Ever since software engineering became a profession, the hunt for a platform that can increase the productivity of an engineer and reduce the development time and effort has been a never-ending story. In the health care sector particularly, given the challenge of consistently reducing cost of care while enhancing patient experience, there is a keen focus on developing solutions with minimum investment in software maintenance, training and deployment, and a quicker time to market. Although Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools picked up pace in the early 90’s, they lost steam because of various factors, including the rise of Java as the language for enterprise software development.
Today, again, the tide is turning. With rapid progress being made on the cloud front, multiple players are emerging in the low-code platform space to address rapid development and release. Also known as zero-code platforms, these enable enterprises to develop software applications quickly, with minimal manual coding, leading to faster turnaround and shorter time to action. Since the applications are built with minimal coding, developers with varied levels of expertise can use these platforms.
Low-code — high value
The global low-code platforms market generated $10.3 billion in revenue in 2019 and is estimated to witness a CAGR of 31.1% for the period 2020–2030. The coronavirus outbreak has not only triggered a massive digital transformation but has also prompted organizations — especially in health care — to develop simple technological innovations faster and with minimal expenditure. With agility being the name of the game, low-code platforms are increasingly turning into popular alternatives for traditional hand-coding applications.
But what is it really that makes low-code platforms an effective choice?
Speed: Compared with the traditional software development approach, low-code platforms support faster deployment by making use of boilerplate code, pre-built templates, and other such “building blocks”. They also offer a simple and easy way to build screens and user interfaces. The plug and play feature and rapid prototyping also help speed up the turnaround time for building simple applications.
Lower investments: According to a Forrester Research survey, 70% of the organizations stated that they find low-code platforms more affordable than the traditional development platforms, and 80% mentioned that these platforms can meet requirements within budget. Low-code platforms reduce the need for more developers, thereby reducing the hiring cost. Also, by facilitating immediate changes, it helps in reducing the cost of application maintenance.
Flexibility: Companies can save on resources involved in modifying the software by making changes internally, unlike the traditional complex builds. Further, it empowers non-technical teams to fill any workflow gaps for better results and customize their platforms with typical features such as the “drag and drop” visual method. These platforms also provide a responsive design that adjust smoothly to different screen sizes across mobiles, tablets, and other devices. In other words, the write-once-run-anywhere (WORA) approach eliminates the problem of maintaining different code bases for different target devices.
It’s a catch-22 situation
Low-code platforms come with their own set of challenges and businesses need to understand these well before choosing this approach:
User identification — A low-code platform needs all the end users to be identified upfront and registered as named users to access the app. This is not suitable for external-facing apps as it’s hard to identify users who will be accessing it. For instance, in case of a teleconsulting app, where many users are anticipated and there might be substantial difference between minimum and maximum users during a certain time period, it can become challenging to plan for the unknown volume and license."
Limited functionality — Since the functionalities of the platform are limited to what the vendor provides, companies will have a limited pool of features to deploy as per their requirements. This could cut back on the efficiency of the developed software.
Security and reliability — Due to limited options for code-customization, the company’s IT team may have concerns regarding the underlying application codes, thus resulting in security and reliability problems. In addition, with users having no visibility or control over the codes, it aggravates data vulnerability risks. Also, with code content residing outside the enterprise network and in the vendor’s version control system, the intellectual property (IP) of the organization may be compromised.
Pay-per-user license — These applications are based on a per-user license model, which has the potential to derail a budget significantly — especially if the user base is vast. In order to benefit from low-code platforms, the licensing model needs to be changed to a floating or throughput type that would make the pricing more attractive for enterprises.
Recommendations for successful low-code deployment
When choosing to go for a low-code approach, businesses need to evaluate the following parameters:
- Choose a platform that seamlessly works with the organization’s preferred cloud vendor.
- Identify the number of named users for the application that is going to be build.
- Secure the budget for the license cost.
- Get approval from business and enterprise security teams for the code residing on the vendor’s platform.
- Get approval from enterprise security team for the data residing on the vendor’s infrastructure.
- Once these parameters have been evaluated, there is a need to assess the legacy apps for fitment with the new applications being built using low-code.
This is followed by defining the roadmap, prioritizing the features required, creating a wireframe, and building user interfaces. The users are brought in once the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is ready. Additional features required can be added along the way. Post the application has been successfully established, the businesses can even choose to de-commission the legacy application.
Is low-code the future of code?
With a relatively simple approach to application development, low-code has a place in the future of code and the potential to change the game as far as business agility is concerned. However, it needs to be evaluated carefully within the overall business context, with due importance to the pros and cons."
The above article appeared in ETCIO.com.
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