Low-Code Development Platforms: A Complete Guide

What is a low-code platform? 

A low-code platform speeds the development and deployment of enterprise-grade business applications, typically for teams within and across business units.

Low-code platforms — sometimes referred to as Rapid Application Development (RAD) platforms, Application Platform as a Service (aPaaS), or high-productivity application development platforms—make it possible for both professional coders and non-traditional developers to create and deploy these applications in days or weeks, instead of months. The ability to reduce the effort of manual coding empowers them to quickly drive business agility and innovation to where it is needed most. 

A way to boost IT productivity   

Unlike traditional, high-control development platforms that require years of technical training and coding expertise in core programming languages such as .NET, Java, C# and C++, low-code platforms are designed to drive easier, faster app development.

Low-code platforms feature visual modeling or “declarative” development tools and pre-built templates and components that significantly reduce the amount of hand-coding needed to build.

More complex than no-code development platforms that can be readily employed by “builders” or “citizen developers” with basic spreadsheet skills, low-code platforms are often used by individuals in Business Unit IT with extensive skills in spreadsheets, scripting, business process modeling and business analysis.

 And while these “power builders” don’t typically have professional coding backgrounds, they can leverage low-code platforms to create strategic and highly customized applications capable of scaling to large numbers of users across the enterprise.

Low-code enables collaborative expertise

In the event that more involved functionality is required, such as integration with critical internal systems or non-native third-party applications, citizen developers and power builders can easily collaborate with IT DevOps professionals across either platform.

IT specialists can assist by providing the added programming expertise needed to achieve the desired end result while ensuring the necessary governance and security is in place.

Apps, updates, and even non-native features (such as a barcode) can be created and delivered by both IT and power builders to the business in a fraction of the time and effort typically required by traditional development methods. For this same reason, both no-code and low-code platforms are gaining in popularity for Help Desk and IT project management.  

Capabilities of a low-code platform

Features commonly found in low-code platforms include:

  • Visual Modeling tools— These simplify the app development process and lower the amount of coding needed to build.
  • Ready-Made Components— Customizable software, templates, widgets and plugins are offered to help accelerate development.

  • Support for Application Lifecycle— Low-code platforms facilitate fast development  (quickly creating prototypes and iterating), streamline deployment and enable easy updates to align  applications with growing and changing needs.

  • Custom ProgrammingAvailable— Unlike packaged software with limited out-of-the-box customization, low-code platforms simplify the creation and maintenance of applications with unique processes, workflows, etc.

  • Scales Easily— Rapidly provision from prototype to production, and as user base and application ecosystems grow.

  • IT Approved— Enterprise-grade security and governance features are supported. 

Low-code vs no-code platform: What is the difference?

A no-code business productivity platform enables anyone with basic spreadsheet skills to create an app simply by:

  • Uploading a spreadsheet

  • Building from scratch without code

  • Downloading a pre-built app from an online library, or

  • Working with low-code or professional builders to create a highly customized app

Most no-code app building platforms are intuitive and graphically represented with point and click or drag and drop functionality. No-code or “citizen developers” tend to build centralized tracking or workflow apps for themselves and their teams to access data, perform tasks, automate processes and collaborate better and more efficiently.  

Low-code IT productivity platforms tend to lean towards the creation of more enterprise-grade applications. These applications are often meant to work across departments; commonly interface with business critical systems (such as ERP or CRM); and/or involve external engagement with customers across web portals and mobile channels. Although visual modeling tools support much of the application building effort, low-code capabilities are necessary to address more complex aspects—from difficult integrations to user interfaces and security.

 

No-Code Platform

Low-Code Platform

How They Differ

Drives business productivity by enabling builders/citizen developers to create, automatically deploy, and update simple to complex business applications, for themselves and their teams without any coding skills.

Designed to improve the productivity of existing IT development resources and empower advanced builders to accelerate app delivery for more architecturally complex applications.


Where They Fit

Features intuitive wizards and menus that walk “builders/citizen developers” through the entire building process to create a wide range of apps encompassing everything from data capture, tracking, and reporting to evolving or innovative processes.


Leverages visual modeling tools and pre-built components that provide a faster, easier, and less code-intensive way to build applications that require higher control development, data permissions, and app deployment; business process modeling; a pixel perfect user interface; etc.


App Building

 

Visual configuration using drag and drop or point and click functionality takes the place of coding. For example, a user simply needs to point to a data source to track and click to select.

Coding and scripting is required to dictate how such things as security, connectivity, and integration will be built into and work within an application.


What are the benefits of low-code and no-code platforms?

As demands for business applications continue to escalate, both low-code and no-code platforms are becoming increasingly powerful enablers for business and IT. Advantages of both include:

  • More development resources to share the load— By distributing the responsibility for business application development across more resources, low-code and no-code platforms help ease the strain on understaffed IT resources. This enables them to focus more time on business-critical applications and projects. Low-code and no-code platforms also empower those closest to the business (especially non-traditional builders from business operations and line of business) to create solutions that help people get more work done more easily.

  • The freedom to experiment— The ability to quickly test the viability of multiple solutions across processes, data sources, workflows and end-users, and eliciting pre-production feedback on performance, features, and ease-of-use allows for a more responsive iteration process leading to  better outcomes and faster adoption.

  • A more targeted outcome— Non-traditional developers have the power to quickly architect their own solutions to their exact specifications, and update them on-the-fly, for a more competitive, agile business.   

  • Rapid, cost-efficient delivery— Low-code and no-code platforms can be used by both business and IT to deliver solutions faster for immediate impact. This is especially true of those that  feature built-in integration functionality, reusable templates, and single click deployment capabilities that speed application development and delivery.

  • A consistent experience across platforms and devices— Adaptive development and design inherent in many low-code platforms allows business-built applications to run on any system or device, from a laptop in the office to a customer’s smartphone.

  • Lower hardware procurement and management costs— Cloud-based platforms mean that the burden of managing the infrastructure for a company’s growing ecosystem of applications and users falls to the service provider.

Types of low-code platforms

According to the January 2016 Forrester report: Vendor Landscape: The Fractured, Fertile Terrain Of Low-Code Application Platforms, by Clay Richardson and John R. Rymer,there are currently five different types of low-code application platform segments that support the delivery of  “business-function-specific solutions”.

General Purpose:

  • What is it?
    • Addresses the needs of most low-code platform users
    • Supports the creation of a wide range of web and mobile applications
    • Encompasses broad but not deep niche functionality
  • Uses:
    • Manage application lifecycle
    • Manage portfolios
    •  Create database apps
    •  Support workflow automation 
    •  Improve collaboration
  • Benefits:
    • Most flexible in accommodating varied needs across the enterprise
  • Disadvantages:
    • May not work as well for specialized needs

Process:

  • What is it?
    • Focuses on coordination and collaboration across staff and customer roles.
  • Uses:
    • Facilitates process automation, case management, and collaboration in support of business process management
  • Benefits:
    • Specialized process automation focus
  • Disadvantages:
    • May not work as well in a generalized context
    •  Platform focus is typically on enterprise apps

Database:

  • What is it?
    • Targets collection, querying, and presentation of  data found  in relational databases
  • Uses:
    • Database software creation
  • Benefits:
    • Gives organizations alternative to time-consuming, siloed spreadsheets
    •  Have the greatest potential of all types of low-code platforms to empower non-developers
  • Disadvantages:
    • May not have workflow and collaboration features of other platform segments

Request Handling:

  • What is it?
    • Deals with  acceptance, processing, and tracking of requests
  • Uses:
    • Addresses requests of all types
  • Benefits:
    • Requires less configuration than general purpose platforms
  • Disadvantages:
    • Each group or function typically involves adding specific customizations

Mobile:

  • What is it?
    • Simplifies cross-platform mobile development
  • Uses:
    • Create mobile-enabled apps
  • Benefits:
    • Deploy mobile apps quickly using  one code base while leveraging  native functionality  and operating system
  • Disadvantages:
    • Lack workflow capabilities

5 types of low code platform segments chart

The Five Low-Code Platform Segments

Source: Forrester’s Vendor Landscape: The Fractured, Fertile Terrain Of Low-Code Application Platforms (Jan 2016)*



App Development at Its Best

The independent and joint efforts of today’s traditional and non-traditional developers, backed by a range of professional, low-code, and no-code development platforms, have made greater innovation possible at all levels of the enterprise. 

A power builder using a low-code platform can easily aid a citizen developer who needs a customized component to make a no-code business application even more useful. An IT professional can borrow from traditional development to assist a power builder in quickly turning out a low code app with greater reach for more impact across a broader audience.

Empowering individuals from different parts of the organization, who bring a range of skills and the right insight for each build, can help create targeted solutions faster, easier and more cost-efficiently than ever before.

Low-code resources:

Forrester:

Gartner:

Quick Base:

 Other Publications: