What is Low Code?
All companies use an assortment of small software applications to perform essential tasks. These tools are often developed by non-IT departments, in software like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or other web services. Not part of the approved, certified company stack, these solutions perform fundamental duties in business development, but generate challenges for the organization. Often, only one advanced user actually knows these software’s inner workings and can implement changes. Additionally, data security problems arise because the applications are outside of IT’s control. Low-code software can solve these issues.
Low-code software is perfect for these cases, with its toolbox of products and services for advanced technical users (citizen developers). Even with limited knowledge of programming, they can create applications, processes, bi scenarios, and more through graphic interfaces, templates, configuration, and simple formula language. Low-code software also offers a frame of governance and security, so the IT department can control the information access that members of your organization have. This protects information from breaches and complies with regulatory data standard protections.
With the low-code approach, companies can completely shift the way they develop solutions. In the traditional development processes, the IT department receives a list of needs and requirements from the business areas, defines a backlog, and delivers the final solutions to the users. In the new approach, a fusion team composed of citizen developers from the business departments and IT experts work together. They prioritize solutions, design and build the apps, and work together in final development. This approach shortens the development times and the applications better fit company and department needs.
Developers tend to think that low code limits the kind of software they can develop, but as low-code solutions evolve and incorporate other business software, artificial intelligence, and newer trends like Chat GPT, the possibilities and flexibility are limitless. Microsoft developing Microsoft Dynamics Solutions with low-code software is a prime example.
No-Code vs. Low-Code
When you start exploring this kind of software, you will frequently encounter the terms Low-Code and No-Code, but what is the difference?
No-Code refers to a software development approach where you can create an app through templates, visual interfaces, and drag-and-drop commands, with no need to write any kind of code. Think of how you use presentation software, adding graphic elements and using a wizard for automation and other features.
Low-Code is built over the no-code software but adds the ability to write simple formula-based code to connect with other systems and develop more robust applications and processes. While not a full development platform, this software gives your organization’s problem-solvers better tools.
Why Use a Low-Code Platform?
Every company needs automation and app solutions that boost productivity and promote the company vision and mission. In fact, a study by EDC in 2019 states that by 2024, companies will need 500 million new apps, which is more than the total number of apps developed in the last 40 years.
This demand for solutions continuously clashes with understaffed and underbudgeted IT departments that work endlessly to keep the lights on and maintain applications that are key to fulfilling the company’s mission. When departmental IT solutions can not get fulfilled by IT, users find other ways to automate their work. The most common ones are spreadsheets, developed by a more technically savvy person in the department (citizen developers). These solutions lack support, control, and governance, and can expose the business to different risks.
With the evolution of low-code platforms, your company can leverage these citizen developers and let them create all the necessary solutions within a formal governance, support, and security framework.
Low-code platforms should be used as they offer flexibility and reduce development time and complexity, resulting in financial savings and increased business productivity. In a Forrester study, sponsored by Microsoft in 2022, it is shown that the cost savings of low code over traditional development are 45%.
To Low Code or Not to Low Code: When to Use It and When to Avoid It
Solutions are not one-size-fits-all. Low code has a lot of benefits, but consider your specific case when deciding between low code and traditional coding.
When to Use a Low-Code Platform
These are some scenarios where low code would be a perfect fit:
- Fast responses: If you need to create a new application or process quickly, use low code to try a new idea, adapt to regulatory changes, or enter the market first with your solution.
- Non-IT problem-solvers: Non-technical users who need to make departmental solutions can use low-code methods and improve productivity.
- Flexibility: Low code can adapt to frequent changes and evolving processes.
- Combined IT and business teams: When these two groups work together, business people can plan the app’s goals and start creating it, and then the IT people can develop the more complex parts of the solution.
When Not to Use a Low-Code Platform
Low-code solutions have come a long way regarding the types of applications you can develop with them. But there are still scenarios, in which a more traditional approach would be preferable.
- Complex applications: Low-code platforms are not well-suited for complex applications that require a lot of custom coding. For example, an accounting solution or a stock market broker solution.
- Lots of transactions: If you are creating an application that needs to handle a lot of transactions, like a banking core system, you will need the best performance and throughput. Almost all low-code solutions work through capped APIs, so a high volume of calls can hit the cap and stop the integration from working. In addition, low-code solutions are based on a common architecture, and lack the ability to heavily customize performance.
- Big technical team: Low-code platforms can be a great way to empower non-technical users to create applications. However, if you have a large team of developers, a low-code platform may not be the most efficient way to get your applications developed. Low-code solutions are meant for small groups, and sharing features is usually limited. Recently, there have been some solutions adapting to larger teams.
Benefits of Low-Code Platforms
Here is a series of benefits that will help you understand why low-code platforms should be used as a key factor in the development of your business.
- Citizen Development: Low-code software enables non-technical people to develop solutions.
- Process Acceleration: Complete applications can be developed by technical or non-technical team members in just hours or days, compared to traditional coding that can take months.
- Flexibility: Applications can quickly evolve with market or regulatory changes.
- Team Performance Improvement: With low code, almost 50% of the work can be automated, resulting in more productive teams.
- Innovation Enablement: New ideas can be prototyped quickly.
- Regulated Processes: All solutions will be within a framework of governance and security controlled by IT.
- Backlog Unlock: IT can reduce their backlog with the help of business analysts and citizen developers.
- AI Incorporation: Some Low-code platforms let users leverage AI solutions for new business scenarios.
Disadvantages of Low-Code Platforms
While low-code platforms have many benefits, some situations can create problems if low code is not managed and used correctly.
- Application Mayhem: Imagine everyone at your organization creating their own applications, without IT knowing. Each app would have a different layout, security model, and administration. To prevent this, the company should define a complete low-code protocol detailing governance and ALM concepts.
- Poor Trained Citizen Developers: Low code is easier than traditional programming, but is still programming, so to have quality apps, you need properly trained citizen developers. The company should invest in proper preparation for all the people involved in the low-code practice.
- Technical Limitations: Sometimes companies try to solve complex scenarios with low-code solutions, resulting in poor architecture, performance, and user experience. Every time you have a new app requirement, ensure it is a good fit for a low-code solution.
Low-Code General Use Cases: From Automation to App Development
The most common uses for low code regard approvals processes. For example, an app to handle travel expense approval. Normal travel expense protocol at companies is to complete a spreadsheet report, print it and staple the receipts, get it signed by your manager, and then take it to the finance department for verification and payment. Finance then rewrites the report information in their ERP system.
With low code, you can create a mobile application to register all the expenses, take a picture of the receipts, and attach them to the expense. Upon returning from travel, you can submit the report for approval directly in the app, and the data will integrate directly into the ERP system. What a time-saver!
Low Code Business Case: Reading Assessment Process - Manitou Park Elementary
So what can you achieve with this approach? Consider this iconic low-code case study: an app made by Manitou Park Elementary’s principal, Lauren Taylor. She created the app to improve the reading assessment process for students and educators.
Tacoma schools use the DRA2 (Development Reading Assessment, 2nd Edition), to evaluate students’ reading skills. In reporting the results of this assessment, teachers digitally submit a single quantitative score, with none of the other observations from the test. Teachers carried out this test on paper, and wrote down questions, which were not digitally collected. This meant losing rich insights from the assessment. Consequently, the students were put into groups based solely on that single score, which did not reflect the more specific needs of each child. While the paper tests with all the results were available, they were not used in determining reading level like the digital scores were, so each group’s reading goals were inaccurate.
Faced with this scenario, Principal Lauren Taylor started working with Microsoft Power BI, a low-code reporting solution. After learning about Power Apps and Power Automate, she developed a DRA App.
The app helped teachers access more complete data much faster. Now they have a more thorough profile of every student, and they can define the correct group and reading plan for each student, based on all reading learning metrics. You can learn more about the benefits and the complete case here.
Top Low-Code Platforms
In recent years, low-code solutions have gained popularity, and today we have several possibilities to choose from. These are some of the most popular low-code platforms available:
- OutSystems: Create low-code mobile and web applications, chatbots, and reactive web apps for any device using visual coding, data models, workflows, user interfaces, and custom code.
- Uipath: Use AI and machine learning to automate your business, using the cloud-native platform SaaS or your own.
- Automation Anywhere: Automate any business process with AI-powered bots that can learn from human actions and optimize workflows, in this cloud-based platform.
- Salesforce Platform: Create applications and workflows on the Salesforce platform with minimal coding, using visual interfaces, prebuilt components, and integrations.
- Microsoft Power Platform: Analyze data, build solutions, automate processes, and create virtual agents with low code.
Low-code software is a very powerful solution with an ever-growing importance in companies, as they need new apps for key processes and innovation. In order to keep up with these needs, non-IT departments should also be able to create applications, and low code enables this by offering intuitive interfaces and simple coding in a regulated way. Low code addresses the lack of support, control, and data security in unauthorized applications. It fosters collaboration between citizen developers and IT experts, by shortening development time and improving application fit.
While some may see them as limiting, low-code platforms are evolving to offer limitless possibilities with features like AI integration. Companies benefit from increased speed, flexibility, team productivity, and cost savings.
With low code’s advantages come some potential issues, which can be solved with proper training and suitable use cases.
At Tero, we are committed to these solutions, and we believe that by developing the correct path for your needs and a solid practice to carry it out, low-code software can resolve many of your problems. When properly regulated and handled, we see this solution as a powerful bridge between business needs and IT capabilities, and a robust alternative for automation and app development.
If you wish to start implementing your Microsoft or Salesforce low-code solution, or you are already advanced but need guidance and implementation support, please contact us. We firmly believe that a low-code journey can help your business grow.
- IDC FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2020 Predictions. October 2019.
- 2022 Forrester TEI Study | Microsoft Power Platform