What Is Low-Code
Learn what is Low-Code, how to utilize it to achieve business goals, and also the limitations of Low-Code.
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Today’s business world is very competitive and challenging. Organizations face higher demand for initiatives in digital transformation. Digital transformation enables businesses to become more agile and innovative. This requires qualified developers who can work rapidly and accurately to create complex business applications and processes. Handwritten code has some risks associated with that as it can have longer delivery times, and the changes can be very costly. Also, the outcome is highly dependent on skilled developers.
Most organizations are looking for developers, which has created a shortage of skilled developers. The lack of experienced developers is hitting the productivity of the digital transformation journey, which has forced organizations to look for alternatives. This article by Betsy Atkins on Forbes claims that the most disruptive trend in 2021 is low-code.
What Is Low-Code?
Low-Code is a faster and more robust approach to develop software-based systems. It allows visually designing and building complete solutions using an interactive graphical user interface with little or no coding knowledge. The low code developers may require some level of custom coding knowledge to customize the components or interactions within them. Compared to traditional programming approaches, a low-code approach takes advantage of drag and drop elements, pre-built connectors, configurable components, visual IDEs, and so on.
So, a low-code development environment allows fewer technical users such as business users and citizen developers to develop applications based on their requirements. Also, it enables faster delivery of applications with minimal hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in development environment setup, testing, deployment, and maintenance.
At the same time, low-code can improve the productivity of skilled developers by raising the level of abstraction and letting them dig into details only when necessary.
We can categorize low-code application development into two categories.
Low-Code Application Development Platforms
These platforms help businesses rapidly turn their ideas into mobile or web applications. They are driven by visual programming, automatic code generation, and AI-powered automation principles across the entire application development lifecycle, giving rise to the `citizen developer` concept. Mendix, Microsoft Power Platform, and OutSystems are some of the leaders in this space.
Low-Code Application Integration Platforms
These platforms are helping developers to bridge applications together by visual development methodologies. They allow integrating cloud to cloud or cloud to on-premises applications and exchange data easily. Also, these systems provide a set of platform features such as observability, analytics, logging, security, identity management, high availability, and disaster recovery. Informatica Intelligent Cloud Services, Boomi AtomSphere platform, Workato, and MuleSoft are some of the leaders in this space.
When To Use Low-Code?
Low-code platforms allow delivering applications faster than traditional approaches, which require manual coding. But how can we decide whether using a low-code development approach gives the competitive advantage we are looking for? Some of the basic signs on when we can use low-code are as follows.
The requirements for rapid deliverables due to the constantly changing nature of the digital business today are a key sign of this. Faster turnaround time is essential to win business opportunities, and low-code platforms help with this.
The lack of skilled software developers is another good reason to look for low-code-based platforms. Most companies don’t have experienced developers internally who can solve complex business integration problems. But with a low-code approach, even citizen developers can easily turn their ideas into a working piece of software.
Lack of time to focus on innovation due to major maintenance work is another reason to start using low-code platforms. With the use of low-code platforms, maintenance efforts can be significantly reduced as they provide easy integrations with many systems, one-click deployments, and AI-powered observability and analytics features.
If a company is experiencing Shadow IT where different employees use various applications and infrastructure with company data without a proper verification process from the central IT, low-code platforms can be used to solve that problem. Suppose there is a low-code platform that is approved and governed by the central IT department of the company. In that case, it can be used efficiently at each level of the company without violating company regulations.
Benefits of Low-Code Application Development
Rapid development is the key advantage of low-code application development, but there are a lot of other benefits as well.
- Improved productivity - Developing applications faster means improving the productivity of the entire business and leads to faster time in innovation. This gives a very high competitive advantage for digital businesses.
- Visual modeling - Low-code development has resulted in the visual representation of the entire application flow, and that allows citizen developers to understand the design quickly and easily.
- Better integrations - Integrating legacy applications and other systems is one of the key challenges faced by the digital transformation process. It requires in-depth knowledge of external systems to develop applications from scratch to connect with them. But with low code (with a few clicks and some customizations), these integrations can be done easily.
Limitations of Low-Code
Although low-code-based approaches have a lot of advantages, there are some limitations and trade-offs associated with them.
Limited functionality support is one of the key drawbacks of most low-code platforms. When we need something beyond the usual visual capabilities, most low-code platforms provide code-based customization capabilities. But these customizations are sometimes more complex and harder to understand than an application written from scratch.
The ability to connect with external systems and services is critical most of the time. But if the low-code platform has only a limited set of connectors or connection points, that will block future business requirements.
Debugging is one of the most important aspects of normal programming as it allows developers to stop the software execution at some arbitrary point and dig deeper to find the root cause for issues. But most of the time, low-code platforms hide all these complexities from developers. When something is not working as expected, it will be much harder to identify the issues in low-code platforms unless they have sophisticated observability capabilities.
Performance issues also can be a problem with some low-code platforms. Because of the generic nature of the generated code, sometimes the systems can operate in an unacceptable manner when the load is high.
Security and reliability are other key issues associated with low-code platforms. If the system is written from scratch, we know the system inside and out. But we are not in full control, and it is difficult to identify all the vulnerabilities it can have.
Also, selecting one low-code platform for a business can result in vendor lock-in and cause some limitations down the road. Some platforms generate code, which is impossible to maintain outside the platform. In contrast, others generate code that is in a well-known language, which can be maintained even without the low-code platform.
So before choosing a low-code platform, it is important to check for customization capabilities, the ability to integrate with external systems, and how it performs under extreme conditions.
Is Low-Code the future?
In the Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms 2020, Gartner predicted: “By 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65 percent of application development activity.” Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Forrester estimated that the total market for low-code development platforms would grow more than 40 percent per year to hit $21.2 billion by 2022.
Even though low-code is not a new thing, the pandemic has reignited its value. Low-code systems proved their worth by helping businesses rapidly build solutions key to their digital transformation efforts.
Low-Code Is Not Enough
Although low code brings many key advantages, manual coding is not the hardest part of developing applications. Managing the complexity of the entire development process is the hardest thing to achieve. So what we really need is a platform that goes beyond the low-code capabilities that deliver everything required for complex business application development. Such modern application development platforms offer visual development of the application, enable the extensions to the application via the custom codes, and handle or automate the entire application lifecycle within the same platform. Some key features of such systems are:
- AI-assisted development: This can include developer guidance via suggestions on next steps, increase productivity via smart auto completions and automatic data mapping, prevention of non-functional defects by providing predictions on performance and security insights, etc.
- Mechanisms to avoid technical errors and consistency issues: Real-time error detection, automatic test generation with AI-powered sample data sets, in-built testing capabilities, etc., help the developers to verify the correctness of their application easily and deliver quality output without looking for other testing mechanisms.
- Single click cloud deployment: The ability to deploy the application to a production-grade cloud environment directly from the development platform itself enables developers with any expertise level to deliver their applications to the targeted users.
- Collaborative development: This brings the creative potential of the organization’s teams to rapidly deliver the applications to the users without going back and forth.
We hope this article provides sufficient information to learn about what is low-code and when to use it based on features and pros and cons. It is not about replacing traditional software development approaches or skilled software developers. It is there to fill the gaps in traditional approaches to delivering rapid solutions to cater to the increasing demands in the digital transformation journey.
With the advances in modern application development platforms, the low-code space is constantly improving with a number of other additional features to bring the best value to users.
WSO2’s Choreo platform has been developed with the intention of supporting these additional features and is a next-generation iPaaS solution that addresses the entire application integration and API management lifecycle. It is completely based on the Ballerina programming language, which is open source.
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