Low code, once relegated to the less-respected margins of the developer tool industry, has emerged in recent years as an increasingly effective technology that allows users to create useful software applications without needing to actually write much code themselves or use professional developers.
In fact, I've been tracking low code as a major trend for years, but it's only now making into the mainstream as mature takes on the category such as Microsoft Power Platform and Appian show the technology is both highly sophisticated and has real staying power to build apps that will last (although they can also be disposable if needed as well, given how inexpensive they are to develop.)
Today low code is often used by business users and non-technical staff to create and customize business apps they need, faster and more easily than they can get it from their IT department or external partner.
In my experience, low code can increasingly deliver entire applications that are credible and can provide real value, with little to no involvement from a coder and a minimal review from IT. This is in part, as we'll see, why enterprise-grade low code tools that address the most common concerns (e.g. data security or application lifecycle management) have moved to the fore in the top end of the industry.
Today's low code platforms typically provide a visual, drag-and-drop interface for building form-based applications, or tools to build a visual workflow. The resulting apps can be used to automate business processes, create mobile apps, and integrate with other systems.
The aim of low code technology is to make application development much more accessible and efficient, so that organizations can better respond to changing business needs and stay competitive. I've seen a lot of other benefits in my discussions with CIOs, for whom low code was certainly not a topic that rose to their pay grade until the last couple of years.
Now it's clear that low code can reduce dependencies on hard-to-find development talent, lower the cost of development while speeding it up, and reduce backlogs. IT looks more responsible too and democratizing access to the tools within the organization can tap into wellsprings of innovation as well.
What's the real value proposition of low code today?
On paper, there's a lot to like about low code solutions, which are used by what are called citizen developers, to create the solutions they need with an absolute minimum of technical skills.
In my research, I find that businesses and IT departments are increasing their use of low code technology because it has a number of specific benefits, including:
Increased speed of development. Low code platforms allow users to create applications more quickly and easily than traditional means, without needing to write complex code. This can significantly reduce the time it takes to develop and deploy new business solutions, enabling organizations to respond more nimbly to changing needs and stay competitive.
Improved collaboration. Low code platforms often provide a visual, drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy for non-technical users to contribute to the development of software solutions. This can improve collaboration and increase the participation of business users in the software development process.
Greater flexibility. Low code platforms allow organizations to create custom solutions that are tailored to their specific needs. They can also be used to integrate with other systems, such as databases and APIs, to create a cohesive and flexible IT ecosystem.
Reduced costs. Low code technology can reduce the need for expensive, specialized IT resources and external developers, resulting in cost savings for organizations.
Easier maintenance. Applications developed with a low-code platform can be easily updated and maintained, due to its visual and intuitive nature.
Improved productivity and innovation. Low code technology empowers business users and non-technical staff to automate their work processes using their own ideas, which can lead to improved productivity while tapping into creativity across the organization.
In practice, however, there is skepticism by professional coders and IT alike that low code really has when it takes to be used as a workhorse tool in IT. Over the years, I've been collecting stories of enterprises using low code in widespread or in otherwise notable ways. However, key proof points have begun to emerge.
Citizen development is the future
I've recently come across several major examples of companies moving much of their core IT systems to a low-code model, which I'll be highlighting in my next column. In this way, some leading-edge organizations are actually using citizen development as their primary way of developing new IT solutions. They are realizing many of the benefits that low code I discuss above, from agility and flexibility to lower cost development and higher IT productivity. My research also finds that low code will be key to unleashing digital transformation at scale across an organization (see visual above).
Given that there are 24 times fewer professional developers than people who can low code, I'm starting to see that CTOs and CIOs are increasingly looking at rebalancing their solution portfolios to lean more towards low code, based on my conversations in the last two years.
Low code is becoming a central part of the future of IT, and there are now increasing proof points to show that low code adoption can successfully happen in a substantial, even comprehensive way in both IT and the business.