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Low-code platforms are more useful than you think

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Although low-code software development platforms are a hot area of software development, many pro developers and enterprise development shops eschew these tools.

John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research in San Francisco, recently debunked two primary myths about low-code development tools that tend to keep pro developers from using them .

One myth is that low-code tools limit the kind and scale of applications developers can build. While this is true for many tools, particularly no-code tools primarily aimed at business analysts and non-programmers, some low-code platforms are powerful enough to enable developers to create complex systems. Rymer cites examples of developers who used low-code platforms for heavy lifting: one built an application that routes 1.5 million orders per day, and another developed a full ERP system for gas-field management.

I have seen evidence of this myth in my reporting, particularly when it comes to enterprise application development. Many enterprises will turn to a low-code tool to empower non-programmers to build departmental apps. This is usually a response to a shortage of professional programmers. Companies can’t afford to have their core programmers working on departmental apps, which are typically limited in scope and may be as simple as automating paper-based tasks. This is the realm of the so-called citizen developers.

Blue Apron for coding

I liken the lower-end low-code and the no-code tools for non-programmers to ingredient-and-recipe meal kit services like Blue Apron for folks who don’t know their way around the kitchen. The more they experiment and learn independently, the better they become.

In fact, I have spoken with several pro developers who started out as citizen developers using no-code systems and then went on to become professional programmers based on their experience with the lower-end platforms. They wanted to learn more and either took a class, enrolled in a boot camp or simply taught themselves to code. These folks defy any myths about low-code and have no problem using low-code tools as professional programmers.

Many professional developers use more powerful low-code tools as productivity aids to prototype and build apps much faster than they could by hand-coding. Moreover, low-code platform vendors are bolstering their tools with artificial intelligence to further extend the capabilities of the platforms.

For instance, OutSystems in Boston is adding artificial intelligence features into its products, to help developers gain even more productivity. The company also will link  to AI services that are publicly available to help organizations build AI-based apps.

Rymer’s second myth of low-code systems is that they lock developers out of open source, APIs and flexibility.

Regarding flexibility, recently updated its low-code platform, the Salesforce Lightning Platform, to enable users to use spreadsheets to build modern applications with clicks and not code.

“If your goal is to assemble your own platform, then low-code is not the right tool for you,” Rymer said in his post. “But low-code platforms do incorporate widely used open source components, including Spring, React, Angular, and Cloud Foundry.”

Rymer also noted that many low-code platform vendors offer different deployment options such as Docker and Kubernetes. In addition, the platforms integrate with all kinds of data sources and web services.

“The foundations of low-code platforms make them more flexible than most would expect,” Rymer said. “Not only can you deliver software more quickly, but you can also iterate at a faster pace.”

I totally agree with Rymer’s assessment. Low-code and no-code tools have carved out a nice position in the software development tools space. Investors and big IT infrastructure companies are taking notice. Traditional application platform players such as IBM, SAP and Pivotal have struck up strategic partnerships with low-code tools provider Mendix. In August, Siemens acquired Mendix for $730 million. In June, KKR and Goldman Sachs invested $360 million in OutSystems to help the company expand its business and enhance its research and development processes.

Low-code, no-code is here to stay. It’s a hot segment of the software development market because the tools help save time and increase productivity in app development.