If you look at the modern business landscape, there are countless examples of emerging start-ups stealing competitive advantage by placing smart software applications at the core of their operations. Netflix, Uber and Airbnb are the often cited examples.
Such disrupters have many enterprise business chiefs on edge. How does an established business square up to the onslaught of new digital competitors that threaten to disrupt their entire industry? Management can’t simply tell the IT team to develop better or more software and make the business ‘go digital.’
For a start, businesses often don’t have a clear vision of what services they need to digitise or of what functionality they require to be present in new applications. And in any case, many IT teams struggle to keep up with the demands of the business as it is.
Johan den Haan, Mendix’s CTO, says one option is to drop traditional rigid application development processes for more flexible ones, with many IT teams forming “innovation groups” that use low-code application development platforms for iterative, fast and efficient custom application development.
Q: What is low-code application development?
A: Low-code development abstracts away manual, tedious coding with visual modelling and reusable components. This reduces the time to deliver custom web and mobile applications and speeds application development; it’s up to ten times faster than traditional approaches. Low-code also allows for a spectrum of developers, from professional developers to so called ‘citizen developers,’ to build applications.
Low-code promotes an agile approach to application development. To fully embrace and be successful with agile software development, the culture must shift to emphasise business-IT collaboration, allowing for development teams to create applications that adhere to business strategy and that provide true business value. Transparency and collaboration makes achieving this business value a shared objective between the business and IT.
In order to achieve this collaborative agile environment and culture, it is not just the IT team that needs to go agile. You must prepare the business and educate them on how to become involved in this process by effectively engaging the business in rapid, iterative and feedback-driven development cycles.
Q: What types of companies use low-code application development?
A: A broad range of companies, both in size and industry, use low-code application development. However, as low-code becomes adopted as a standard approach for application development, we’ve seen a shift from smaller and earlier stage organisations to large, global organisations. Adopting a low-code platform enables a culture shift for both developers and business stakeholders.
According to the 2018 Forrester report ‘Customers Illuminate the Benefits and Challenges of Low-Code Development Platforms,’ enterprises are increasingly using low-code application development to build sophisticated applications that are critical to business operations. IT leaders involved in the survey reported that most applications built via low-code are enterprise wide, meaning they are scaled for multiple departments. When adoption of a low-code platform spans across an entire enterprise, it creates a culture shift that turns both IT and business teams into enablers of change within their organisations.
While any type of organisation can use low-code application development, typically those in insurance, financial services, logistics, manufacturing and higher education use low-code to best serve their needs. These organisations tend to have legacy systems that require updates and customisation, as well as a large workforce and customer base that require custom solutions to enable operational efficiency and better customer experiences.
Q: What types of applications can be built using low-code?
A: The beauty and the challenge of low-code is that any type of application can be built, it’s up to the creativity and vision of the team. However, typically applications fall into one of four categories; applications for legacy migration, improved operational efficiency, better customer experiences and innovation.
Applications for legacy migration are intended to replace legacy solutions that can’t support current processes or provide a quality and easy user experience. Applications for legacy migration require new functionality to support the new needs of updated business processes.
To improve operational efficiency, organisations use low-code to develop solutions to deploy employee or partner-facing applications. The goal of these applications is to lower costs and reduce the time spent and possible errors caused from manual or paper-based processes. This type of application is particularly common in regulated industries like financial services and logistics where there is a need to adhere to particular compliance standards.
To make it easier for customers to interact with a company, organisations will build customer-facing applications with the goal of improving customer satisfaction and retention. Customer-facing applications typically have high expectations from end-users who expect a seamless and multi-channel experience. To address these user experience needs, many low-code platforms include a user interface (UI) framework that makes it easy for developers to build high-quality customer-facing applications.
Applications of innovation are created to launch new digital business models, products and channels to support the growth of an organisation by differentiating it from competition. These applications typically incorporate smart technology such as IoT, Machine Learning and Blockchain to uncover new ways to deliver value to the business. Typically, innovation apps have a loose set of requirements and evolve as the application is developed; therefore it’s important for the business to be involved throughout the entire development process.
Q: Why Low-Code?
A: As the low-code market matures, enterprises are increasingly building and deploying applications that are differentiating their organisation from competition to retain and win new business. Organisations that embrace low-code as the means to develop applications at speed and scale will surely undergo a culture shift that will result in improved collaboration between business stakeholders and IT.
Q: Why aren’t more IT teams doing this?
A: While there are proven benefits of using a low-code platform to improve the application development process, many IT leaders remain sceptical of what will happen if they adopt a low-code platform.
For example, there is a perception that low-code platforms are only for citizen developers; however building enterprise-ready applications requires developers who have a range of technical experience and aptitude. In addition, some IT leaders think that low-code will perpetuate shadow-IT. However, it does the opposite. Low-code platforms make it possible to involve more people from the business in the application development process while IT retains oversight and control. This helps for the IT organisation to be seen as an enabler of digital change rather than an organisation that others have to work around.
There is also a perceived lack of sophistication and customisation. However, that’s wrong. Any leading low-code platform will make it possible for a developer to extend the functionality of an application with custom code through integrations and APIs.
Q: What should you look for in a low-code platform?
A: With more and more entrants into the low-code space, there are more capabilities to consider when evaluating a low-code platform for your business. My recommendation is to look for six key capabilities when selecting the platform that is best for you.
The first is full integration capabilities and openness. To make the best use of an application development platform, it is imperative that it can integrate with other technology you’re already using such as systems-of-record and cloud services. The leading low-code platforms offer APIs to make it easier to fit into an existing IT landscape. Next, it’s important to make sure there are security protocols in place for both on-premise and cloud deployment.
In enterprise application development, a platform must be able to scale to maintain a great user experience. To help with this, effective low-code platforms must be cloud-native and portable. There is increased functionality available for applications built and deployed in cloud environments which can be valuable when incorporating into an application. Finally, the platform must support a DevOps approach to application development; this means that it can support small cross-functional teams as they develop applications for fast and iterative development.