The rise of low-code platforms in recent years has been a significant trend in the software world, driven by a growing demand for faster application delivery and a shortage of skilled developers.
By 2030, the market for low-code platforms is estimated to reach a value of $148 billion with the International Data Corporation projecting the creation of 750 million cloud-native applications worldwide by 2025.
Low-code platforms are development environments that enable the creation of applications, without software code written by specialist software engineers. Such platforms could be described as interactive digital toolboxes, featuring visual interfaces that allow applications to be configured using pre-built components and ‘drag-and-drop’ functionality.
The development process is thus simplified and accelerated, lowering the skills barrier and enabling a broader spectrum of stakeholders to participate in building business applications.
The configurable components and templates of low-code platforms can deliver rich functionality whilst hiding underlying complexity. For instance, data sets can be configured easily with built-in business rules and validations. Applications can be furnished with workflows, to automate business processes, alerts and approvals.
Reports and dashboards can even be included in low-code platforms to deliver data analytics whilst integration between applications and services can be achieved using out-of-the-box connectors. Artificial intelligence components can deliver features, such as image recognition, language services and generative AI assistants. Equally, low-code applications can be built for different devices, including mobile phones or for deployment to public-facing web pages.
However, low-code development has limitations and may not be suited to creating certain sophisticated or complex features. In this case, low-code applications can be extended with coded solutions that are developed by skilled developers, thus combining both worlds.
For organisations facing pressure to digitally transform, the impact of low-code development can be significant. The low-code approach enables digital transformation at a grassroots level, in a rapid and agile fashion with a high involvement of end users who may participate as ‘citizen developers’.
Teams can experiment with ideas and prototypes quickly, promoting innovation and iteration in the development process. With the flexibility to make rapid changes and updates, applications that have been deployed can be easily adapted to suit changing business needs.
Traditionally, businesses have relied upon complex, expensive and inflexible enterprise resource planning systems that operate essential core business processes. Low-code applications can augment or even replace these to support the individual needs of departments and teams, to automate manual processes or replace spreadsheets and unsupported ‘shadow IT’ solutions.
The concept of a single, shared platform that operates multiple, individual applications is key to the low-code vision. In this platform, applications can be connected and integrated, breaking down silos and joining up different groups of users whilst safeguarding data security and compliance. Cloud platforms such as Microsoft 365 enable seamless integration of low-code applications with familiar collaboration, work management capabilities and office tools.
Low-code development thus empowers businesses to deliver digital transformations more quickly and at reduced cost. As technologies advance, low-code platforms are set to become even more powerful. AI is particularly poised to play a transformative role in their evolution, offering new capabilities and enhancing the development process.
The required developer skill level will be reduced even further through Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, enabling interaction via natural language commands. Smarter integration capabilities will evolve through AI-enhanced mapping and connecting disparate data sources and services. AI will enable low-code platforms to continuously learn from user interactions and feedback, optimising the development environment from evolving patterns and preferences. AI algorithms will further help low-code platforms dynamically adapt to changes in requirements, business rules or external factors.
To successfully embrace low-code development, businesses should begin defining clear objectives and assessing organisational readiness, forming a cross-functional team and providing comprehensive training to IT professionals and business users. Selecting a suitable low-code platform and beginning with small, impactful projects is also important. Encouraging collaboration between IT and business units and measuring performance through key indicators should equally be part of a strategic approach to the low-code journey.
The opportunities of digital transformation are manifold and include innovation, improved efficiency and an enhanced customer experience. Low-code development has the potential to turn these benefits into reality. Any organisation that has not yet invested in low-code should consider how to take advantage of this development approach in their IT strategy – the time is now.