The tide is high for low-code software.
Low-code software has had a busy past 12-months, often in strange ways. If we think back five-years ago, the formalized labeling of any software short-cuts, accelerators and pre-configurations in the low-code zone remained the sole preserve of dedicated low-code platform specialists. Although Appian, Mendix and OutSystems are among the usual suspects in this market, other players do exist including Zoho, Pega, Betty Blocks and many of the functionalities found in ServiceNow’s platform.
But things have widened in the low-code market. The growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) alongside the development of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) have helped fuel the discussion around autonomous software creation, deployment and management i.e. the kinds of technologies needed to help create low-code advancements and controls.
Suddenly (okay, throughout 2020 if not further back), every tech vendor has a low-code offering. Is Oracle still a database company? Yes, but now it has a low-code offering too. Is SAP still an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) data analytics platform company? Yes, but it has its finger in the low-code pie as well. Is Microsoft still an operating system and hard-core programming company? You get the idea, we don’t need to expand.
We have examined how self-assembly enriched and pre-defined business logic driven low-code software actually works here, so let’s continue by asking what happens next. Part of the drive to popularize low-code comes down to a simple factor that today we all recognize: pressure.
“As the pressure to do more with less builds in a challenged global economy, we see more and more customers who used to cling to traditional coding strategies with near-religious zealotry shifting their perspective and being open minded about new ways to respond to old problems. We hear customers talking about ‘outcomes’ i.e. delivering applications that make a difference to their business. While there are distinct advantages to a low-code approach to development, for customers to get the outcomes they depend on, they are increasingly requiring more than low-code on its own. The entire application life cycle needs to be reimagined so that every aspect of the CI/CD process benefits from visual modeling and AI. Additionally, the capabilities of these platforms need to offer the same level of expressiveness as traditional coding – especially with respect to building solutions for the cloud, said Barry Goffe, senior director of platform strategy at OutSystems.
Forrester and Gartner analysts estimate 75% of all enterprise software will be built with low-code technology this coming year 2021. It could be 63.2% or it could be 81.7%, it doesn’t matter i.e. the real figure is probably more than half, so that’s quite significant. Some analysts (and most vendors) suggest that some low-code customer application deployments are possible ‘within days’ and – in some cases – it’s even a question of development overnight on a next-day-basis.
As technology industry commentator and all-round marketing fluff cleaner Dennis Howlett points out, quite what proportion of that 75% ‘volume’ is actual software ‘value’ is something the analysts may have failed to examine, but that’s another story.
“Best-of-breed low-code offerings will be ones that provide all-in-one capabilities, expanding low-code’s core principles of abstraction, automation and seamless connectivity into adjacent technologies and services,” said Johan den Haan, Mendix CTO. “The technology stack will expand horizontally, to have an integrated developer experience with drag-and-drop simplicity for data integration, data science insights, building AI solutions and creating multi-experiences.”
Further afield, edge computing in the Internet of Things (IoT), which pushes ‘computational’ work as close as possible to the point of data collection, is thought to be gaining further critical mass in 2021. This too could be a growth area for low-code.
“Low-code software development leverages this [IoT] ecosystem to reduce complexity,” said den Haan. “In this environment, apps that can extract actionable data and business intelligence empower industrial enterprises in particular — but also any enterprise with connected physical assets — to optimize all manner of operations and explore new opportunities for innovation.”
Despite being littered (sorry low-code evangelists, we mean ‘enriched’, obviously) by layers of automation, turning it on and applying it to any business is no flick of a switch event. Organizations will need to break down business silos as they audit and examine what processes go on inside which work functions. There are dedicated processing mining specialists to help with this, but we can expect the low-code community to join in this effort with augmentations and partnerships in equal measure.
Appian’s VP of product strategy and deputy CTO Malcolm Ross concurs with many of the themes on discussion here. He adds to say that right now, in 2021, we’re in the age of low-code for ‘pro-developers’ i.e. professionally trained and educated software engineers.
“With increasing demands to deliver and adapt software faster than ever, low-code has arisen and developed because pro-developers started exploring low-code tools to meet the needs of the business applications they were building. Initially, some low-code vendors specialized to focus on supporting the complex and mission-critical business applications that pro-developers demanded. This included new low-code tooling for testing, DevOps and expressing complex business and process logic,” said Ross.
He notes that additionally, the first low-code for pro-dev vendors began offering top-tier availability, reliability and security certifications required to deliver important business applications. Reflecting comments made by Mendix’s den Haan, Appian’s Ross says that tomorrow (or at least 2022 and onwards), we’re looking at a future with low-code everything.
“The contrast of traditional development vs low-code has awakened an awareness of the true complexities of software development and real alternatives that allow organizations to deliver software faster. Like cloud 15 years ago, it is challenging the roles of traditional developers and changing business models based on rapid delivery and iteration of software solutions. All software products now are measured against their ‘low-codiness’ as the appetite of customers to go back to the days of long and expensive software development cycles has vanished,” concludes Ross.
Looking towards what happens throughout the decade to come, low-code advantages may experience a greater degree of crossover and osmosis with no-node platforms.
As no-code makes enterprise data assets available to non-technical business experts (so-called citizen developers), they can assemble software functions in the domains they know best… and some of those processes may end up being emulated by the programmer purists still working with hard-coding tools.
Are we suggesting the businesspeople will be able to drive software requirements from their own desks using low-code no-code platforms and direct the job of the professional software engineer with greater steerage and influence? Possibly, but only within defined parameters. Sleep easy developers, we still know where the headless chicken users roam.
I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’;
I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, I am also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, my own editorial purview has also broadened. I have spent much of the last ten years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management. I have an extensive background in communications starting in print media, newspapers and also television. If anything, this gives me enough man-hours of cynical world-weary experience to separate the spin from the substance, even when the products are shiny and new.