2021-09-28 – Chris Cooney
Although “low code” and “no code” have become the latest buzzwords in the tech industry, these concepts are actually not new. WordPress and Shopify were among the first low code platforms available and have been around since 2003 and 2004 respectively.
No code platforms contain all the code you would need to create an application. The code is encapsulated into blocks and users create simple applications by connecting various blocks using a simple drag and drop UI. The benefit of no code is that anyone can be trained to use the platform and build simple applications since no coding experience is required. Unfortunately, these platforms are quite limited in what they allow users to develop. This is where low code development comes into play.
What Is Low Code Development?
In addition to the functionality provided by no code platforms, low code platforms allow for users to extend the functionality of the platform using custom plugins and extensions. With low code platforms, you can relegate common, repetitive, non-high value code to the platform and focus the development time and money on writing value-adding code. Unlike no code platforms, low code platforms do require some programming knowledge and experience.
There are several factors driving the increase in interest in low code development. The shortage of skilled developers is forcing organizations to find ways to limit their reliance on professional development and turn non-IT employees into citizen developers. Increased competition and pressure to reduce costs and get to market quickly make the potential reduction in cost and development time offered by low code development very attractive to organizations. According to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms 2020 report , by 2023, more than half of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low code platform as one of their strategic application development platforms.
Are Low Code Platforms a Threat to Developers?
One would think that low code platforms are a threat to the livelihood of software developers, but that is far from the truth. Firstly, low code platforms are complex software products that must be developed and maintained by developers, so already there is an employment opportunity for developers. Secondly, low code platforms require plugins and extensions to add custom functionality that users may require. The general industry trend is for low code platforms to have a developer platform where developers can build and sell third-party applications to their users. Shopify is a great example of a company that follows this model, and its ecosystem of third-party applications generated $12.5 billion in revenue in 2020 . Finally, there will also be opportunities for developers to help organizations test, maintain, secure, and scale their low code applications.
The premise of low code development is to remove the need for writing common, repetitive code. This means that developers whose work can be done by a low code platform will be automated out of their job. To not fall victim to this, developers should make a concerted effort to understand the low code trend and the benefits and limitations of low code platforms. Low code tools should be part of the developer’s skills toolbox. Understanding when and why to use low code will enable increased productivity and usefulness as the developer will have more time to write code for unique functionality that actually generates value for the customer.
Ultimately, low code platforms will not replace developers. There will always be a need for enterprise solutions that are highly secure, performant, maintainable, and scalable. For such requirements, organizations will turn to developers with strong coding skills while utilizing low code platforms for simpler, less complex applications.
Opportunities for Developers
Low code platforms are a low-risk, low-cost way of trying out new ideas. Developers can use them to build prototypes and MVPs of products. The flexibility and speed associated with low code development improve time to market, enabling developers to get feedback from customers quickly. Investment can then be made into developing a scalable, secure application once the product has been proven.
Other use cases for low code include building applications to automate business processes and workflows (robotic process automation), building simple mobile and web applications that don’t require complex logic such as customer engagement applications and internal employee or partner-facing applications, and replacing or extending legacy enterprise applications.
As the popularity of low code tools increases, their capabilities will also increase. While this will allow organizations to do a lot more using the low code platform, the platform itself could become so complex that it will require experience and understanding of software engineering to be able to actually effectively use it, an example being Microsoft’s Power Apps.
How to Select a Low Code Tool
The ecosystem of low code/no code products available on the market is broad and complex. There are many products available and new ones being released frequently. Low code platforms fall into various paradigms, namely website and e-commerce store building, mobile application development, integration and workflow automation, internal tooling, and enterprise application development.
When it comes to low code tools for websites and e-commerce stores, the main criteria that one needs to look at are cost, ease of use, and the ecosystem of plugins and third-party applications available for enhancing functionality. Based on that set of criteria WordPress and Shopify stand out as clear choices for this category, with Wix being a close contender. Other tools in this category include Squarespace, Webflow, and Scapic. Many low code platforms for mobile development also provide the functionality for building web applications.
For mobile app development, the important things to consider are cost, the ease of use of the drag and drop UI, and availability of design templates and a wide range of fonts, icons, and styles to achieve the design you want. Depending on the application you are building it will also be important to consider what third-party integrations the platform provides as well as what type of application you can build (android vs iOS or both) using it. There are many tools available on the market in this category. Thunkable, Bubble, Appypie, Adalo, and AppInstitute are very popular, established, and widely respected platforms.
Integration and Workflow Automation
Integration low code tools allow you to automate workflows without writing any code. An example of a use case is completing a sequenced flow of actions in response to a trigger, etc. When evaluating integration low code tools, it is important to determine whether they offer support for the applications that you use in your business processes, what processes they have the capability to automate, and what support they offer for identifying processes for automation. It is also essential to evaluate the platform based on the capabilities you may need, such as intelligence to perform automation based on conditions you set or the ability to automate multiple workflows with a single trigger. Zapier, Integromat, Mailchimp, Parabola, and Airtable are all popular choices. UI Path, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism are considered the leaders in robotic process automation (RPA).
Low code platforms for building internal tools are generally targeted toward people with existing development skills. Things to consider when selecting a tool in this category are ease of use, ability to try features for free before paying for a subscription, pricing, whether you can apply custom styling and branding to the application you develop, how the application gets deployed, support for third-party integrations, and the email support the platform provides. The leading tools in this category are Retool, UI Bakery, Stacker, Jet Admin, Internal.io, and Appgyver.
Enterprise Low Code Platforms
Low code tools for the enterprise market have increased in complexity due to the need to accommodate such a wide range of potential needs and use cases. When evaluating these tools it is important to consider: