Less coding sounds like the dream. Get products to market faster, develop new ideas more fluidly. Is there anything it can't do?
The pros and cons of low-code/no-code and why it’ll never replace bespoke software development
Imagine founding a tech company and, in the space of around 18 months, you’ve raised $2.3 million and are managing a client base of 12 major companies, including Accenture. What sector of the tech industry could attract this level of investment and this calibre of buy-in? Low-code/no-code.
The company above is Abstra: a developer of a no-code platform, and it’s not the only one to be taking advantage of the popularity of low-code/no-code. Last year, Apple, for example, launched Trinity AI, a low-code platform for complex datasets.
Low-code and no-code are relatively new approaches in the software and application development world. So, before we get into the why’s and why nots of these platforms, let’s start with some basics:
How long has low-code been around?
This has been disputed, as different sectors of the tech community will use different definitions for the terms. It could be argued that programming languages like Fortran and COBOL, which emerged in the 1950s, are low-code as they required far less coding by developers than earlier alternatives.
In 1987, Apple released HyperCard, allowing developers to create complex apps without writing any code. It has continued developments in this space, including the 2019 launch of SwiftUI.
In 2014, Forrester came up with the term “low code,” saying: “Low-code platforms enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment.”
What’s the difference between low-code and no-code?
As the names suggest, low-code enables users – including those with limited skills and experience – to design and build applications using a minimum amount of coding. Instead of writing lines and lines of code, these platforms allow users to visually drag and drop blocks of existing code.
No-code goes one step further, enabling non-developers and non-programmers to do all of the above. Platforms claim that they do not require any knowledge of coding from the user (this is done by the provider of the tool) and instead rely on visual means of app and software creation.
How sophisticated are low-code and no-code tools?
While low-code tools are growing in maturity, those in the no-code space have yet to reach the same level. However, as more companies look to build software systems and applications – and to do so as quickly, easily and cheaply as possible – we’ll see further developments in both low-code and no-code.
How popular is low-code/no-code?
Many in tech are clearly betting on the future of low-code/no-code. Gartner has predicted that by 2024, low-code will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity. Furthermore, by 2030, the low-code development platform market is predicted to generate a revenue of $187 billion. However, we don’t have to look that far ahead to see the significance of and interest in these platforms. At the start of 2021, Forrester estimated that 75% of all enterprise software will be built with low-code technology by the end of the year.
That’s a significant proportion, and it would be interesting, now we’re 12 months on, to see how these projects (and how many of them) have been successful. Is low-code/no-code really the future for software and application development? And how do the advantages stack up against the challenges? Let’s take a look.
What are the top three benefits of low-code/no-code?
- Build and deploy faster: by reducing the amount of coding required, applications can be created and launched far faster than via traditional methods. Development cycles can be reduced from weeks to hours.
- Low maintenance: applications built using low-code/no-code platforms don’t need new code to be created and instead use existing, standardised code. This means less time spent on maintenance, freeing up developers.
- Low cost: Decades ago, building using developer skills in-house or via a software development vendor were the only ways of building an application. Low-code/no-code places these capabilities into the hands of anyone in a business, as well as individuals operating independently.
What are the top three drawbacks of low-code/no-code?
- Limited functionality: Low-code/no-code approaches only allow for very simple application builds. If you want anything bespoke, customised, tailored or unique – the very factors which are competitive differentiators for companies! – you’ll need customised code.
- Poor security design: As a result of their ease of use, low-code platforms can be adopted (and applications built) by non-IT departments within a business. This may be done so without the knowledge of the IT dept, meaning a lack of oversight and significant security concerns. Also, users of these platforms lack visibility of the underlying code. If this has been built by the platform vendor without best security practices, the enterprise is exposing itself to massive security risks.
- Lack of support and auditing: Building a new application or software system for your business requires a bespoke approach. Also, requirements often change as a project progresses. In addition to limiting agility and flexibility, low-code/no-code platforms are not supported by a team of developers and experts to guide you through these changes and address any issues.
In conclusion: low-code/no-code can be helpful tools for very simple projects, or for testing ideas. However, these approaches will not replace bespoke software and application development. Trust, flexibility, open lines of communication and ongoing support are crucial to ensure the end result of a build works for your IT users and achieves your objectives. Only a team of trusted and reliable experts will be able to provide this.