High expectations of low-code

Wed 12 Sep 2018

By Jay Dodd, Business Development Director, Equiniti Toplevel

Software development is typically the most complex and laborious element in the rollout of any customer service or application. Over recent years, this has seen initiatives such as DevOps come to the fore, combining ‘development’ with ‘operations’ to speed up the design-to-release process. By encouraging collaboration between these two previously distinct disciplines, issues can be identified and resolved more readily. But such approaches still require all parties to be conversant in the code being used. Often complex services might even require additional specialist developers to be brought in and this can result in further expense and long project lead times.

What if you could level the playing field and ensure that developers could collaborate with non-developers such as media analysts, web and UX designers? These parties are vital to the usability of the service but are often on the fringes when it comes to service development. Involving them earlier on in the process provides these team members the opportunity to assist with development, ensuring the final release is fit for purpose. This is the principle behind low-code solutions which aims to enable developers and non-developers alike to manipulate workflow, documents, forms and templates without the need for coding skills.

Low-code as a leveller

Low-code, a term coined by Forrester in 2004, has more recently been defined by the analyst as: “Products and/or cloud services for application development that employ visual, declarative techniques instead of programming and are available to customers at low- or no- cost in money and training time to begin.” In other words, they enable the user to use wizards and drag-and-drop functions to develop, design and update digital services without the requirement for any specialist skills or even any training. Forrester estimates low code can produce applications between 6-20 times faster than traditional development. It’s also far more cost-effective, with small teams harbouring a wide variety of skill sets able to deliver big results.

Using a low-code platform it becomes possible to involve all contributors in the process and this collaborative approach enables prototypes to be developed and iteratively tested in just days – a technique commonly used by Equiniti Toplevel. Adjustments can be made using inbuilt graphical tools and the working prototypes developed during the Alpha phase can be easily taken forward into Beta. A range of backend connectors, API plug-ins and native support for various browsers and mobile platforms ensure the service can be configured to integrate with various systems and appear correctly over various user interfaces. Moreover, because low-code platforms are provided as SaaS with projects hosted in the cloud, this approach facilitates remote and co-location working.

Reuse for returns

Where a low-code based platform also offers real benefits is in its promotion of reusability. Unlike the traditional development lifecycle which sees new services built from the ground up, low-code platforms allow artefacts, objects and templates to be reused, dramatically reducing the time taken to launch new services. The reuse of templates will see them refined and improved over time, generating further value and even custom-built templates can be altered and reconfigured. It’s this ‘design once, use many times’ capability that facilitates rapid design and deployment, cutting delivery time by up to 50 percent and generating significant cost savings.

Low-code platforms are becoming embraced more widely in the current environment of digital disruption. Organisations adopting new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain need to be able to react rapidly by altering their business applications and services. If the business cannot evolve fast enough or chooses to fund costly software development, it will inevitably fail to survive.

In this emerging world, low-code platforms can also empower the developer by providing them with the additional resource needed to meet demand and/or to fast-track application development. Rather than focusing on scripts, languages and troubleshooting issues, the developer can focus on build and delivery, as low code typically uses open standards and has fewer code-based problems.

Innovation by design

Going forward, low-code development is likely to be embraced even more widely given the rise of the ‘citizen developer’, a term coined by Gartner back in 2009 used to describe “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT”.  Citizen development is seeing applications devised outside the realm of the IT department to fulfil a recognised need. Realising that low-code can enable them to create a solution that is far more suitable for their needs than an off-the-shelf offering, employees are creating applications to make their work easier. There’s no reason why citizen development can’t be accommodated in the business in this way, provided the IT department continues to have oversight of the process and the design follows the ‘design-develop-deploy-iterate’ development model.

Fundamentally, low-code platforms allow the creation of services and solutions more speedily that are delivered more timely to meet a given demand, and which put the business need at the heart of the process. As a method of development, it can empower both non-developers and developers, assisting both to communicate, collaborate and work more productively. And it provides real cost-benefits through a faster time to market, lower maintenance costs due to fewer coding issues, and the re-use of templates which allows new services to quickly get off the ground. Add in drivers such as the rapid adoption of emerging technologies and it’s easy to see why low-code platforms such as Equiniti Toplevel’s Outreach, with its Open Design Studio, are fast becoming a key resource in software development.