The Future Tense of Work: Low-Code Development Approach

This first Article in the Future Tense of Work series is focused on the Low-Code Development approach. The Low-Code approach lies at the intersection of People (employees) and Process dimensions from the original model for the series that was published in the introductory article. 

We will explore the what, why and how of low code development approach. In a subsequent article, we will look to share thoughts from other IA practitioners, expert insights & some references on this topic, as well as the key challenges & opportunities that lie ahead in the adoption of this new approach to application development.

 What is Low-Code Development?

Low-Code is about developing applications with visually aided techniques such as building a flow chart by dragging and dropping components into it. The components are reusable in such development. It is similar to assembling pieces to build a software as Lego bricks be it rules, integrations, logic, channels, etc.
Low-Code development significantly reduces traditional hand-coding when developing an application. Instead of writing thousands of lines of complex code and syntax, applications can be developed much faster with such model-driven visually aided declarative development approach. Low-Code development approach falls in between the traditional Full-Code development and a complete No-Code development approach. As such, Low-Code carries traits from both of these approaches allowing it to be at the intersection of the two making it accessible to both business users and IT professionals. The below table compares Low-Code with Full-Code and No-Code approaches on several parameters such as the intended users, their skills, programming style, the interface used for development, accessibility and run-time characteristics of the development tool used, and more.

Why is Low-Code development gaining momentum?

Several key factors are driving the adoption of a Low-Code development approach. Digital disruption continues to accelerate, more so in the recent pandemic conditions where “born digital” companies are growing at an ever rapid pace, making the situation difficult for traditional companies. 
To survive in such disruptive market conditions, companies need to transform digitally quicker than ever. They need to be able to apply digital technologies and develop or enhance software at a much faster rate. According to Gartner, the market demand for app development is growing at a rate 5x faster than the current IT capacity. 

The other reason to favour low code is the adoption of cloud computing and as-a-service economic models that are championed by some of the largest software companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. This is causing many of the traditional software product development companies to reinvent themselves and offer newer low-code development platforms through the cloud to help accelerate application development, in companies who are otherwise struggling to survive, at a much lower implementation cost.

There are several benefits from adopting low-code approach to application development as discussed below.
The Benefits of Low-Code Development-
  1. Development Speed– With Low-code it is faster to develop an application when compared with the traditional full-code development, and to change the application once it has been written.
  2. Ease of Use– Low-Code reduces the level of technical skills needed for application development and allows business users or citizen developers who are closer to the actual problems faced by a business to be involved directly in building solutions to those problems.
  3. Lower Cost – Given Low-Code lessens the need to hire external technical expertise for application development, the actual implementation cost for such efforts in significantly reduced as a result.
  4. Component Reuse – Low-Code approach is fundamentally built upon the premise to simplify application development by reusing existing/pre-built components and to build applications by joining up and configuring components in a visually-aided development style. As such component reuse is key for the success of Low-Code development and to meet the above-mentioned benefits.
  5. Collaboration between Business and IT– Low-Code approach maximises participation between Business and IT by fully enabling Business users to identify and solve business problems with technology that matters to them most, and with the right level of support and engagement from the IT teams so they can ensure data integrity, application security and compliance of the applications developed by the business users.
  6. Business Agility– Low-Code approach lets older companies, lacking inadequate technical resources and capabilities to compete with the newer born digital natives, to transform their business operations in a meaningful way and enhance experiences for their customers with more personalised, multi-channel products and service offerings.
  7. Reduce Tech Backlog– Given the pace of technological change, most established large and medium-sized companies are carrying a significant amount of technical debt to deliver application development and enhancement projects. Low-Code helps companies meet this crucial challenge and increases their competitiveness.
Despite the many benefits of Low-Code, not everything is suitable to be developed this way and problems with higher complexity and customisation needs would continue to be solved as full-code. Full-code also provides greater freedom and control over the actual code produced given the fact that a low-code platform provides a level of abstraction from the actual underlying code produced that may or may not be accessible to the end-user. 
As such, adoption of Low-Code brings with it the external dependency on the platform that enables it and potential operational risks in case a customer discontinues to use a particular platform for any applications built using that platform. However, not all Low-Code platforms will tie up the underlying application code in that sense and provide practical mitigation strategies to customer for any such risks that may occur in the long run. The below figure summarises the different benefits and some of these limitations of Low-Code development approach when compared with Full-Code development.

How to establish Low-Code development approach?

While the technology side of the spectrum is driving the digital revolution, 
“The human side of the equation—the organizational and cultural aspects —are critical success factors in the digital transformation journey.”

“Digital transformation is more of a leadership challenge than a technology challenge overcoming the inertia of a large organization”

 – Dr. George Westerman, MIT
Low-Code development approach is a critical piece of the digital transformation puzzle lying at the intersection between People (employee) and Process dimensions. As such these above statements from Dr Westerman cannot be truer for Low-Code development making it a key success factor in achieving digital transformation. The people dimension lends itself strongly to the organisational and cultural aspects, and these are to be carefully considered for Low-Code adoption. So does the process dimension to act as a catalyst, and not an impediment, in the adoption of Low-Code. Which is why the success of Low-Code adoption is very much a leadership challenge- to be able to establish the vision, an engagement with that vision, and the right organisational structures, culture and processes.
The below table summarises the salient features for these 4 key success factors (i.e. – Process, Management, Organisation & Culture) necessary to drive up the adoption of low-code development approach in an organisation.
Unlike the DevOps practices in a typical Full-Code IT development project, the DevOps lifecycle for Low-Code has to be adapted wisely to meet the demands of the business users so they are fully enabled to discover problems and develop, configure, and test Low-Code applications to solve them. 
That the IT Ops and CoE teams are fully engaged to perform release management, deployment, and monitoring of Low-Code applications in production. The below model depicts such a tailored DevOps lifecycle model that can support the adoption of Low-Code development approach within an organisational context.
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