Low-code platforms are driving about 50% annual growth in a market populated by dozens of vendors. At present, the value of this market stands at $4 billion.
A low-code platform takes a visual development approach to deliver business applications. It enables developers to create applications visually with a minimum of hand-coding and upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment. What drives its adoption is that developers can iterate, and release applications in a fraction of the time when compared to traditional methods.
The following are the features of low-code platforms:
Visual Development - The fundamental expectation from a low-code app development platform is to offer a WYSIWYG development environment where developers can drag and drop components to design responsive user interfaces that adapt to a device’s screen resolution. Some of these platforms go so far as to offer out-of-the-box templates for commonly used layouts and screens such as dashboards. The demand for enterprise mobile apps has meant that low-code platforms have also started to offer cross-platform mobile app development with access to native mobile device features.
Simplified Integration - Virtually every business application depends on data to create a meaningful application. But data is available from disparate systems ranging from proprietary enterprise systems to APIs from external entities and everything in between. Hence, data integration consumes an inordinate amount of time and resources during enterprise application development. A Low-code Platform is expected to provide a visual approach for developers to connect to these data sources and embed data elements directly into the application. Some platforms also allow professional developers to design data models and configure business logic directly inside the low-code app.
Instant Deployment - Beyond the need to eliminate or reduce application coding, Low-code Platforms are expected to streamline and speed up the application delivery process itself. One key characteristic is the ability to instantly deploy an application with zero DevOps. Such platforms also offer a single point of control for app maintenance and updates. While other low-code app development platforms extend the capabilities to security, governance, version control, infrastructure autoscaling, and more.
What developers look for in a low-code platform
A modern digital business requires CIOs to ensure that they are providing the newest offerings to users. While choosing a low-code platform, the concern for a CIO is to build applications faster. But what concerns a developer is a set of criteria that determines which low-code platform to adopt. These are -
- Is the platform built on open standards?
While most low-code platforms claim “no vendor lock-in”, the reality is that most of them use proprietary technologies and application stacks. Applications developed on a low-code platform that is based on proven open-source technologies trusted by millions of users ensure an open and extensible approach to application delivery. Also, the platform should use a best-of-breed application stack for developing full-stack applications.
- Is simple external integration possible?
While most vendors offer decent visual development capabilities, it is important to look for features that ease the external integration of data and services as most business data is stored in proprietary systems. Look for out-of-the-box integrations to instantly add powerful functionality to your apps. Also, verify whether custom integrations can be built and reused across apps.
- Does the platform offer cross-platform development?
The ability to create applications using a single code base that can adapt to any native platform or operating system (which could be iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/RIM, etc) using a hybrid adaptive design enables applications to be run seamlessly on any device giving it cross-platform capabilities.
- Does the platform meet scalability needs?
Ensure that low-code platform vendors don’t get away with merely providing a hosting and release management solution. Check for the ability to scale applications and handle private cloud needs. Look for solutions that allow for rapid and continuous provisioning, deployment, instant scalability, and maximum utilization of resources. Verify whether the platform supports building custom software stacks and deploying API-driven microservices-based apps, and orchestrates IT infrastructure effectively.
- Is it easy to create, share and consume APIs?
Today, APIs are at the front and center of business applications and architecture. Most low-code platforms support APIs at best. However, one must choose a platform that takes an API-first approach to application delivery. It should be easy to import data from any service and bind it to UI components. Moreover, the platform should allow developers to create, publish and discover APIs with ease.
- Is it easy to maintain the code generated?
With most low-code platforms, even the most experienced developer would not understand the code generated by the platform. Maintainability is a critical aspect of application delivery and is overlooked by many of these platforms. Verify that the code generated follows design patterns, is well-organized, uses standard naming conventions, and generates documentation that developers can understand and maintain.
- How is the security mechanism?
Enterprise applications need both coarse-grained and fine-grained security control mechanisms. The low-code platform must support flexible authentication and authorization mechanisms to secure users and various tasks within the application. Check for integration support for popular identity management systems like AD, LDAP, SSO, and OAuth.
Whether you are transforming application delivery or testing the waters with a pilot project, it is critical to choose the right business use cases and applications to achieve success with low-code platforms. Once you can identify the ideal use case, choose the low-code platform that best suits the case and delivers business value.