We’ve all been hearing quite a lot about low-code / no-code platforms lately. Code-free platforms promise to make software development as easy as using Word or PowerPoint, so that the average business user can promote projects without the added expense (money and time) of a team of engineers. Unlike platforms without code, low-code still requires some programming skills, but it promises to speed up software development by allowing developers to work with pre-written code components.
According to Gartner, by 2024, 65% of developed apps will be low-code.
Back in 2017, I participated in early benchmarking benchmarking between traditional development (using Java) and a model-driven low-code / no-code project. The results were impressive: when using the low-code / no-code method, the performance increased in 5-7 times… A 2020 survey by No-Code Census showed performance gains in 4.6 times compared to traditional programming.
Low-code / no-code: Platform fragmentation
The low-code / no-code area is quite complex and includes numerous solutions, platforms and submarkets. For example, there are submarkets targeting large, medium and small businesses. Low-code / no-code enterprise platforms provide high scalability, performance, security, and integration with enterprise applications. They are usually more expensive than others. Below is the Gartner Magic Quadrant for enterprise low-code platforms:
Gartner defines the low-code platform (LCAP) as: “It is a platform that supports rapid application development, one-step rollout, execution, and control using high-level declarative programming abstractions such as model and metadata-based programming languages.”
G2 offers a similar overview for small business… The market for platforms for small businesses and for corporations does not overlap very much. Some small business platform providers are less well known and popular with large corporations. Likewise, small and medium enterprises tend to be reluctant to buy enterprise platforms, primarily due to their cost and complexity.
Not surprisingly, many low-code platforms are business process management platforms. BPM has long supported Model-driven Development, where one has to draw diagrams explaining how the software should work before building it. This diagram is similar to the BPM process approach, in which, to define a business process, you need to arrange the blocks that represent sub-processes in the correct order. (The most popular process mapping standard supported by most BPM platforms is BPMN). Therefore, process-oriented solutions are quite popular. Examples of low-code / no-code platforms for BPM are Appian, Pega, Outsystems…
But there are other examples under the low-code / no-code umbrella:
Database Management Platformsstarting from such as Mendix, and ending with such as Airtable… There are also low-code / no-code NoSQL database platforms such as KgBase, designed for building knowledge graphs.
Automated Integration Platforms, some of which are new and interesting, for example, Zapier, Parabola and Integromat… With them, you can quickly design powerful and complex integration schemes. Here’s an example of a Parabola workflow in which data is retrieved from an API, some action is performed on it, and then the data is sent to another API. The process can be launched on demand, on schedule, or via webhooks.
Development of mobile applications… Most low-code / no-code platforms such as Bubble, provide responsive user interface capabilities, others offer built-in support for leading mobile OCs (iOS and Android). Thunkable Is perhaps the best example of a low-code / no-code platform for mobile app development.
Many of these platforms provide huge collections of plugins and templates for specific types of applications.
Other platform categories target specific application areas or niches:
E-commerce and online stores: the leading example here is Shopify…
Workflow management: great example is Monday.com…
Blockchain and the Internet of Things: Atra…
Artificial Intelligence: we are now starting to see the emergence of tools such as C3 AI Ex Machina…
Challenges low-code / no-code
Low-code / no-code platforms have many advantages, but at the same time they create difficulties and require training to work with them. Many good practices are just emerging and relatively immature, and hence the responsibility of using them is growing. Traditional programming has a wealth of experience, strong communities, and best practices documented. In many ways, low code / no-code is in its infancy even though model-driven development has been around for a long time (especially BPM platforms).
Some of the more serious problems include:
1. The need to change the culture: low-code / no-code requires change organizational culturewhether it’s a corporation or a startup. Changing the culture to get rid of unnecessary processes is not easy, it requires a similar vision and management approval, as well as budget and authority allocation for the low-code / no-code digital transformation competency center.
2. Time and effort to learn platforms: low-code / no-code increases speed and performance, but tools and platforms are non-trivial, and it takes time to develop the required level of proficiency. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of low-code / no-code. Complex programming constructs like nested loops are not that easy on any platform.
3. The need to use multiple platforms: some platforms have more complete functionality, others do not. Unqork and Bubble, for example, are designed for any use case and therefore offer many options for integrating with enterprise systems. In addition, they can take a lot from other ingredients that specialize in specific areas; for example, Bubble together with, say, Parabola or plugin Zapier can be used for automatic integration. Data management capabilities and integrations in Parabola or Zapier are easier to work with than native ones from Bubble. There are other plugins or technology components that complement the low-code / no-code platforms: see for example list of technology partners Unqork or full list of plugins for Bubble.
4. Lack of resources and community support: there are millions or even tens of millions of developers of common programming languages in the world, many online courses, as well as books and materials available for languages such as Java or C #, there are many communities and resources for outsourcing … The situation is quite different for low-code / no-code, especially for newer platforms.
5. Confusing Pricing: Enterprise low-code / no-code platforms tend to be unreasonably expensive. Small and medium market platforms are less expensive but generally less scalable. And using multiple platforms to create an end-to-end solution further complicates pricing issues.
These are just a few of the main problems. They make it clear that low-code / no-code is not a panacea. However, this approach remains a major trend for developing innovative solutions for both incumbent businesses and startups.
We should expect that as this area continues to develop, we will learn about new difficulties and failed projects. But the benefits, especially in accelerated growth and productivity, are bound to prevail.
Are you ready to move to low-code / no-code?
Translator’s note: our company provides as a low-code / no-code omnichannel cloud contact center Voximplant Kit with extensive automation of customer service and serverless platform Voximplant for traditional development with a set of APIs for creating voice, video and text communications.