Applications have become increasingly time-consuming and costly to build. However, a new trend has arisen where businesses can design, build, customize, and deploy business apps with little to no coding. In the last several years, low-code platforms (a term coined by Forrester Research) have gained in popularity with many businesses—particularly with small and medium-sized businesses. Many of these platforms have point-and-click, drag-and-drop components. These components include existing templates, forms, tables, and other pre-built elements, which let people build a working app relatively quickly. This results in “citizen developers”—business users who take it upon themselves to create their own apps.
Can It Be No-Code?
While low-code development allows people to simplify the app-building process, some platforms still require some coding knowledge. In order to utilize a platform to its fullest potential, companies should have developers in place with coding knowledge. Some needed customizations or features may require additional code.
Even if some low-code platforms require a certain amount of coding, these platforms can still be useful for both business users and developers. Low-code platforms enable individuals with less coding expertise to accomplish tasks that would otherwise be out of their reach. And for developers, these platforms save time spent in rebuilding blocks, so that developers can focus their energy on expanding projects with additional coding.
Platforms on the Market
There are currently several low-code platforms on the market for both customer-facing and business applications. Agilepoint, K2, Micropact, Mendix, OutSystems, and Nintex are just some of the more popular platforms in this emerging space. Let’s look at OutSystems and Nintex as specific examples.
Outsystems is a highly popular low-code platform. It offers a wide range of drag-and-drop elements, simple integrations, and easy deployment. You can get a simple interface deployed on the Web within minutes with their beta Web version of the platform (Windows download available). As you can see below, there many options to choose from when designing an application. While you can code to further customize a page and integrate with other technologies, the page below was developed without any code. I was able to deploy instantly after I made changes, and they were immediately reflected through the link associated with my account.
The developed application is also mobile-compatible.
Additionally, Outsystems offers Silk UI, which is a fully responsive framework with dozens of ready-to-use patterns that can be easily dragged-and-dropped to build customizable UIs without any coding. (This platform offers several features that cannot be covered within the scope of this blog post, but I highly recommend you explore all that this platform has to offer, and take the time to determine if this is the platform that fits your project’s needs.)
Nintex is a business process management (BPM) platform. BPM is a systematic approach to making an organization’s workflow more efficient—and a lot of organizational efficiency is automation. This platform is one of the many examples of low-code automation platforms where users can create a simple workflow with the UI elements provided.
Businesses that want to use the platform’s advanced features to customize their workflow can still do so through their SDKs and integrate with other platforms. As powerful as low-code platforms are, there are some considerations when choosing the right tool.
Coding Requirements. If the intent is to avoid as much code as possible, some platforms may not be suitable. Some low-code platforms actually require a lot more coding than expected. Sometimes you can end up writing quite a bit of code, depending on the customization or integrations required.
Constraints on Development. There may be constraints on what you can develop. If a feature is needed that isn’t part of the platform, additional code will be required. But even if you are willing to utilize resources to develop that feature on top of the platform, it can be difficult to incorporate the feature—or worse, the platform may not support it.
Maintainability. Depending on the platform, controlling for performance and maintenance becomes infinitely more difficult, since factors are dependent on the code base of the platform. Additionally, any bug found that is not related to code developed in-house will need to go through the developers of the platform, which may or may not take a long time to resolve.
Scalability: Some platforms are intended for smaller applications, and may not be suitable for scaling to larger projects.
Programming Language: Some platforms have proprietary languages for development. For example, Zoho Creator requires knowledge of Deluge (Data Enriched Language for the Universal Grid Environment), an online scripting language integrated with Zoho Creator. Therefore, a company may need to train its developers, hire new developers, or contract the work out to a third-party developer/company.
Low-code development is great for businesses. It takes care of simple functions so that other, more important tasks can be addressed. Both customer-facing and business applications can be developed relatively quickly. However, as noted above, there are a few important factors to consider when choosing a platform for your organization. When a platform is chosen that best fits a business’ requirements, the benefits of the platform can outweigh the costs.