As companies become increasingly talent-strapped, APIs are helping spur a low-code movement to help them remain competitive
Low-code platforms have the potential to alter how software is built and delivered. By focusing on visual flows and drag-and-drop UIs, low-code platforms dramatically lower the barrier to software development.
Yet, anyone with a toe in the no-code waters will tell you the space is full of half-promises. Can you scale an entire enterprise software architecture with zero code? Probably not. Can a low-code platform single-handedly create and expose compelling infrastructure? Maybe.
I recently met with Jon Scolamiero, manager, architecture and governance at Mendix, a Siemens business that bills itself as a low-code alternative, to get to the bottom of the low-code phenomenon.
Read on to discover why low-code platforms could be the next big thing. We’ll cover low-code benefits and caveats, the use of low-code in agile application delivery and how an API-first emphasis sets some low-code providers apart.
What is Low-Code?
Low-code platforms use drag-and-drop tools to help non-developers assemble software solutions. Instead of coding every line, integrating with databases and programming network integrations, low-code users visually construct application models with default containers that initiate the logical processes and data storage abilities they require.
In this way, low-code is dramatically abstracted from standard software development. Examples of low-code platforms on the market include Siemen’s Mendix, Amazon’s Honeycode, Google’s AppSheet, Microsoft’s Power App and OutSystems. Among these solutions, default configurations and customization abilities vary.
With the growing need for more applications, companies turn to productivity solutions such as low-code development to quicken velocity. There are, theoretically, many other benefits to low-code or “no-code” platforms:
- Welcomes “citizen developers” into the fold: Low-code platforms offer unprecedented usability for the less technical folks. By reducing the barrier to entry, laypeople can participate in complex application development.
- Break silos and improve collaboration: Since non-technical roles can become more involved, low-code enables better collaboration between teams. It provides a common language for organizations.
- Improved time to value: Some low-code platforms allow you to build, deploy and run instantly, thus dramatically reducing development time. Especially if integrated with CI/CD capabilities, using low-code platforms means a greatly decreased time-to-value.
- Addresses the talent gap: In a world of high engineering demand but few developers, low-code development spurs continual growth in light of a limited workforce.
- Cloud-agnostic: Low-code can grant cloud-agnostic capabilities, enabling companies to run applications on SAP cloud, Azure or “lift and shift” to other cloud vendors.
- Platform-agnostic: Low-code platforms also offer device-agnostic capabilities, meaning the application could run native mobile code. A low-code layer could also help cater to other experiences, such as voice, chatbot or smart televisions.
Low-code could also support digital transformation initiatives for internal, non-commercial solutions. For example, a manufacturer could leverage low-code capabilities to quickly spin up connected digital solutions to help operationalize factory production.
Though low-code suggests many positive outcomes, Scolamiero said that industrywide, there are some issues:
- Security: Good security with low-code is possible yet complex to implement. Low-code platforms must carefully handle access management and delegate identity throughout the app ecosystem.
- Normalizing expectations: Low-code isn’t magic. These platforms have their limits and do take time to onboard. Scolamiero encouraged having a robust training program ready and available “to teach everyone how to fish.”
- Consulting services: Scolamiero cautioned IT leaders to beware of some solutions that taut the low-code or no-code label, yet are more akin to consulting divisions. Buying armies of service people is “not a respectful business model for a customer,” he said.
- No universal standards: Scolamiero noted that the low-code industry has yet to unite on a data integration at scale method.
APIs Under the Hood: The Secret Sauce
In 2002, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issued a companywide mandate, which has become known informally as the “API Manifesto.” In it, he stated that “all teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.”
This API-first strategy increased internal efficiency and reusability, and eventually enabled Amazon to resell its own infrastructure, creating a whole new class of impressive revenue streams. Lyft is another excellent example of a microservices-driven product.
Many developers now fully understand the power of wrapping everything in a web service. Yet, based on his conversations with clients, Scolamiero estimated that 1 in 6 CIOs are still unaware.
“If they were, we would have 10 Amazons at this point, not one,” he said. “It’s really easy to wrap your head around data having value, but now it’s the infrastructure that matters.”
An added emphasis on APIs fits into the current trend toward event-driven, message-based systems. Having the ability to expose APIs to different clouds increases API elasticity, he said.
Keeping APIs and Low-Code Under the Hood
Low-code and no-code solutions promise that anyone can become a developer. While the reality is a bit more complicated, with the right frameworks in place, perhaps teams can become closer to that ideal.
Utilizing an API-first approach both for systems that comprise low-code platforms and providing the ability to expose data through APIs could give low-code platforms an edge.
According to Scolamiero, tech leaders are still “digitalizing traditional paper processes.” They don’t often think of streamlining event-driven architecture, or how infrastructure itself could have external value.
Regardless, if it successfully executes a business case, then it works. Perhaps business leaders don’t necessarily have to know what’s under the hood. That’s sort of the point of low-code, isn’t it?