Low-code development platforms are gaining traction because they offer an easy-to-use and cost-effective alternative to traditional software development. Both business users and citizen developers can use them to build web and mobile applications without any formal knowledge of coding languages. In this blog post, you will learn what business benefits low-code platforms offer and how they can help you accelerate the digital transformation of your company.
The current challenges to business process management
Regardless of whether you are a developer responsible for building IT solutions, an IT specialist providing business services, a business process analyst, or simply a business user striving for better business process management in your company, you are surely well-aware of how difficult it may be to optimize IT tools and systems. It often happens that the entire optimization process, despite your good intentions and ambitious plans, reveals itself to be costly and time-consuming, and usually brings results that are worse than expected.
There are many reasons for such an outcome.
First, the ERP or CRM legacy systems used in companies are normally not very flexible, forcing users to retain built-in/standard functionalities. To customize them according to the particular needs of your organization, domain expertise is required. Moreover, vendors of such systems are often very reluctant to enhance them with new functionalities dedicated to specific clients. Corporate IT infrastructure can also be very complex; many of the integrated functionalities and processes depend on one another and so, changing one functionality requires an analysis of the entire business process as well as the cooperation of numerous specialists.
Even more importantly, companies very often lack internal development teams to realize such projects. IT departments are usually busy providing ongoing support for users, updating software, uploading patches, ensuring infrastructure security, and ensuring that the IT systems in use are fully compliant with regulations currently in force. On the other hand, business analysts or business process owners are usually busy handling day-to-day tasks and meeting the targets set for their departments.
The silos structure is an additional obstacle. Each department has its own goals to meet and is trying to do it without taking into consideration the work of their colleagues from other departments. There is no end-to-end business process owner or dedicated project management office (PMO) that could coordinate company-wide IT projects and minimize their potential risks.
Given all this, low-code platforms come along as a handy solution. They provide you with a graphical user interface (GUI) to build complete applications including data, business logic, AI-powered solutions, and many more. Low-code app development can thus become a good alternative to traditional development.
Let’s look at them in a little more detail.
What are low-code platforms?
In a nutshell, low-code is an approach to software development that requires little or no coding skills to build applications or business processes, even the most complex ones. A GUI allows users to simply drag and drop required functionalities and build business apps. The entire process is very intuitive, easy to learn, quick, and cost-effective.
That’s why low-code platforms are becoming increasingly popular among business users, IT managers, and developers who want to optimize business processes within their organizations. Of course, many professional developers are hesitant to switch to low-code development platforms that do not require .NET or Java environments, specific frameworks, or IDEs. But low-code app development can offer many new capabilities for them too. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they can use built-in templates for the most typical processes (document management, leave requests, help desk, etc.) and get them up and running in a matter of hours.
Additionally, companies nowadays need to develop and adapt their applications and IT systems continuously to stay ahead of the curve. At the same time, they are struggling to find developers; their numbers are very limited compared to the huge market demand, and companies prefer to use their precious skills in more business-critical projects. It comes as no surprise then that companies are turning to low-code development platforms, allowing them to build business apps quickly and with little or no involvement of development teams (see Figure 1).
Fig. 1 Low-code platforms in the software development process
What are the main features of low-code platforms?
So, what exactly do low-code development platforms bring to the table?
Intuitive and easy-to-use graphical user interface
You can build an application from scratch using dedicated wizards or imported templates, add-ons, or existing projects. All low-code platforms ensure good productivity and offer numerous built-in functionalities that are ready to use. You can use a drag-and-drop feature both at the GUI level and for business process modelling. To build a user interface, you need to put all the elements of a chosen data model on the form/view model. To model a business process, you can define them graphically using elements such as stages, required fields, tasks, acceptance processes, conditions, gates, and many more.
Integration with IT systems and external data sources
Many low-code development platforms offer integrations with systems such as SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, Jira, Share Point, etc. You can also connect to the most popular databases including SQL Server, HANA, Oracle Db, SQL Azure, and MySQL. What matters here is that the synchronization is performed on both ends. You can both retrieve and save data. Additionally, most low-code platforms allow you to build dedicated APIs (REST, SOaP, Odata) depending on your current needs. You can use different methods to operate on data: external entities, work directly on chosen tables, or through virtual tables.
Quick MVP design and launch
With low-code development platforms, you can design and launch your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) very quickly, which is of great importance for both technical and business users. The former can gather the business process requirements, prepare a solution prototype, and get the necessary feedback from the business stakeholders. The latter can understand better the product and define their expectations when it comes to its functionalities. Additionally, they can show an MVP to investors to ensure financial support for its further development. Some low-code platforms also offer built-in modules for Agile project management.
Installation on the cloud or on-premises
Low-code platforms can be hosted on public clouds (AWS, GCP, or Microsoft Azure) or private clouds. Some of them can also be installed on-premises. They support complex architectures ensuring their scalability. Additionally, they offer ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) tools allowing you to create different environments (dev, testing, production), project versioning, and moving an application across environments. Some low-code development platforms protect users from changing standard objects by mistake or have mechanisms to control compatibility and handle errors in an online mode.
Why use low-code platforms
Low-code solutions are a great alternative to a traditional software development process, especially for companies that need to automate their existing business processes and quickly build new ones if business needs arise. According to freevo research, they accelerate digital transformation by 69%. On the other hand, the report by Gartner says that:
- By 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted an LCAP (low-code application platform) as one of their strategic application platforms.
- Low-code development platforms will also be a good fit for distributed organizations thanks to their cloud services and multiple languages support. Such organizations will be able to streamline and automate their processes and workflows across multiple branches.
In short, low-code platforms allow you to:
- Enhance legacy IT systems with new features without messing up their core functionalities.
- Take internal IT projects from the shoulders of professional developers.
- Reduce the cost of developing new tools and solutions.
- Shorten time-to-market of new functionalities.
- Enable citizen developers to improve internal processes.
- Ensure applications are responsive and can be used on different device types.
- Ensure a better understanding of business needs.
- Enhance cooperation across different company departments.
- Optimize business processes to accelerate the digital transformation of your company.