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Development Made Easy: Low Code Enables Agility and Speed to Market for Application Development and Delivery

03 Dec 2019 - Mickey Farrance

The low code market is expected to grow significantly, as explained in this Software Magazine article by Cassandra Balentine

Low code software development enables less experienced coders to easily create websites and mobile applications (apps). The low code market is expected to grow significantly, driven by the limited availability of skilled coders as well as the need to put out websites and apps quickly and affordably.

According to a study on development trends by MarketsandMarkets, the low code development platform market size is expected to grow from $3.20 to $27.23 billion USD by 2022, at a compound annual growth rate of 44.49 percent during the forecast period. The base year considered for the study is 2016 and the forecast period is 2017 to 2022.

Low Code Usage

From professional and business coders to citizen developers, low code solutions have a place.

At its core, Lori McKellar, senior director, product marketing, AppWorks at OpenText, says low code simplifies app development, addressing the needs of the developer and the business user via a single development approach. This helps reduce the cost and resources needed to build apps. “With low code, organizations see a huge benefit from being able to execute more quickly and efficiently. Digital process automation apps have typically taken months to deploy, with developers responsible for translating business requirements into designs and building, testing, and deploying web and mobile user experiences as well as backend integrations. By eliminating lengthy cycles of development and testing, low code apps are generally up and running in a fraction of that time.”

Low code development is used to build an array of apps to connect disparate business systems and automate processes across organizations. Enterprises of all types increasingly recognize that they must streamline and accelerate operations in order to compete. A low code development method gives non-developers and citizen developers the power to create solutions themselves without relying on overburdened IT departments, suggests Alain Gentilhomme, CTO, Nintex.

Michael Beckley, CTO/founder, Appian, agrees, adding that low code gives developers and IT professionals the capability to turn great ideas into business apps up to 20 times faster than traditional coding. He explains that enterprise low code is also powerful, allowing developers to do many things, including onboarding customers faster, speeding time-to-revenue, launching new products quickly, creating branded native mobile apps with enterprise security; intelligently automating end-to-end processes with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation; and creating consistent, omni-channel customer experiences.

Nicolas Marzin, senior director, office of the CTO, TIBCO Software, says a spectrum of developers with different objectives utilize low code, including business developers who use it to define app logic as well as user interfaces; IT developers who use it to better communicate with business counterparts and facilitate agile development of enterprise apps; and rapid developers who push apps beyond tactical to be enterprise-ready and drive adoption.

Jennifer Gill, senior director, technology product marketing, Pega, points out that although low code may be perceived as a method for simpler apps, this isn’t really the case. “Today, we see organizations using low code development methods to create all types of apps—from something as simple as capturing and sharing contact information all the way through to driving the most complex global business processes across departments, geographies, and rules for any device or channel.”

She adds that with this collaborative approach to app development, business and technical users can both better participate and communicate on creating and changing apps, removing one of the major barriers to success—requirements being lost in translation.

While many businesses start using low code for things like simple workflows, forms, and integrations between disparate software platforms, Sheryl Koenigsberg, head of global product and solutions marketing, Mendix, says that over time, they find it can replace traditional languages for almost everything.

While there are many benefits, Miguel Valdes Faura, CEO/co-founder, Bonitasoft, warns of the pitfalls of low code for citizen developers, pointing out that it solves one problem while creating a bigger one. “Coding is like cooking. You can learn the basics on your own, attend some cooking classes, and start preparing some good dishes for your friends and family. But does it make you a chef? Any profession takes years of hard work required to achieve mastery. Great tools like low code app platforms don’t make citizen developers into professionals, but they do make professional developers more efficient and productive.”

Easy Growth

The need for digital transformation is driving growth of low code development tools. “Enterprises of all types and sizes increasingly understand that they must transform, and that IT departments often can’t respond quickly enough,” comments Gentilhomme. Traditional app development and maintenance are slow and expensive—issues that become increasingly important as the pace of business accelerates. “Processes must accelerate in response, or the business becomes less able to compete. Processes that are hard wired in traditional software code are slow and difficult to change, and the business suffers as a result,” adds Gentilhomme.

Software is critical to how nearly almost every business operates. “Through a low code platform, businesses can meet demands for automation and operational improvements,” says Steve Wood, chief product officer, Dell Boomi.

TIBCO recently surveyed 600 CXOs around the globe. One question the company asked was where they think the innovation opportunities were in their organizations. “While expected answers like IT and executives amounted to 37 percent of all responses, it’s surprising to find that almost 63 percent chose and answer outside of those domains. By empowering your entire organization with low code/no code tools, you hand the key to innovation to those outside of IT and the C-Suite,” shares Marzin. With no/low code, teams can build apps to capture new business opportunities in minutes, scaling and adapting them to fit business needs. They can also iterate new builds with speed, capture end-user feedback, and release enhanced versions faster—making agile transformation a reality.

“There is a constant need for smaller teams to do more with less, and do it more cheaply,” says Faura. This tends to favor customizable app development tools over fully custom developed apps or non-customizable out-of-the-box solutions. The developers behind no-code platforms are getting smarter about the kinds of tools developers at all skill levels can use and building ways to use them right into the platforms to address this growing need. “We don’t want to discount the need for agility in development and in continuous delivery to be able to update change and deliver innovations to business apps rapidly.”

Digital transformation is a primary driving force of low code adoption. “It is disrupting industries, transforming businesses, and creating new competitive differentiation faster than ever before. It means that organizations must move faster to build the apps that run their businesses and engage their customers. Traditional divisions between business and IT don’t work anymore,” shares Gill.

The lack of skilled developers is a major driving force of low code app development adoption.

“The shortage of skilled developers has been a major driver for low code app development, Gartner predicts that market demand for app development will growth at least five times faster than IT’s capacity to deliver it through 2021. Low code development now empowers businesspeople who have some technical prowess—but not traditional coding skills—to create robust enterprise apps to address this skills gap,” shares Gill.

Beckley agrees, noting that the shortage of skilled developers is especially lacking in areas for new technology like automation, AI, and mobile. “The growth of low-code is directly correlated to the increased workloads felt by IT professionals. In an Appian survey, The Impact of Low Code on IT Satisfaction, it was found that 86 percent of IT developers agree that emerging technology is increasing the pressure on IT organizations.”

Software is rapidly outstripping the supply of software engineers, leading to a software development backlog in the trillions. Low code allows companies to execute some of those software needs and quickly create value, offers Wood.

An increasingly tech-savvy workforce also plays a role in low code development adoption. “High school and college graduates today don’t live in homes with a perpetually blinking microwave clock. They live in a world where tech is second nature to them, no matter their role. No code and low code app development enables a broader set of individuals to participate in enterprise app delivery,” says Koenigsberg.

Many productivity tools were not designed for today’s digital enterprise. Gill points out that many citizen development projects might start narrow—in tools like Microsoft Excel, but as they grow, connect, and access more data, they lack governance and security required at an enterprise scale. With low code development, these apps can scale in a governed and complaint manner.

The need for agility is a motivator for moving towards low and no code development. “By enabling those who are closest to where the work gets done—the business—to collaborate with IT, app development can be fast tracked while limited IT development resources can be directed to the complex aspects and governance where it’s needed most,” says McKeller.

Future Development

Development strategies continue to advance. Low code solutions are increasingly essential to the modern enterprise.

Faura expects to see some convergence in the two approaches we see today, that is, some evolution of the low code platforms intended specifically for professional developers. We’ll see more options included that empower citizen developers in specific ways, not to create full freestanding enterprise apps, but rather to be able to manage updates and modifications on their own. “Integrating low code platforms with collaboration features can allow citizen developers to change the app’s web forms, for example, in a way consistent with the underlying data structure.”

Gill predicts that enterprise will focus more closely on working with citizen developers so they will have access to safe, compliant platforms to build apps using company-defined guidelines. “We are already starting to see single enterprises deploy hundreds of low code apps using this low code app factory model.”

In fact, Gentilhomme believes all the best practices in traditional development need to move to low code/no code development tools to make these capabilities available and understandable to non developers. “Progress is being made, but we are far from that today. It’s fundamental because as you start building large numbers of apps and automated business processes, you realize you have to maintain, test, update, change, and optimize them.”

Wood says low code platforms are poised to become even more connected to cloud apps then they are now and help unlock even more data for SMBs and enterprises. “Low code vendors will begin developing platforms for everything from the Apple Watch and voice technology to blockchain, IoT, and edge computing,” he offers.

Gentilhomme sees automated testing as one area that could be improved with low and no code. “In traditional software development, there’s a common practice or capability known as continuous integration or continuous deployment in which, whenever you change an app or a workflow, multiple test runs automatically that tell you whether the solution really works. There is no parallel in low-code/no-code infrastructure. The tools must evolve in this direction yet.”

Additionally, AI is coming to low code. “Low code is a visual medium, you write apps by drawing a picture of a process, a screen, a data model, and the low-code platform generates the code for you. As AI injects itself into that code generation, advanced low-code platforms will be able to dynamically update the code to support new frameworks, transition between cloud environments, or tune the performance of the app on the fly. It’s AI-powered software that quite literally writes your software for you.”

With the addition of AI entering the low-code scene, the data scientist gap will soon rival today’s app developer gap when it comes to building software. Gill says enterprises don’t have enough data scientists to build the AI algorithms they need to engage with customers or optimize their businesses. “Expect low-code AI tools that help citizen data scientists build machine learning based on their business goals in the same way that today’s low-code tools empower citizen developers.”

AI-assisted development enables faster new user onboarding and allows experts to write software more quickly and with fewer errors, comments Koenigsberg.

Koenigsberg says what’s probably most exciting about low code development is that it makes nearly any cutting-edge technology accessible to a broad set of developers. “Whether it is chatbots, Internet of Things, machine learning, augmented reality, or the next big thing, our customers are doing it without specialized resources.”

Development Trends

Low-code app development is increasingly important to the modern enterprise. It is important that businesses be scalable and responsive, both needs are addressed with fast and easy development for even the most novice user. However, users should be aware that apps must be maintained, tested, and updated, and should be launched with this in mind.

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Tags: Tech trends