Visual Software Development Platforms Make Application Development a Team Sport
While there are a plethora of these platforms bursting onto the software development scene these days, they are certainly not all created equal. Let's discuss.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
In a digitally connected world, competitive pressure on organizations to innovate has made cross-functional collaboration between business units and IT developers a strategic requirement.
Not surprisingly, corporate investment in software development is booming. This has led to increased interest by market analysts in assessing the strength of different visual software development platforms.
Also known as low-code and no-code, visually driven software development (VDS) empowers business experts to work closely with IT developers by abstracting code to a common language, automating devops and integration, and promoting agile methodologies for accelerating delivery.
The process eliminates the need for non-technical users to learn how to code, enlarging the pool of developers to a wider spectrum of participants who possess the mindset and skillset to solve problems. Increasing application development accessibility has the potential to increase ROI and accelerate time-to-market for new products and practices across the enterprise.
As a result, vendors are flooding the market with offerings, wrapping the popular “low-code” label around a wide range of tools and platforms.
There are so many options, each promising to hit the enterprise’s sweet spot of speed, collaboration, and control, that decision-makers may not understand which ones will score a win.
What follows are some guidelines on scouting out the best VSD platform features and capabilities that will deliver a scalable application that meets your organization’s needs without making life harder for the IT professionals who keep core systems up and running.
Look Beyond Low-Code or No-Code Labels
On the surface, these two terms for visual software development (VSD), no-code and low-code, may seem interchangeable. Both approaches employ a visual paradigm of model driven, drag-and-drop development environments to speed creation of software apps. Both provide at least some opportunity for developers to extend the core platform with custom connectors and front-end components.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that many “no-code” offerings are designed for single functions or have simplified scope, enabling business units to address isolated problems instead of enterprise-wide solutions. They have limited deployment options, lock companies out of mobile channels, restrict control over cloud-based resources, and do not provide capabilities for enterprise DevOps integration.
It’s true that no-code enables business users to bypass an overworked, backlogged IT department. However, when doing so, they are also bypassing the IT department’s protocols on managing and mitigating risks of digital interactions with third-party vendors or customers. By adopting siloed no-code development tools, business users are contributing to “shadow IT” that may expose their organization to data security risks.
Does that make “low-code” the obvious solution? Perhaps. But remember, not all VSD tools are created equal.
A “low-code” software development product may address only a segment of the software development lifecycle without capturing iterative feedback from business owners, developers, and end users. A platform solution that only touts increased development speed or more users without including process-oriented tools for communication and governance will put data, systems, and even careers at risk.
A Wide Range of Options in Today’s Marketplace
There are “low-code” business process management tools that, by definition, target a single vertical industry or cover just a segment of the application development process.
Node-Red, for example, promotes itself as a browser-based visual flow editor. While some tech commentators include that as an example of “low-code,” Node-Red focuses exclusively as a visual workflow tool for those building IoT applications.
Alexa Skill Blueprints, launched by Amazon, is another collaborative “no-code” tool that does one thing very well—empowering nontechnical users to build customized Alexa voice apps.
Also be aware that the underlying function of some BPM or specialized abstraction products (such as low-code/no-code integration platforms), is to service the core competency of the software they support. For example, a no-code integration platform enables visualizing moving data, but it doesn’t facilitate making full-stack applications.
Put another way, an integration platform will bridge two systems together, but it won’t incorporate satisfactory user experience in the end-result application.
Finally, none of these tightly focused visual software development tools are capable of driving transformational change in enterprise-wide operations, regardless of the market segment (such as healthcare, insurance, transportation, energy, or other industrial use cases), while also minimizing operational risk.
What’s Needed: A Place at the Table for Every Stakeholder
To offer true enterprise-grade capabilities, VSD platforms need tools sharing a common model to bring business closer to development and developers closer to the business aims and strategy. Achieving this ideal requires a balance between collaboration and governance.
You must find a transparent, integrated environment to collect the input and feedback of workforce experts, product owners, and end users as the project moves through an iterative cycle of development, testing, and deployment.
UI and UX specialists must weigh in with real-time feedback during the app development lifecycle to ensure that the enterprise’s brand promise is being met by the new applications and that it delivers an appropriate customer experience. Integration specialists ensure that the new applications are consuming the correct APIs and DevOps engineers orchestrate deployment to the appropriate public, private, or hybrid cloud.
All this input must be collected, organized, and searchable according to rules of governance. These are the software standards, the guardrails if you will, that enable IT professionals to minimize risk while securing performance and availability of core digital systems.
Multiple Points of Access for both Citizen Developers and IT Pros
Another sign of a strong, versatile, VSD platform is one that integrates requirements from business users with IT’s task-based, agile approach to project management. Next, it enables both sides of the organization to iterate throughout the process of software creation, testing, deployment, and ongoing maintenance.
Finally, your VSD checklist should also check for a range of monitoring tools that enables IT to oversee the controlled deployment, robust performance, and ongoing operation of the enterprise’s application portfolio. The ability to troubleshoot app performance, whether running locally or in the cloud, enables digital solutions to operate across the enterprise. Such application quality and performance monitoring (AQM and APM), plus automated test suites (ATS), should be integrated into every leading low-code platform.
Successful application development is a collaborative pursuit. The wrong VSD platform has the effect of sidelining one side of the enterprise. But the right VSD platform that focuses holistically on the entire software development process has the potential to turn everyone into champions.
About the author
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.