When are low-code approaches the right choice?

What place do low-code solutions hold today? And what does abstraction's move toward no-code mean for low-code solutions? Is there still a place for low-code?

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A downward pointing arrow and a bracket, symbolizing "low-code".

Image: Sofy x Natcha Rochana, Shutterstock

In earlier blog posts, we’ve talked extensively about the the No-Code Revolution that is reshaping how enterprises approach technology. Businesses can develop and support full-stack applications without a single line of code. It’s no wonder that organizations are increasingly turning to these tools. No-Code platforms and tools enable businesses to save money on development resources, simplify operations, and deliver faster. 

But what about low-code?

No-code isn’t the only way businesses are leveraging abstraction to increase efficiency. Abstraction works on a continuum. While no-code is a complete abstraction from code-based development, low-code involves abstraction where it’s most impactful while giving the ability to use code for additional flexibility.

Think for a moment about a modern car. The modern electric car can be considered no-code—there’s almost no mechanical maintenance that the owner needs to concern themselves with, while a gas-powered car can have modifications made to the engine and require some standard maintenance and upkeep like changing filters and oil. Depending on your organization’s technology stack, existing IT competencies, and goals, it may be more appropriate to choose one over the other. 

Low-code isn’t necessarily a compromise or a less-than-ideal approach. If flexibility is important, and your organization has the developer skill available, low-code may even be a better fit. 

A brief history of low-code

In 2014, US-based market research company Forrester coined the term low-code to describe a burgeoning category of platforms that was changing the way development was done, and the company has covered its expansion extensively since.

Since then, the adoption and demand for low-code have only grown, increased by the tumultuous staffing exacerbated by the pandemic. By the end of 2021, low-code accounted for 75% of application development while being just 44% the year before.

As more companies begin to see the value of leveraging abstraction to democratize tech and empower citizen developers, low-code and no-code tools are being increasingly adopted. Actions that were once limited to a software developer and a terminal are now abstracted for the use of many more.

Low-code tools have revolutionized how organizations deliver solutions. It’s no longer necessary to write thousands of lines of code or worry about developer resource constraints.

What do we mean by low-code?

So, what exactly is low-code? At its most basic, low-code refers to a solution where code is necessary in small cases while otherwise being mostly code-less. Low-code tools allow users to develop solutions primarily through declarative means without interacting with the code base. Think clicks, not code. This usually includes a drag-and-drop interface that allows developers to leverage codeless building blocks to assemble most of a solution combined with a layer of code to add customization and flexibility.

Coding brackets surrounded by the "no" bar

Image: Sofy x Ahasofy, Shutterstock

Isn’t no-code always better?

There are no-code solutions out there, like Wix and Squarespace, where users can quickly create a responsive and aesthetically pleasing websites using templates, drag-and-drop canvas, plugins, and pre-built integration. For many businesses this is sufficient—all development is abstracted.

Then there are low-code solutions. WordPress (with which this site is built!0 can also leverage templates, edit text, and control navigation without code, but the code capability distinguishes it from its competitors. In the case of WordPress, the code is the benefit, and why it’s the most popular website platform in the world

To turn a site into the modern experience customers are accustomed to, the customization of aspects like JavaScript and styling languages are a must. The code allows websites that go above and beyond what can be built by completely abstracted tools. In these cases, no-code may not be the best option.

Low-code perks

Similarly to no-code, low-code brings with it a variety of perks. These include:

  • Faster development: Like no-code, low-code enables quicker development than manual coding approaches. More abstraction and standardization lead to a quicker development process. Developers can quickly iterate and build proof-of-concepts to demonstrate to the business. This enables quick wins that can be delivered with less work. 
  • Decreased operating expenses: While the license cost of a low-code solution may be more expensive than an open-source development tool, it’s made up by using far fewer people and resources. A business analyst, empowered by a good low-code tool, can do the work of a front and back end development team in less time. This is not to say that special attention should not be paid to system architectures, but the repetitive building blocks of development can be abstracted.
  • Added flexibility: Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the preceding two benefits in this list are also benefits of abstraction in general. Flexibility comes from the portion that is not abstracted. Low-code tools specifically give the developers access to use code directly to change the standard behavior or appearance. This allows for greater extensibility that organizations with access to developers would appreciate.
  • Direct integrations: Integration is a little simpler with low-code tools. Many feature pre-defined integrations between popular services, removing the need for custom integration building and testing. For example, WordPress may have a plug-in to easily integrate, for example, Mailchimp to embed landing pages, or share contacts.
  • Citizen developers: While going low-code doesn’t mean opening administrative rights to just anyone, it allows businesses to foster citizen developers within their organization. These are individuals who have a crystal clear understanding of business objectives and a limited understanding of the technical inner workings of application development. Citizen developers, empowered by low-code, can quickly develop and implement while being guard-railed against the standard issues that come with code platforms. The fostering and development of citizen developers can lead to less reliance on technical resources and a quicker development feedback loop. Be warned, though: Just because something is low-code, doesn’t mean it’s easy or doesn’t create technical debt.
  • Greater support: Where an open-source, code-based development platform will have plenty of stack exchange threads and documentation, a low-code platform will have a support team, training resources, or even certification paths. The increased price of a license comes with more benefits and greater support.

Popular Low-Code Tools

Like no-code, low-code solutions continue to grow. Here are a few of today’s popular low-code tools:

  • Salesforce: A cloud-based software platform with a market-leading CRM. Salesforce provides rich, out-of-the-box apps to accommodate most use cases while allowing the flexibility to extend and build using declarative and code-based development.
  • Kissflow: A business process management tool with pre-built templates for common integrations and tasks between applications. 
  • Microsoft PowerApps: Allows users to use templates and a drag-and-drop builder to create apps in days, not months, and leverage code plugins for the flexibility code offers. 
  • Outsystems: With Outsystems, users can create powerful apps with low-code, including chat bots, mobile, and web apps. A powerful drag and drop IDE, connectors to other services, and built in application lifecycle manager simplify building and scaling applications.

Conclusion

Low-code can benefit any organization looking to scale applications quickly without the complexity of custom development while still being able to leverage their in-house developer resources. Both no-code and low-code have become a staple in organizations’ technology stack and their reach and appeal will only grow. However, given abstraction’s seemingly inevitable move toward no-code mobile app testing solutions, it may be time to ask yourself whether low-code is the key to success, or whether a fully no-code approach may be best for your organization.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed above are those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official beliefs or positions of Sofy.

 

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