We’ve all heard the hype lately about low code and non-code platforms. The promise of code-free platforms is that they will make software development as easy as using Word or PowerPoint, so that the average business user can move projects at no extra cost (in money and time) to an engineering team. Unlike platforms without code, low code platforms still require coding skills, but promise to accelerate software development by letting developers work with pre-written code components.
According to Gartner, 65% of application development will be low code by 2024.
I was involved in an early comparative productivity test between traditional development (using Java) and a model-driven development project with low code / no code back in 201
Low code / no code: A fragmented market
The landscape with low code / no code is complex, with many solutions, platforms and submarkets. For example, there are submarkets aimed at large companies, medium-sized companies and small companies. Low / no code enterprise platforms provide high scalability, performance, security and integration with enterprise applications. They tend to be more expensive. Here’s Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for low code platforms:
Gartner defines a low-code application platform (LCAP) as “an application platform that supports rapid application development, one-step deployment, execution, and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions, such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages. ”
G2 offers a similar landscape overview for small businesses. There is not much of an intersection between small businesses and corporate low-code platforms. Some of the providers of small business platforms will not be known or recognized in companies. Similarly, small and medium-sized businesses usually do not tend to buy business platforms – primarily because of price and complexity.
Not surprisingly, many low-code platforms are business process management platforms. BPM has long supported model-driven development (MDD) – where you first show how software should work before building it. This scheme is similar to the BPM process mapping approach, where, to specify a business process, you drag and drop shapes that represent subprocesses in the correct order. (The most popular process mapping standard supported by most BPM platforms is BPMN.) So process-centric, low-code solutions are quite popular. Examples of BPM platforms with low code / no code include Appian, Pega and Outsystems. (Note: I have previously worked as VP for BPM technology in Pega.)
But there are other paradigms under the umbrella with low code / no code:
Website platforms with low code / no code: Businesses of all sizes can take advantage of these platforms. The leading competitors are WordPress, Wix, Squarespace and WebFlow.
Database management platforms with low code / no code: In high end (enterprise) you have platforms like Mendix. At the lower end you have the Airtable. There are also NoSQL databases platforms with low code / no code like KgBase for knowledge graphs.
Automated platforms with low code / no code: There are several exciting and new platforms in this domain: Zapier, Parabola and Integromat are in this category. You can develop powerful and complex integration flows relatively quickly through these tools. Here is an example of a Parabola workflow that is pulled from one API, performs data manipulations, and sends it to another API. The automated workflow can be run on request, scheduled or called for via a webhook.
Development of mobile applications: Most low-code / no-code platforms, such as Bubble, provide responsive user interface features for mobile applications. Others offer integrated support for the leading mobile operating systems (iOS and Android). Thunkable is perhaps the ultimate example of low-code / non-code mobile application development.
Many of these platforms offer rich collections of plug-ins and templates for certain types of applications.
Other categories of low-code / non-code platforms are targeted at specific applications or niches:
- E-commerce and online stores: A leading example in this category is Shopify.
- Work management: A good example in this category is Monday.com.
- ERP applications: An interesting example here – also listed in Gartner’s MQ – is Zoho. Another important and influential platform for ERP and CRM is Salesforce.
- Blockchain and IoT: Atra is an example in this category – for blockchain.
- Artificial intelligence: A fascinating area for low-code / no-code is AI, and we are now beginning to see the emergence of tools in this area. An example here is C3 AI Ex Machina.
Challenges with low code / no code
Low code / non-code platforms have many advantages, but they also present some challenges and involve a learning curve. Many good practices just pop up and are relatively immature. This is a critical responsibility. With traditional programming, there is an enormous amount of experience, robust communities and documented best practices. In many ways, low-code / no-code is in the beginning – even though MDD has been around for a long time: especially with BPM platforms.
Here are some of the more critical challenges for low-code / no-code:
1. It involves a cultural change: Low-code / no-code requires a change in the organization’s culture, whether the organization is a company or a start-up. Changing the culture to destroy silos is not easy. It requires executive vision and approval. It also requires the allocation of budget and empowerment to a competence center with low transformation without digital code.
2. It takes time and effort to learn the platforms: Low-code / no-code increases speed and productivity. But it is not easy. The tools and platforms are not trivial, and it takes time to develop a level of competence. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of low code / no code. Complex programming constructions such as nested loops are not so simple on any platform.
3. You may need more platforms: Some platforms are more complete than others. Unqork and Bubble, for example, are designed to be used across all applications and offer so many possibilities for integration with enterprise systems. However, they can greatly benefit from other components that specialize in specific areas; for example Bubble together with for example Parabola or Zapier plugin for automatic integration. The data manipulation and integration functions in Parabola or Zapier are easier to work with than the natives in Bubble. There are other plugins or technology components that complement low-code / no-code platforms with additional technology: For example, check out Unqork Technology Partnerships or the comprehensive list of Bubble plugins.
4. Resources and support from society are scarce: Many low code / non-code platforms are relatively immature. There are millions of developers – sometimes tens of millions – for conventional programming languages. Many online courses and courses and books and materials are readily available for languages such as Java or C #. There are several communities and resources for outsourcing. There is a completely different scenario for low-code / no-code – especially for the newer platforms.
5. Prices can be confusing: Business platforms with low code / no code tend to be unnecessarily expensive. Mid- and small-market platforms are cheaper, but are usually less scalable. The involvement of several platforms for a comprehensive solution further complicates price problems.
These are just some of the key challenges facing us. They make it clear that low-code / no-code is not a panacea. However, there is still a formidable trend to develop innovative solutions for both established companies and startups.
We can expect to hear about more challenges from this space as it continues to mature. And there will be failed projects. But the benefits – especially when it comes to speeding up development and productivity – will win the day.
Are you ready?
Dr. Setrag Khoshafian is a co-founder of Startup Assistant and principal and chief researcher at Khosh Consulting. He was previously VP of BPM Technology at Pega, Senior VP of Technology at Savvion, and CTO at Portfolio Technologies and is a member of the Cognitive World Think Tank at enterprise AI.
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