What does low-code mean, and who is it really for?
Over the last few years, I’ve seen many articles associating “low-code” with “citizen developers” or with people who don’t have deep development skills. Users can arrange visual elements, or fill in forms with key information and publish the result as an application.
But tools for citizen developers are only one part of the low-code story. There is also a growing number of tools for professional developers, and I want to talk about those, too.
Both citizen developers and professional developers have a role to play in application development and automation projects, and low-code has something to offer both of them.
Low-code is Not a Market, it’s an Approach
Low-code does mean providing visual and graphical tools and simple frameworks that mask more complex coded operations, so the application designer does not have to directly touch the code that performs desired operations. These apps are naturally limited, as the resulting application can’t be highly customized if you can’t touch the code.
With these kinds of visual tools, anyone can create a simple application within the limits of the tool. But when we pull back and look at what is needed to create larger, more complex applications – ones that need to communicate with other enterprise systems, or need extensive customization, or cross organizational boundaries, or need to pay attention to governance requirements, for example – the visual-only approach is frequently insufficient. In complex cases, developer expertise is often needed, and developers have to get “under the hood” to tinker with code.
There is no “low-code market.” We are bringing tools to people who need them to develop specific projects. A comprehensive low-code approach to application development and automation means offering both visual programming and coding capability. For usability reasons, these tools are clearly separated and presented to the development team in a way that allows citizen developers to work on certain elements and developers to work on others, all on the same platform.
We know that it’s possible to serve professional developers with low-code, too. A low-code approach also includes drag-and-drop tools that developers can use – for example, to develop APIs, or to integrate the application with other systems, or to customize front-end interfaces. Of course, when code is required, developers should be able to use their own tools and frameworks and not be limited by low-code tools. Platforms that offer a hybrid approach are likely to be most useful to mixed-skills development teams.
The Hybrid Approach
Strictly low-code tools can serve simple automation use cases. More broadly, automation platforms offer a hybrid of low-code and coding capabilities for more complex automation use cases.
For critical enterprise applications, both business and developer inputs are usually needed. Having tools for both of them means not leaving anyone out.
Low-code tools will continue to become more mainstream. Low-code is not a fad or a passing trend, but a quiet revolution that will see greater incorporation into more business tools.
Here Come the Digital Natives!
More vendors are offering low-code tools for digital process automation, business intelligence, robotic process automation, identity management and data integration, to name just a few.
As automation platforms and other low-code tools mature, a greater number of people are getting used to working with them. Developers are less hesitant about incorporating non-developers into their teams, as everyone gains a better understanding of the benefits of these platforms.
The younger generations entering the workplace today are digital natives. They are fearless about diving into technology and working hands-on. So, these low-code tools are ready for them, and they are ready to put them to work.
Low-code is breaking down technical barriers to work in the automation space, making smooth collaboration between business and development easier.
Low-Code Can Be a Double-Edged Sword
Automation and development teams are also becoming more aware of vulnerabilities and compliance issues as citizen developers roll up their sleeves and join the technical team.
Low-code tools are a double-edged sword. They facilitate teamwork, but issues with security and data governance may not be top-of-mind for non-developers. If you have a big team working on automation and/or application development and delivery, the need to build in governance becomes even more important.
Using a shared platform will help manage and mitigate these issues with security and governance. This will become even easier as the platform tools evolve and mature, so DevOps teams can use them to help mitigate some of these issues.
Does Low-Code Have a Place in DevOps?
We are definitely seeing the impact of low-code on development environments and DevOps. Remember, low-code started with small applications, and while DevOps-style teamwork and workflows may not be needed there, as the use of low-code platforms becomes the norm for critical enterprise projects, DevOps will be a necessary part of the mix. This is where low-code is having a more obvious impact; Agile methodologies using low code platforms for iteration, for continuous improvement and for continuous delivery. These applications aren’t one-and-done. They need to be maintained, improved and delivered, again and again.
Low code isn’t going away. On the contrary – it’s going everywhere.