All you ever wanted to know about low-code software development
|Richard Harris in Enterprise Tuesday, November 8, 2016|
“Low-code” has recently become a very hot topic. What is your definition of low-code software?
Let's begin by first defining the term. While “low-code” is the most common term, “no-code” is much more clear. No-code systems can be configured to meet business requirements without any manual coding. Similarly, one can say that “low-code” systems can be configured to meet business requirements by writing a "low" amount of code, but this begs the question of what constitutes “low.” Unfortunately, it has come to mean whatever the vendor's marketers would like it to mean. For instance, Salesforce is often referred to as "low-code" system, but typical implementations for mid-size businesses require thousands of lines of manual code, and these must be backed by unit tests that provide 75 percent code coverage, and it even has its own source code editor and proprietary programming language.
I would define low-code software as a system that can be configured to meet business requirements without writing more than a couple of dozen lines of code, apart from any code required to integrate with other systems through an API. However, very few of the current low-code systems meet this definition. More often, low-code software can be usually be interpreted as a warning signal that a vendor is attempting to package a system built on aging technology that requires rather a lot of manual programming as something new and shiny.
What is driving a need for “low-code” software today?
Companies have come to recognize that custom code not only increases the cost, time and uncertainty of the initial project implementation, but also creates long term problems. It is costly and complicated to maintain the code and manage frequent system upgrades going forward. These changes are time-consuming and liable to introduce bugs. With no-code systems, it's possible to quickly reconfigure apps, modifying logic flows and delivering new UI elements as needed. Meanwhile, IT can also take advantage of new features and integrations from their service provider partners, getting better performance and more functionality without needing to invest in infrastructure and software development.
Forrester Research sums up the benefits nicely in their report on low-code platforms: “Hand-coding is too slow to develop and deliver many of the applications that companies use to win, serve, and retain customers. Some firms are turning to new, ‘low-code’ application platforms that accelerate app delivery by dramatically reducing the amount of hand-coding required. Faster delivery is the primary benefit of these application platforms; they also help firms respond more quickly to customer feedback after initial software releases and provision mobile and multi-channel apps.”
How can you tell the truly “low-code” from those that are co-opting the term?
First and foremost, by asking the vendor how much code, if any, is required to perform specific types of customization. Additionally, businesses can evaluate with the vendor the maximum amount of code that will be required to complete the project. Provided below are key questions to ask while evaluating no-code/low-code claims:
- Custom Fields: Do the fields that you add behave exactly like the default fields that came with the system? For example, can you run reports on them? How much, if any, coding is required to add a custom field and run a report on it?
- Tables: How much, if any, coding is needed to add a custom table? For example, can you add a table of widgets, so that each widget record includes all the key information?
For scalability, can you add database indexes to the table,without having to write SQL code?
Do the tables that you add behave exactly like the default tables that came with the system?
- Table Relationships: How much, if any, coding is needed to add a custom table relationship? Does the system understand the relationship between custom tables that you have created and existing tables? For example, after creating a table of widgets, can you display all the widgets created by a particular individual within their user record?
- Business Rules: How much, if any, coding is needed to create custom rules and workflows which govern how the system behaves? For example, can you create rules with criteria:
Email the widget manager if more than seven widgets with a priority of urgent are created in a single day.
Change the assigned to field to the next available member of the sales team, on around-robin schedule, for any widgets which have an open status and urgent priority and the record has not changed in the past two business days.
When the status field of a widget changes to “resolved,” email the person who created it with the data from that widget, unless they were the person who changed the status to “resolved.” Include a hyperlink in any email to make further edit.
- Database Searches: How much, if any, coding is needed to define custom searches and then save them for later use? For example, what does it take to create a search with the following criteria:
All widgets that were created more than eight working hours ago, with urgent priority or greater and an expiration date less than three days from now.
Note: "working hours" excludes non-business hours for a particular team, for example if the LA team works 9 to 5, there might be 8 working hours between 4pm Friday and 4pm Monday.
- Scalability: Some vendors have cut corners in order to rapidly develop a no-code/low-code offering, with the result that scalability is limited. Ask for evidence and a written guarantee that the system can support the number of records, business rules and concurrent users that you need.
- To conclude: Always ask vendors to “prove it.” While evaluating a system, ask vendors to demonstrate exactly how they configure the system to address each question. Add configuration questions which reflect your particular processes, and let the system speak for itself when the vendor gives you a demonstration.
Once these questions are answered, the decision making process becomes less abstract and more manageable. Every organization has different standards and requires different functionality, so it’s important to have a configurable system that can adapt to your needs, both now and in the future, without the cost and uncertainty of custom programming.
In your opinion, what kind of companies are best fit to have a low-code platform? Which ones should not have a low-code platform?
Whether it is large or small in size, and whether its needs are simple or complex, a company will always benefit if their key requirements can be met by a low-code, or ideally a no-code platform. So the question is not really which companies are best fit to have a low-code platform, but whether there exists a stable, secure and scalable no-code/low-code platform that can meet their requirements.
The best way to answer this question is to ask vendors to respond to the above no code/low code evaluation criteria and the specific requirements for their project(s).
How does Agiloft play a role in the “low-code” sector?
The Agiloft platform is focused on building enterprise B2B applications without any manual coding. The company also sells complete product suites built on this platform, several of which are top-rated in their own right and all of which include the agile platform itself.
- It scales to meet the needs of the world's largest corporations with global deployments at Roche, Chevron and AT&T
- It is secure, subject to regular third-party security audits and has been deployed on the secure network at the US Air Force.
- It is robust with the highest ratings on B2B review sites such as Capterra and Trust Radius
Any future predictions in the next 6-12 months of where implementation of low-code platforms will be?
Over the next 6-12 months, we predict that no-code/low-code platforms will emerge to address an increasing range of market segments. The most active segments will be:
- Mobile app development, like V-Play
- Enterprise business process automation, like Agiloft
- Big data analytics and processing. Here the probable leader is not clear, but the core underlying technology will be Hadoop.
- Existing platform vendors will increasingly seek tore-brand themselves as low-code. In response, businesses will become savvier in learning how to distinguish true no-code/low-code platforms from smoke and mirrors demos.
- No-code platforms will be recognized as separate market segment to low-code platforms and low-code vendors will work to upgrade their platforms to compete in this market.
- A clear set of criteria will arise to allow the objective evaluation of no-code and low-code systems, similar to the way in which the CAIQ criteria may be used to evaluate the security of enterprise systems. These criteria will depend up on the market segment. For example, the criteria for mobile app development may be very different to the no-code/low-code evaluation criteria for enterprise business process automation.
Read more: https://www.agiloft.com/
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