their data or services,” he adds.

TORO Cloud’s low-code iPaaS Martini solves this problem by saving developers from the trouble of writing repetitive and laborious cookie-cutter code to create and manage APIs, integrate applications, create application microservices, manage data, and to automate workflows.

On the other hand, businesses looking to leverage the operations of their business through the use of a low-code development platform to create custom line of business (LOB) applications can look at Bellini. This is an API-centric development environment for creating the user interface (UI) of web applications primarily intended for use as LOBs.

Bellini takes a low-code, drag-and-drop approach to building applications using reusable AngularJS components and binding them to backend APIs.

Used in conjunction with Martini, developers would now be able to create APIs and build the front end application using the API with Bellini.

Conclusion

So, should businesses start paying attention, or even care, about low-code?

The answer is a definitive and resounding YES.

Low-code application development can be a viable solution for businesses that are looking to overcome expensive IT infrastructure and the shortage of IT talent within an organization.

The utilization of a low-code platform would also enable the deeper involvement of business managers and owners with their development teams. Furthermore, if an organization is looking to integrate its legacy systems, provide better customer experiences, keep up with industry regulations, and stay ahead of the competition, going low-code may be the best solution for them.

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