A developer's primary job is to work seamlessly, rapidly, and accurately to create software, apps, or websites that match business requirements. Unfortunately, there is a huge margin for error if you have to write lines and lines of complex code. Additionally, many basic tasks in the use of data-related software and other solutions, require extensive coding knowledge that many employees simply don't have. One solution to this is low-code software and development.
Table of Contents
- What is Low-Code?
- How Was Low-Code Developed?
- Low-Code vs. No-Code
- Are Low-Code Platforms for You?
- The Next Steps for Low-Code Tools
- Xplenty for Low-Code Data Integration
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What is Low-Code?
“Low-code” is a catchall term for web, app, or software development that requires little in the way of coding knowledge. Low-code development is usually accomplished through templates and user-friendly, intuitive, drag-and-drop interfaces that allow developers to abstract away much of the underlying complexity. Because low-code tools are simpler than traditional programming, it’s also easier to write cleaner code and debug any issues.
Users with little programming experience can take advantage of enterprise-grade low-code development tools to create surprisingly complex applications with rich functionality or use advanced business software that would typically require in-depth knowledge of a particular language. In addition, users who are already familiar with one or more programming languages can easily adapt to the model-based logic of low-code tools.
How Was Low-Code Developed?
Developers have long struggled to resolve a major discrepancy: on one hand, the complexity and ambiguity inherent in natural languages spoken by humans; on the other, the harsh, unforgiving logic of programming languages. (For a quick and funny example, just consider the shampoo bottle instructions “Lather, rinse, and repeat”—humans understand this to mean two times, while a computer might go into an infinite loop.) In particular, developers expend a great deal of time and effort on the mentally taxing process of hand-coding and debugging code line by line. Low-code development tools are an attempt to bridge this divide by letting users think and program in a manner that more closely approaches the way they do in real life, without having to learn the syntax and quirks of a particular language.
Historically, programming languages have been classified into a particular generation:
- First-generation languages are machine-level languages (essentially the 0s and 1s of binary code).
- Second-generation languages are low-level assembly languages that are slightly more abstract (e.g. using English words to represent commands), but that still have a one-to-one correspondence with machine language.
Low-code development tools are part of the fourth generation of programming languages, which represent further advancement and abstraction over third-generation languages. This includes languages that are specialized for a particular use case, such as database management or mathematical optimization—and also low-code development.
The origins of the low-code development can be traced back to 2011, with the publication of a report about new productivity platforms for custom application development. However, it wasn’t until 2014 when the market research company Forrester issued the report “New Development Platforms Emerge For Customer-Facing Applications,” which described this new phenomenon and coined the term “low-code.”
Around this time, IT research and advisory firm Gartner also coined the well-known term “citizen developer,” defined as “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT”—in other words, someone who builds business apps for internal consumption without being part of the developer team. Low-code platforms and citizen developers are inextricably interlinked: the latter depends on the former in order to do their jobs.
As it stands today, the adoption of low-code development tools is already commonplace—and growing fast. According to a 2019 report by OutSystems, 41 percent of companies say that they are already using a low-code development platform (LCDP), while another 10 percent say that they’re planning to use one in the near future. Even massive tech giants are jumping into the low-code space, with solutions such as Microsoft Power Apps and Oracle APEX.
Low-Code vs. No-Code
Low-code and no-code development platforms are frequently conflated or confused, although they’re not quite the same thing. As their names suggest, the low-code vs. no-code difference is as follows:
- Low-code development requires a minimum of coding skill in order to successfully deploy an application—either from the users themselves or with the support of full-fledged programmers.
- No-code development is even more abstract and user-friendly than low-code development, offering a user experience entirely based on visual development that requires no coding knowledge whatsoever. To successfully use no-code tools, however, users should still be logically minded and be able to conceptualize the application from start to finish.
Essentially, the main difference between low-code and no-code is that low-code platforms are more complex in the sense that they require a bit of programming knowledge. This difference has trade-offs: no-code platforms are more accessible to a wider audience, while low-code platforms can be more powerful by allowing users to hand-code some parts of the application.
Because they can popularize and democratize the process of application development to the entire organization, no-code tools are becoming increasingly popular, even the preferred choice over low-code development environments in some cases. Want the full story on low-code vs. no-code? Check out our article “Low-Code vs. No-Code: The Real Difference.”
Are Low-Code Platforms for You?
So far, we’ve gone over what low-code app development is, the history of low-code platforms, and the difference between low-code and no-code. But one question still remains: are low-code platforms right for you? In this section, we’ll discuss the benefits of low-code development tools and how to find the best low-code tool, so you can make the choice that fits your organization.
The Benefits of Low-Code Application Development Tools
According to Paulo Rosado, CEO of OutSystems, low-code platforms may enable users to deliver applications up to 10 times faster than traditional application development, with organizations “adapting their systems at the speed of business.” There are many advantages to using low-code development tools, including:
- Cost-effectiveness: Low-code development tools are often more cost-effective than the alternative of traditional application development for a variety of reasons:
- You don’t have to hire an in-house development team, which is a big selling point for organizations that don’t specialize in application development.
- When new employees join the company, they can learn low-code development tools much faster than an unfamiliar programming language.
- Applications can often be developed much more quickly with low-code tools than with traditional development. The application’s users will enjoy the benefits sooner, while the developers can spend more time being productive on other tasks.
- Ease of use: As we’ve discussed, low-code development tools are much more user-friendly, with a gentler learning curve and simpler user interface, than traditional application development. For example, many low-code platforms streamline and unite the functions of multiple programs used by professional developers.
- Business agility: Thanks to their lower cost and ease of use, low-code platforms also have a ripple effect by improving the agility of the organization as a whole. Low-code developers can shorten the development process considerably, rolling out new applications more quickly in response to changes in the rapidly evolving business landscape.
- Stronger IT governance: “Shadow IT”—hardware, software, and mobile apps that employees use without the permission of their IT department—is a major problem for organizations looking to improve their IT governance. However, the origins of shadow IT often lie in employees’ dissatisfaction with the enterprise applications available to them. Low-code tools let users take application development into their own hands and build the software they need to do their jobs, while also giving you more IT visibility and oversight.
Related Reading: The Top 5 Benefits of Low-Code Development Platforms
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Use Cases for Low-Code Tools
That said, what are some of the use cases for enterprise low-code application platforms? The overarching theme of these application development platforms is digital transformation: increasing the use of automation and making the organization's workflows more efficient through business process management (BPM).
For example, one popular use case for low-code tools is automatically generating connectors and application programming interfaces (APIs) that integrate two or more enterprise apps. Traditionally, building an API from scratch is an expensive and lengthy endeavor: according to an estimate by DreamFactory, it might require 30 working days and $20,000 to build a simple API with a U.S.-based developer. However, by enabling rapid application development with a much shorter lifecycle, low-code tools can dramatically shrink this timeline and enact business transformation, helping organizations save money and deploy projects more quickly.
The low-code platform vendor Mendix has highlighted four of the most noteworthy low-code use cases:
- Innovation apps that take advantage of new technologies, products, and channels (e.g. artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things).
- Customer engagement apps to provide a better customer experience (e.g. mobile applications and web applications for claims management, customer portals, etc.)
- Operational efficiency apps that encode business logic to enact process automation, reducing or eliminating manual paper-based processes.
- Legacy migration apps to replace old, outdated applications that are no longer sufficient for users' needs.
How to Find the Best Low-Code Development Tool
There’s no shortage of low-code tools out there—so how can you find the best low-code development tool for you? To answer that question, you first need to determine who will be the primary users, and what the primary use cases will be. Will users tend to be more tech-savvy and independent, comfortable with a greater amount of coding, or will they be business users who require more abstraction?
Below are just a few of our guidelines on what you might want to look for when choosing a low-code platform:
- Versatile: First, you need to figure how you want to use your low-code platform. Should it be purpose-built for a specific use case, or more general in scope? Remember that your needs may change over the lifetime of the platform. In particular, look for low-code tools that can build both simple and more complex applications.
- User-friendly: Of course, all low-code development tools are intended to be user-friendly, but some of them fit the bill more than others. Look for a low-code platform that has excellent documentation and support, so that new users can quickly get up to speed and get help with any issues that arise.
- Cloud-based: Cloud computing has become a best practice for businesses of all sizes and industries: 96 percent of organizations now use the cloud in some form or fashion. Using a cloud-based low-code platform has benefits in terms of scalability and data security.
Related Reading: The 11 Best Low-Code Development Platforms
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The Next Steps for Low-Code Tools
With all that said, what’s next on the horizon for low-code development tools?
It seems likely that the many benefits of low-code tools will encourage more and more companies to jump on the bandwagon. According to a 2019 Forrester report, the low-code platform market will have an annual growth rate of 40 percent, reaching $21.2 billion in 2022—that’s an increase of more than 500 percent from $3.8 billion in 2017.
As the fiercely competitive business landscape continues to evolve, demand for low-code platforms will rise in order to cut costs and improve agility. Of course, traditional application development still has a role to play in this forecast: the IT department will be needed both to support users of low-code platforms and to create more complex applications that can’t yet be built with current low-code technologies.
No matter what the future holds, we here at Xplenty are excited to be a part of it—which is why we offer our own low-code data integration solution.
Xplenty for Low-Code Data Integration
Xplenty is a powerful, mature, feature-rich platform for low-code data integration. The simple drag-and-drop Xplenty interface makes it easy for users to build data pipelines to their cloud data warehouse with just a few clicks. With dozens of pre-built integrations, Xplenty helps businesses unite their enterprise data sources in their ETL (extract, transform, load) processes, regardless of your technical skill level.
Want to see the benefits that low-code data integration with Xplenty can bring to your organization? Get in touch with the Xplenty team of data integration experts for a chat about your business needs and objectives, or to start your free trial of the Xplenty platform.